British Berry Growers launch policy board in hopes of ‘securing future’ of industry – Produce Business UK

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British Berry Growers, which represent nearly all of the commercial soft fruit growers in the UK, have formed a Campaign and Policy board to advocate for the industry’s pressing needs. 

“The British berry industry is worth £1.7 billion in retail sales year-round and accounts for an estimated 33,000 jobs across the country,” Nick Marston, chairman of British Berry Growers, said. “Securing its future is not just crucial for our growers — its continued success is an integral part of our nation’s economy and wellbeing.” 

Anthea McIntyre CBE, a former member of European Parliament who served on the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, will be the board’s chair. Others include Tim Barnes (Charltons), Tim Chambers (WB Chambers), John Chinn (Cobrey Farms), Angus Davison (Haygrove), Jim Floor (Hall Hunter), Peter Judge (S&A Group), and Lochy Porter (Angus Soft Fruits). 

They have quite the task in addressing challenges that threaten the berry industry’s viability — rising input costs and labour uncertainty high among them. Two-thirds (68 percent) of growers not only are worried about the future of their businesses, but also say they willl scale back investments in the future, according to an independent study from consultancy Andersons Midlands.

Growers are struggling with low returns and ever-increasing costs, especially labour costs,” Anthea McIntyre CBE, chair of British Berry Growers’ campaign and policy board, said. “We must act now to see continued success. The industry is currently on a knife edge, but with the support of government and policymakers we can secure a brighter future for British berries.”  

The board aims to address these issues by working with ministers, government departments, and other major stakeholders to develop a long-term strategy for a sustainable future. They have made their pitches to the House of Lords Horticultural Sector Committee in the November 2023 report, the EFRA inquiries on Fairness in the Food Supply Chain and the UK Trade Policy: Food and Agriculture.  

They have addressed six key points in the policy plan below: 

1.      A seasonal worker visa scheme extension from six to nine months 

We are calling for an extension of the current seasonal workers visa to nine months to better reflect the actual harvest season and for growers who hold a Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority licence to directly recruit and manage their own workforce.  

2.      Rural Payment Agency scheme extension 

We are calling for an extension of the existing RPA scheme to ensure our growers get fair remuneration packages, filling the gaps in existing grant schemes.  

3.      A national planning framework for controlled growing environments  

We are calling for a robust national planning framework to bring consistency to the consideration of planning applications across the country and to provide a guide to local authorities and planning professionals, enabling the rapid approval of compliant developments across UK farms.  

4.      A thriving British berry industry 

We will continue to raise awareness of the economic challenges faced by British growers up and down the country, and work with central government and retailers to implement a plan that guarantees long term security for British growers.  

5.      A better relationship with retailers 

We are calling for improved relationships between retailers and growers. This will include a retail commitment to security of supply and deliver the growers’ commitment to effect programme deliveries.  

6.      A simpler way to export British berries overseas 

We are calling for an agile and more responsive approval process for berry exports which will allow British growers to compete with their EU counterparts. We will work with DEFRA to devise an effective export system that works for all. 

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