Technology and skills key to fresh produce industry

Farming minister George Eustice discussed the areas that the government will focus on to improve UK horticultural productivity at Fruit Focus – the fruit industry trade show. Explaining how the government’s proposed Food & Farming Plan will boost UK horticulture, he told an industry audience: “There is a huge amount you can do through technologies such as cis-genics and gene editing that stop short of GM, but which improve crop characteristics. As we lose pesticides, it’s very important that we find new ways to deal with pests and diseases including development of traits for natural resistance.”

Another policy priority will be skills, he said, following on from the Conservative manifesto’s commitment to triple apprenticeships in food and farming. “If you want a vibrant industry, you have to attract new people,” he added. “The barriers to entry into horticulture are lower than other branches of farming. We are talking to the land-based colleges on how to bring more people into the industry through apprenticeships.”

He urged that self-sufficiency in food “shouldn’t be the target” and “would take care of itself” as domestic production grows and becomes more profitable. The minister was taking part in a NFU forum debate on increasing consumption and reversing the decline in self sufficiency with deputy president of the NFU Minette Batters, horticulture board member and grower Ali Capper and chairman, Chris Hartfield.

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