The recent rationing of some salad vegetables in a number of supermarkets this year has highlighted our vulnerability in relying on imports for most of these products. In 2022 the UK imported 838,000 tonnes of salad vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and lettuce), 85% of which came from three countries; the Netherlands, Spain, and Morocco. The latest analysis by Savills research published today in its Spotlight on controlled environment horticulture explores whether this supply crisis could be the catalyst required for a major investment into the UK controlled environment horticulture sector enabling retailer supply chains to adopt a more UK-centric procurement practice.
Combined with the recent supply chain challenges, there are multiple drivers pushing decision-making towards more efficient, technological methods of food production in the UK, including policy, labor, consumers' food and health, and climate.
The Food Strategy White paper released last year promised a follow-up strategy for horticulture in England, including a focus on delivering glasshouses; in order to achieve a resilient food supply, it is clear current government policy is looking towards high-tech horticulture. Also documented in the food strategy is the aspiration for the skilled worker visa route to enable skilled professionals to bring their expertise to the UK, which in turn potentially reduces the need for seasonal labor, given the focus on automation.
The promotion of domestic horticultural production in conjunction with facilitating fresh, local supply will contribute to an enhanced diet, currently enabled by the high proportion of imported salad vegetables. In many cases, harvesting food locally permits better development of the crop, yielding improved nutrition and flavor.
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