It’s impossible for everyone in the UK to eat their 5 a day. And we’re not talking societal factors here. According to a report last week, there simply isn’t enough fruit & veg to go around.

Before food waste, the total UK supply of fruit & veg amounts to an average of 367g per day per person instead of the recommended 400g, found the report from the Sustainable & Healthy Food Systems research group.

Most of this figure is imported. The UK currently domestically produces 35% of its total supply, while net imports make up the other 65%.

The answer to this conundrum may seem simple: the UK should produce more. But in reality, the figure highlights several ongoing, fundamental issues with our food system. 

First, many growers are questioning the viability of their businesses as production costs soar. This week, British Apples & Pears warned tree planting had reached only two-thirds of expected levels this year, as growers struggle to get sustainable returns from supermarkets.

While input costs have risen by 23% over the past year, members have only received on average 0.8% year-on-year increase from the supermarkets, putting the industry “on a knife edge”, explained BAP executive chair Ali Capper.

Meanwhile, Lea Valley Growers, the leading supplier of cucumbers in the country, says its growers have delayed planting due to increased energy costs.

Second, there are environmental issues. The Fenlands and Cambridgeshire, which are together responsible for a third of England’s home-grown vegetables, are suffering. Their peat soils are leaking 112 times as much carbon as non-peat soils – equivalent to 1,344 tonnes of CO2 per sq km per year – found analysis from the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit this week.

The speed at which this carbon is being lost suggests the soil is becoming degraded rapidly – putting a question mark over how much longer we will have that crucial 33% of steady vegetable supply.

Third, there’s the problem of food waste. An estimated 23% of fruit & veg is wasted after it leaves the farm. So it would make sense to address this issue before upping production levels.

Especially as there would be no guarantee of higher production being met by an increase in uptake. Fruit & veg consumption in the UK is still far below the recommended amount, at 298g per day. Only one in 10 children and a third of adults eat enough fruit & veg.

The cost of living crisis is likely to make this worse. Back in October, Veg Power reported fruit & veg consumption had dropped by 7.5% over the past year as consumers traded out of fresh produce in favour of other “essential” items.

That fruit & vegetables are not at the top of this list of “essential” items is hugely damaging for the fresh produce sector and only contributes to the lack of producer confidence.

It is a self-fulfilling cycle of depleted supply leading to more expensive produce, resulting in reduced purchases from the consumer, causing less confidence in producers, which creates a further depleted supply. In short, it is a crisis that must be looked at across the entire cycle.

So if we want to tackle the inadequate levels of fruit & veg production, we have to tackle the issues that caused it in the first place.