February 25, 2020 / 2:27 PM / a month ago

UK horticulture expansion needs workers as well as water - NFU

BIRMINGHAM, England, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Britain could grow far more of its fruit and vegetables with water supplies many rivals lack but may struggle to expand due to government plans to curb immigration, National Farmers Union president Minette Batters said on Tuesday.

Britain produces only 7% of the fruit it consumes and 53% of its vegetables, she added.

“It is ironic that the government, on the one hand, is encouraging more people to increase the amount of fruit and veg in their diets yet on the other hand making it harder for that fruit and veg to be produced in Britain,” Batters said.

Britain announced last week it would allow 10,000 seasonal farm workers into the country for the 2020 harvest.

“We need 70,000 seasonal workers in our horticulture sector. A commitment to have a seasonal scheme for 10,000 simply isn’t enough,” Batters said, urging the government to increase the number for 2021.

Batters noted that Britain imported fruit and vegetables from some of the most water-stressed parts of the world such as Israel, Chile and Spain.

Britain has suffered widespread flooding in recent months and is on track for one of the wettest winters on record.

“We have a bountiful supply of water, but we ask the rest of the world to use their scarce water supplies to produce the food that we could and should be growing at home,” Batters said.

More spending on water infrastructure was needed, however, to move water around the country and sure farmers had access to water for food production, she added.

“Very little has been done to improve our water infrastructure since the creation of canals in the 1800s. Years of neglect has created an urgent problem.” (Reporting by Nigel Hunt, Editing by Ed Osmond)

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