The National Farmers' Union is calling for a farming growth plan to halt the backward slide of UK food production self-sufficiency.
NFU president Maurig Raymond said that as Defra statistics reveal the UK only produced 60% of the total food it consumed, food supplies for the year would have run out on 7 August, if the UK could only rely on its internal domestic produce.
Self sufficiency levels in the UK have dropped from 75% in 1991, to 62% last year, and 60% this year, and Raymond has warned that the downward slop in self-sufficiency requires a change in policy.
Paul Laird, partner at The Fish Partnership in High Wycombe, said farmers needed more support from the government to invest in new technology.
He said: “Everyone involved in farming is right to be worried about the drop in self-sufficiency levels, but farmers are ready to produce more with the right support from government and the industry.
“And while the government has doubled the Annual Investment Allowance (AIA) from £250,000 to £500,000, allowing businesses to invest in new plant and machinery for tax benefits, many farmers cannot get the initial finance in place to take advantage of this tax break.
“We support the NFU’s call for a coherent partnership of the industry and government backing, and urge that accessible funding packages are put in place support an increase in production and attract young farmers into the industry.”
Responding to the claims from the NFU, Defra said that the UK’s current rate of self-sufficiency “far exceeds” those levels from the past.
A spokesman added: “We are not complacent and addressing future demand for food remains a key priority. We continue to work with the industry and support UK producers to help boost food production – this includes our £160 million Agri-tech Strategy, driving innovation in farming and developing new resilient varieties of crops and our plan to see the public sector sourcing £400 million pounds worth of food from the UK that they currently import.”n 2013 the UK was 55 per cent self-sufficient in vegetable production and 10 per cent self-sufficient in fruit production, according to Defra’s latest horticultural statistics. Overall, self-sufficiency in fresh produce has decreased from 46 per cent in 2000 to 34 per cent in 2013.Imports account for 65 per cent of fresh produce consumed in the UK, with the majority coming from other EU Member States. Imports offer consumers a wide range of fresh produce outside the UK growing season and varieties which simply cannot be grown in the UK. It will always remain a vital element of the UK’s food security."The NFU has a green light to increase UK production, but we need to be realistic about the potential for the UK to become totally self-sufficient," the Fresh Produce Consortium said. "The UK’s climate will always limit the range of produce which can be grown here, which is why imported produce is such a key component to the nation’s healthy eating habits and meets the expectations of our diverse population."FPC has worked with Defra and others to encourage British growers to expand their market share, particularly among the food service and wholesale sectors which can be overlooked by some British growers."There are over 400 different types of fresh produce available in the UK, not all of which can be grown in the UK. However, if UK growers want to more self-sufficient they should consider going beyond the more traditional products which they offer currently."The latest statistics reveal we are 60 per cent self-sufficient in food – meaning we produce enough food to last for 219 days. In 1991 self-sufficiency was 75 per cent and the figure has also dropped by two per cent since last year.NFU President Meurig Raymond said: “To think UK food would only last until August 7 without imports is an alarming notion. But looking back over the last two decades and seeing the downward slope in self-sufficiency says to me – this needs to change.”Consumers want to buy British food with 86 per cent of shoppers keen to buy more traceable food produced from British farms and our farmers are geared up to produce more.The NFU is therefore encouraging consumers, retailers, politicians and the wider food industry to Back British Farming. By supporting our farmers it offers them the confidence to produce more.“What we need now is for farming to be at the heart of decision-making across the wider food industry and government, to allow for more food to be both produced and consumed here, in the UK,” Raymond said.British farmers produce meat, fruit, vegetables and herbs year round with the use of clever innovations and technologies.East Anglia grower, Patrick Bastow, produces lambs lettuce and other baby leaf salad leaves throughout the year undercover. Rain water is captured and specialist machinery harvests the crop to ensure efficiency is maximised.Other farmers are experimenting with crops that have traditionally been imported. Essex farmer, Peter Thompson, now grows a commercial crop of figs, and has successfully trialled Asian herbs such as lemongrass on his farm. By experimenting he has diversified his enterprise and managed to produce a more unusual crop for the British public.“From travelling across the country, I see fantastic farms on a daily basis that are efficient and productive businesses ready to produce more. “Our aim is to ensure the country – consumers, politicians, retailers and the wider food industry - is backing British farming, and within this, a solid plan for agricultural growth to ensure the current self-sufficiency trend is reversed and long-term food security is supported,” said Meurig.Peter Thompson is a third-generation fruit and vegetable grower on the Tendring Peninsula near Harwich who is pursuing several innovative projects to transform the farming business, with new crops and a reduced environmental impact. His business illustrates the potential of the wider farming industry to produce more food given the right signals.