Fruit and vegetable production needs to be seen as a public good and should be incentivised with payments after Brexit, rural policy expert Professor Michael Winter has urged.
Speaking at the inaugural Nuffield Farming Lecture on 4 July, the Exeter University academic called for grants to encourage farmers to switch to producing nutritious foods such as fruit and vegetables.
He argued that the UK’s large trade deficit in homegrown produce highlights the need for development in the sector and he highlighted opportunities for UK farmers to improve the health of the nation by adapting to changes in food culture.
“Following the publication of the government’s ‘Health and Harmony’ report, I believe nutritional security needs to be included as a ‘public good’, and should be rewarded with payments in a post-Brexit strategy,” Winter said.
“While many individuals are adopting healthier diets, and more are following trends such as veganism, the population as a whole still doesn’t eat enough fresh produce.
“To overcome this, I’d like to see grants paid to encourage farmers to switch to producing nutritious foods such as fruit, vegetables and legumes.”
Winter acknowledged that there were “major barriers” to those looking to diversify into horticulture, both in terms of skills and infrastructure requirements, such as storage facilities and specialist machinery. However, he stressed the need to facilitate new entrants to the industry as well teaching current farmers new skills.
“The Prince’s Countryside Fund is already doing fantastic work to train dairy and livestock farmers,” Winter said, “but this could be rolled out further to help maximise profitability and resilience in more of our smaller farms.”
The academic concluded the lecture by stressing the importance of a joined-up approach from food and farming and health policy makers, to those in related industries, right through to food processors and farmers at the start of the supply chain.
“While changes in agricultural policy and farmers themselves can play a huge part in driving change, food choices will always come down to the consumer,” he added. “It is imperative clear messages about food, cooking and health continue to be driven by the food industry, and health and consumer groups.”
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