Environment secretary commits to sustainable horticulture growth - Fruit & Vine

Environment secretary commits to sustainable horticulture growth

Ranil Jayawardena has today set out plans to boost home grown fruit and vegetable production and drive the growth of high-tech horticulture.

Glasshouse growing, a form of Controlled Environment Horticulture, currently represents only 10% of English horticultural businesses. This means the UK only grows 25% of the cucumbers and 17% of the tomatoes supplied domestically – but Defra says businesses operating with this model are benefitting from extended growing seasons, efficient water usage and higher yields per square metre.

Kickstarting efforts to grow the horticulture sector and boost domestic production, the environment secretary committed to a further investment of £12.5m in automation and robotics through the Farming Innovation Programme.

The fund opens in January with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and will match-fund projects that will drive economic growth, food security and deliver on environmental commitments. Previously funded projects have included fruit scouting robots, automated vegetable harvesters and new types of fertiliser.

Environment secretary Ranil Jayawardena said: “Technology offers huge opportunities to make farming greener and more productive, so we should harness it to help grow the economy, create jobs and improve food security too.”

Last week, the environment secretary visited the Netherlands to learn more about high-tech greenhouse and vertical growing approaches, touring a robotics institute and a glasshouse business which uses artificial intelligence, robotics, renewable energy and water neutral systems to grow produce.

Mr Jayawardena will also appoint an industry expert to work with him and colleagues across the edible and ornamental sectors to build a clearer picture of the barriers and opportunities in Controlled Environment Horticulture. They will provide a set of recommendations and policy interventions that the government can implement both immediately and longer term.

The environment secretary says he has written to a number of major Controlled Environment Horticulture growers to seek the industry’s views on how the government can best support its expansion and ensure government policies best reflect industry needs.

The government has previously committed to including industrial horticulture in decisions on industrial energy policy, and reviewing the planning permission process to support new developments. Plans to incentivise the sector to make use of surplus heat and CO2 from industrial processes, and renewable sources of energy are also being considered.

Later this year, the environment secretary has committed to providing details on how the government will increase food security, whilst strengthening the resilience and role of farmers as stewards of the British countryside.

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