The optics around this year’s Number 10 Farm to Fork Summit, held on Tuesday, were strikingly familiar to the inaugural event staged in 2023.

Yet again, food sector attendees were suffering from myriad issues – from the weather to (still) rising costs and plummeting returns. Yet again, it coincided with an under-pressure prime minister seeking, as one attendee put it, “some quick wins” ahead of the polling day.

But coming in an election year, this week’s summit was arguably even more important for the PM, who attempted to persuade the food sector it had the government’s backing.

So, did Rishi Sunak and his package of announcements convince a beleaguered sector things will get better?

Just like last year, the guest list at Tuesday’s summit was a veritable who’s who of the sector. Representatives ranged from supermarket bosses such as Tesco’s Ken Murphy, Sainsbury’s Simon Roberts and Morrisons’ Rami Baitiéh to small business ­owners, well-known brands, food trade body bosses and a host of influencers.

To shore up their support, No 10 confirmed a “major package” of measures to “support farmers and grow the UK’s farming and food sector” – in a summit that was designed to “build on the success of last year”.

At the centre of Sunak’s package was the launch of the government’s first Food Security Index (see box, below), alongside wide-ranging farm support measures.

This included much-needed cash for the horticulture sector, through a package of further support for farmers who have suffered from the past nine months of terrible weather. A new blueprint for growing the UK fruit & veg sector was also unveiled, setting out a commitment to cut planning red tape for agricultural buildings such as greenhouses.

The government also promised to press ahead with fair dealing regulations similar to those recently enacted for the dairy sector.

Horticulture support

Crucially, some £80m will be injected into a new Horticulture Resilience and Growth offer – double the amount offered via the legacy EU scheme (though some commentators such as NFU horticulture board chair Martin Emmet suggested double that figure was required to truly revive the sector).

The government’s call for growth, with a specific focus on horticulture, was driven by findings from the new Food Security Index, which revealed the UK only produced the equivalent of 17% of the fruit and 55% of the vegetables that end up on British plates.

What did the Food Security Index find?

The index considers nine indicators, including energy and fertiliser prices, global supply, land use, productivity and consumer confidence

  • It said food security was ‘broadly stable’ in 2023/24 across seven indicators, with some reduced risk in productivity and energy and fertiliser prices
  • The UK maintains domestic production of all food available at around 60% of consumption and indigenous food at 73% (2022 figures), slightly down from 61% and 74% in 2021. However, it continues to see rising productivity
  • Longer-term trends to be mitigated and monitored include how weather and climate challenges could impact on imported fruit & veg plus biosecurity and animal disease 
  • Reductions in the 2024 harvest are anticipated, , particularly for wheat, due to recent wet weather and flooding – which could ultimately affect the index’s risk levels next year

Part of the £80m investment is a £10m fund to help English orchard growers access equipment, technology and infrastructure. 

It comes on top of the £50m automation fund announced last week, alongside a commitment to a five-year seasonal worker scheme.

Combined with a slew of other announcements – including £3m for small and mobile abattoirs, £72m to tackle endemic animal disease, and £22m in infrastructure grants for the laying hen sector – the clear message was one of support for the food sector.

“This package will help farmers produce more British food, deliver on our long-term plan to invest in our rural communities, and ensure the very best of our homegrown products end up on our plates,” said Sunak.


Read more:


According to attendees, this year’s summit, and particularly the financial support packages, were well received – as were the breakout sessions between ministers and food sector execs on resilience, innovation, economic growth and the next generation of talent.

Booths MD Nigel Murray described it as a “very positive and promising event”, with “lots of collaborative intent”.

Companies such as grower Barfoots were “particularly pleased” to see horticulture “at the front and centre of the policy announcements”, according to its MD Julian Marks.

British Apples & Pears was among the food sector bodies to be similarly heartened. Executive chair Ali Capper hailed the “fast-forwarding” £10m orchard investment as one that would “give our sector the critical confidence it urgently needs right now”.

Meanwhile, NFU president Tom Bradshaw hailed the establishment of an annual summit, which confirmed the food sector’s place as high on the government’s agenda.

“Let’s not underestimate how important that is and the change we’ve seen,” said Bradshaw. “Five years ago we would have bitten your arm off for this opportunity.”

“It’s quite easy to get blase about these things,” added British Growers Association CEO Jack Ward. “But the reality is, the prime minister invited us to his office. And not everybody gets to walk through that door to talk about the opportunities in agriculture.”

Missed opportunities

However, there was also some scepticism around the outcomes. Bradshaw noted the package of measures amounted to “spreading the farming budget more thinly” rather than a much-needed increase in overall investment.

He and many others also pointed to the pressing need for a unified food strategy, as shown by the collapse in farmer business confidence revealed by the NFU last week.

“Where is that package that will really underpin sector growth?” Bradshaw asked. “We need a coherent overarching strategy, despite these being welcome single-issue announcements.”

Indeed, the new Food Security Index may have found the UK’s self-sufficiency to be broadly stable in 2023/24, but this is likely to take a drastic turn for the worse in next year’s iteration. So warned Bradshaw, who flagged the issues faced by the sector since last autumn.

And while its establishment was welcome, Bradshaw and other attendees also called for production targets to complement the index, and the Agricultural Industries Confederation even suggested a statutory committee “to provide comprehensive oversight on food security”.

The summit’s big focus on horticulture also jarred with other sectors. British Meat Processors Association chair Tom Kirwan said “it became clear throughout the course of the day that government attention is focused largely on this one part of the food supply chain”.

And while self-sufficiency in fruit and vegetables was of the most immediate concern, “it requires all parts of the food supply chain to be functioning optimally to achieve long term food security”, Kirwan added.

Or as Shore Capital vice chairman Clive Black put it, the summit – and its lack of a “more substantial, strategic and integrated approach” – seemed to “revolve around the farm, the horticulture ones at that, and very little around the fork”.

Border issues and climate change 

One food sector source also pointed to a lack of discussion around the ongoing issues at the border, while the challenge of climate change notably took a back seat too.

“The people there were brilliant, but many of the problems raised were the same as last year in so many ways, with no progress on a host of issues,” they suggested.

An air of a PR exercise was not lessened by influencers being allowed to keep hold of their phones, a decision that irked some attendees.

“Ultimately, nothing will come from a lot of this. The government knows they have a use-by date, so they were looking for quick wins for the next four to six months,” said the source.

As the country faces uncertainty over when an election might take place, so does the food sector over whether this was the start of a cohesive plan for British food, or just a grandiose PR call.