Urgent need for fairer returns for British strawberry growers - Fruit & Vine

Urgent need for fairer returns for British strawberry growers

An 8 percent drop in strawberry plants for 2024, with an estimated 18 million fewer strawberry punnets on supermarket shelves, signals the urgent need for fairer returns for British fruit growers.

British strawberries

An estimated 18 million fewer strawberry punnets could be on supermarket shelves in 2024

According to British Berry Growers, the industry body representing 95% of British berries sold in the UK, British growers are reigning back strawberry planting plans in the face of stagnant returns and significant cost increases.

A survey of BBG growers in June 2023 identified an eight percent reduction in the number of strawberry plants being planned for 2024. This is likely to mean millions fewer British strawberry punnets on supermarket shelves next year.

Berries have been in consistent growth as a category for a decade. The British public buys more berries year on year, but berry growers are struggling to survive.

The decline is a result of the rising cost of production and flat returns to growers from UK supermarkets

Growers report that returns from supermarkets have failed to cover increased costs. Growers have faced rising costs of labour, storage, haulage, planting, and farm maintenance, yet supermarket returns have remained flat.

While the decline in strawberry production may not be that noticeable to consumers in 2023 as supermarket shelves are now filled with fresh strawberries, this analysis by British Berry Growers raises concerns around the sustainability of the industry in the long term.

Financially stretched growers are starting to reassess their planting plans and will move to growing other crops or diversifying away from horticulture if they are unable to cover their costs.

Urgent action is needed to address fairer returns within the domestic market to ensure the UK berry industry can invest in the future and maintain the same or even higher levels of strawberry production in the future to match consumer demand.

If production continues to drop at this rate, the British berry industry may halve by 2031

The projected eight percent decline in strawberry plants for 2024 is equivalent to an estimated 12 million fewer strawberry plants and 9 million fewer punnets. While this may not be enough to be immediately noticeable for consumers, it is a concern for the future sustainability of the industry.

In response to these challenges at home, growers are increasingly turning to export markets. According to the same BBG survey, UK growers plan to export four times as many berries in 2023 as they did in 2022.

Nick Marston, chairman of British Berry Growers, said “The estimated eight percent drop in strawberry plants for 2024 raises alarm bells for our industry. While consumers will not feel the impact right now, it highlights the need for swift action to ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry.

“The berry category has historically experienced consistent growth, but growers’ profitability is at an all-time low. If returns from supermarkets continue to fail to address growers’ rising costs, an increasing number of growers will be forced to cut production, shift to exports, or consider growing other crops.

“Addressing these concerns is crucial to the domestic market. Berries contribute substantially to the British economy – the value of the industry in year-round retail sales stands at an all-time high of £1.7 billion. We need supermarkets to act now in terms of fair returns and we need support from government in terms of effective seasonal workers Visa scheme rules and surety over the longer term future of the scheme to help ensure the future of the industry.”

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