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Fresh produce in the UK

A factsheet on fresh produce in the UK. Covers growers, production area, output, self sufficiency, storage and the EU Fruit and Vegetable Aid Scheme

About this article

Last updated December 2011

 

- UK fruit and vegetable growers
- Production area
- Horticultural output
- Self sufficiency
- EU Fruit and Vegetable Aid Scheme
- Storage
- Production efficiency
- Environmental impact

 

UK fruit and vegetable growers

  1. There are a total of 2,243 growers nationwide (excluding potato growers), of which 1,821 are commercial horticulture growers, 395 are apple and pear producers and 27 are mushroom growers
  2. As with other agriculture sectors, a few large growers are responsible for the vast majority of production and there is a long tail of small growers
  3. Producer Organisations (POs) are encouraged by the European Union. There were fewer than 50 recognised in the UK in 2009, but they vared in size, with some having more than 150 members, though the average number was 23

Production area

The planted area of fruit and vegetables grown in the open has fluctuated over the past decade:

  1. The planted area in 2011 was greater than in 2003
  2. However, the area in 2011 was 17% smaller than the average planted area between 1996 and 1998
  3. Vegetables account for about 80% of the produce grown in the open, with orchards and small fruits making up the remainder

Area grown in the open (000 Ha)

1996-98 2009 2010 2011
195 157 155 162

Source: Defra

In 2011, the total area on which vegetables, salad and fruit were grown in glasshouses was 1,948 hectares.

Horticultural output

The contribution of horticulture to total agricultural output has changed little in the past 50 years. In 2009 the contribution was up by less than 1% to 13%, compared with 2008.

In monetary terms:

  • The production of horticultural crops was worth £2.5 billion in 2009
  • Lettuces, tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms and onions account for 48% of the total value of production
  • In fruit production, strawberries and raspberries are the most valuable crops

Self sufficiency

The UK is increasingly reliant on imported fruit and vegetables to meet domestic requirements, both for items that the country is physically unable to produce and for products that are out of season in the UK.

home production marketed fruit and vegetables

Source: ADAS/Defra analysis of HM Revenue and Customs data

The graph above shows that:

  • While levels of domestically-produced fruit have remained relatively stable, imports have risen to meet increased demand
  • Levels of domestically-produced vegetables have fallen by 24%, while imports have increased by 51% over the past 20 years

EU Fruit and Vegetable Aid Scheme

This scheme aims to support POs that enable and encourage growers to realise greater marketing scale and improved efficiencies. POs allow members to build stronger supply chain relationships and exert greater influence in the marketplace.

  • The scheme was introduced in 1996
  • Since 2005, the number of POs has been in decline due to a range of factors, including the impact of unfavourable EU audits and consolidation between POs
  • Even at its peak, the proportion of national production supported through the scheme was always lower in the UK than for many other EU countries
  • Only 35% of UK produce goes through POs compared with 90% in the Netherlands
  • The Greenery in the Netherlands had a turnover of €1.84bn in 2010, which was greater than the farm gate value of vegetable production in the UK

Storage

Once harvested, any natural resistance fruit has to spoiling is lost and, in some cases, the degradation process is accelerated by changes in the fruit’s enzymes. It is, therefore, important to maintain proper storage conditions to prolong the quality of the produce and its storage life.

Fresh fruits need low temperatures and high relative humidity to reduce respiration and slow down the metabolic process.

Methods to reduce degradation are as follows:

  • refrigerate the produce to reduce the rate of respiration
  • vacuum cooling
  • reduce the oxygen content of the environment in which the produce is kept to a value not above 5% of the atmosphere, but above the value at which anaerobic respiration would begin

The notion of 'seasonality' is increasingly difficult to define due to both prolonged storage and higher levels of imported goods.

Production efficiency

The majority of fresh produce is harvested by machinery, often using very sophisticated rigs. It is then washed, graded and packed for customers. These processes are variously controlled by growers and the supply chain structures of which they are part.

Work by IGD's Food Chain Centre has demonstrated the potential for improving these processes through the wider adoption of 'lean thinking' principles.

Further details of this work, together with case studies, can be found at Food Chain Centre - Putting business improvement into practice.

Environmental impact

Greenhouse gases

  • According to the Food Climate Research Network at the University of Surrey, consumption of fruit and vegetables accounts for around 2.5% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions
  • The most greenhouse gas intensive stages of the fruit and vegetable supply chain are transport (in particular air freight) and refrigeration
  • However, overseas grown produce that is reasonably robust, cultivated without heating or other protection, and transported by sea or short distances by road, is also fairly low in greenhouse gas intensity
  • UK field-grown fruit and vegetables cultivated without additional heating or protection, which are not fragile or easily spoiled, have the least negative environmental impact

Water

  • Horticulture is a minor user of water, accounting for about 1% of the total water abstracted
  • However, the usage of water for irrigation is concentrated in the drier parts of the country and reaches its peak during the summer months
  • Between June and August, there are a number of areas where the agricultural demand is greater than the summer availability of water, largely in East Anglia
  • Water used for irrigation is vital to ensure crop yield and crop quality, particularly at key stages of growth, and has an important role to play in reducing imports of some fruit and vegetables

Waste

  • All produce is grown to a specification agreed with the grower’s customers
  • Fruit and vegetable crop yields vary year on year due to weather conditions and management practices
  • Natural variability is an additional factor that limits the proportion of produce that is within specification
  • Evidence from the Waste & Resources Action Programme (known as WRAP) suggests that the proportion of produce that does not make a retail specification can vary between 1% and 25%, depending on the product and season
  • A lot of out-of-specification produce is channelled into secondary markets, to supply customers such as caterers, wholesale markets and food processors
  • Any remaining produce is used for animal feed or as a natural fertiliser, although clearly it is in the grower’s interest to gain as much financial return as possible for their products
  • The evidence suggests that growers and their respective supply chain organisations send little, if any, produce to landfill. As a result, the whole crop is fully utilised in some way.
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