A report commissioned by the NFU has revealed that growers in the horticulture sector have seen costs rising by almost 40% over the past two years.

The report by Promar International has led West Sussex farmer Martin Emmett to express concerns over the future of the industry, which has already seen a number of leading businesses shelve plans for growth in response to rising costs.

According to the report, costs of production have increased by as much as 39% in just two years, reflecting price hikes of 218% in energy costs, 47% in fertiliser costs and 24% in wage bills. The impact has been felt across much of the UK’s favourite fruit and vegetables, including strawberries, tomatoes, apples and lettuces.

The report also warned that these production costs, along with the impacts of ongoing global volatility, are seen as the ‘new normal’, with businesses not expecting the situation to change any time soon.

Martin, director of West Sussex-based Tristram Plants and NFU horticulture and potatoes board chairman, said: “I am seriously concerned to hear from growers they are thinking about cutting production this coming season while they continue to face uncertainty with costs, uncertainty around a long-term plan for where their workforce will come from and increasingly challenging relationships within their supply chain.

“We are now facing the third year of unprecedented and highly volatile costs of production, coupled with ongoing uncertainty about the availability of permanent and seasonal workforce and supply chains that return little value back to growers.

“Growers are doing everything they can to make sure homegrown fruit and vegetables are on supermarket shelves, but as highlighted in the report, there is likely to be further consolidation in production and distribution. If pressures continue as they are, it will be unsustainable for some businesses.

“The UK horticulture industry strives to be the best in the world and has the positivity and drive to match this ambition. As the NFU set out in its growth strategy in March last year, there are ten key building blocks which underpin the success of the sector. These include sustainable energy supplies, access to skilled labour, productivity investment, supply chain fairness and a range of other critical support necessary to create growth in the sector.

“While it is positive that the Government consultation into the horticulture supply chain has now opened, many businesses are continuing to face difficult customer relationships, with prolonged contract negotiations and contract planning cycles out of sync with production cycles, making it tough for growers to plan long-term for their businesses. This needs to change.

“To ensure we have a thriving UK horticulture sector, we need to see the Government back our fruit and vegetable growers with action and ambition as it set out in its own food strategy, and match our ambition for growth. It is crazy to think that, at a time when we want people to eat more healthily, we are only 50% self-sufficient in vegetables and 15% self-sufficient in fruit.

“As a start, we need to give our British growers certainty by having a consistent plan for seasonal labour, including a five-year rolling seasonal workers scheme, as well as sustainable returns and longer-term contracts with key customers, the retailers.”