The top fruit sector had two strong ambassadors at the 2024 Downing Street Farm to Fork summit. With Carmella Meyer of Peake Fruit, widely recognised as the industry’s expert in Producer Organisation (PO) schemes, and James Simpson of Adrian Scripps Ltd, widely acknowledged as one of the leaders in orchard fruit production, we were well represented.

British Apples & Pears, under the leadership of Ali Capper, has been lobbying effectively for support of its membership, which has seen a reduction in returns, extreme labour sourcing issues and rising costs.

The quote on social media from those running the campaign opened with: “The future of British orchards and the growth of British apple and pear volumes is definitely looking brighter today!”

British Apples & Pears outlined the following initiatives:

  • Up to £10m for English orchard growers to access equipment, technology, and infrastructure – this fast-forwarding investment will give our sector the critical confidence it urgently needs right now.
  • The doubling of funding for a retained EU scheme replacement in the PM’s announcement. We will need to look carefully at the detail to ensure it doesn’t add more red tape with any new structures, but that notwithstanding, it’s very welcome news.
  • Finally, the food security index is a positive move. We’ve been in desperate need of a device like this that can drive home-grown fruit and veg production. We’re not surprised at all that this year’s index has revealed that UK farming is at its most productive since records began – it’s something our apple and pear growers tell us all the time.

So, what does this mean in reality?

Funding of £10m doesn’t seem like a lot, but when split through grower groups and collaborative projects, there is a lot of impact from a pot of this size. With the labour situation unlikely to improve any time soon, the need to increase availability of technology that will improve efficiency, crop scheduling data, crop estimation, early identification of diseases and the spot treatment of issues will all reduce costs. Anything that ensure that production opportunities are maximised must be a priority.

EU scheme replacement? Well, the Basic Payment Scheme hasn’t really been a thing for fruit growers, but if this also encompasses the PO scheme which has been transformative for many growers, it can only be a good thing. In the broader sense, anything that recognises the costs involved in delivering environmentally sustainable production systems and supporting the continual evolution of farming must be a good thing.

And the food security index, at last! We all know that food that travels a short distance to the shelf, grown to the highest standards by growers who are conscious of their legacy must be the right thing. Home-grown food has been so far down the list of priorities that there have been times when we have felt forgotten in the face of trade deals that disadvantage the British industry.

On to fruit show news; well, if you’re thinking about exhibiting, I’d get your skates on. The amazing new team at the show has been busy booking in companies and the Maidstone Hall is filling fast, boding well for another vintage National Fruit Show this year.