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Government to boost homegrown fruit and veg to improve sustainability

The government will invest in the UK’s horticulture sector to drive home grown fruit and vegetable production, the Environment Secretary has announced.  

As part of the government’s plans to boost farming, Ranil Jayawardena has agreed to invest £12.5 million in agricultural automation and robotics through the Farming Innovation Programme.  

He says this will bring high-tech growing solutions, such as vertical and glasshouse growing approaches, to the UK.  

Currently, the UK only grows 25% of cucumbers and 17% of tomatoes supplied domestically and 46% of food consumed was imported in 2020. 

Research from the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions found that food imports add 20MtCO2e to the UK’s food footprint, the equivalent of half the emissions from domestic production.  

assorted fruits on brown wooden crate

Mr Jayawardena said: ‘We all rely on farmers and growers every day to produce high-quality food, and to look after our environment. 

‘Whilst we have a high degree of food security, we can boost it further. We can increase home-grown fruit and vegetable production, which is why I am bringing in expert advice and match-funding robotics and automation projects. 

‘Technology offers huge opportunities to make farming greener and more productive, so we should harness it to help grow the economy, create jobs and improve food security too.’  

Glasshouse businesses use AI, robotics, renewable energy and water neutral systems to grow produce which allows for extended growing seasons, water efficiency and higher yields.  

But these businesses only represent 10% of English horticultural businesses, despite the economic and food security benefits. 

Environmentally conscious businesses will be able to apply for the fund from January, with previous winning projects including fruit scouting robots and automated vegetable harvesters.  

Ranil Jayawardena announced he would appoint an industry expert to identify opportunities and risks within Controlled Environment Horticulture and has asked the industry how the government can best support it.  

The government has also committed to including industrial horticulture in decisions on industrial energy policy and to review planning permission process to support new developments.  

It is also considering incentivising the sector to make use of surplus heat and CO2 from industrial processes.  

Photo by Scott Evans

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