Apple growers are “squeezed” by the “big six” supermarkets and are now contemplate to “grub up orchards rather than plant new ones”, a recent Lords’ enquiry has heard.
Some growers are being paid as little as 3p on a bag of six apples sold for £2.20 by supermarkets, according to the House of Lords hearing. They are also now being forced to consider the prospect of bulldozing the UK’s ancient orchards.
The findings of the Lords’ Horticultural Sector Committee slammed the “relentless competition between supermarkets to keep prices low, which squeezes grower returns in the face of spiraling input costs and makes some crops unviable to produce.”
“We have also heard that they exert huge pressure over growers, who often feel like ‘minnows’ in the face of behemothic supermarket power in a ‘savage marketplace’,” it added.
The report echoes a recent survey of 100 small fruit and veg growers by organic farming company Riverford, in which half of the farmers said they feared they would be forced out of business over the next 12 months.
The report revealed that only 17 per cent of fruit consumed by the public is grown in the UK as supermarkets continue to buy cheaper supplies from abroad instead.
“Loss-leader strategies, price-matching to the lowest bidder and the perceived imperative to offer low prices to consumers at the expense of grower returns is squeezing the UK horticultural sector out in favour of cheaper imports,” it added.
A spokesman for the British Independent Fruit Growers Association warned that the current situation “is so bad for apple growers that many are deciding to grub up orchards rather than plant new ones.”
“Despite the need for affordable food, particularly during a cost-of-living crisis, supermarket activity is fundamentally damaging food security in the UK by further increasing our reliance on cheap overseas imports and putting UK growers out of business.
“The government must conduct and publish its review of fairness in the horticultural supply chain as soon as possible,” Framing UK stated quoted the spokesman as saying.
Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson, who has also recently launched a petition to urge supermarkets to treat farmers more fairly, stated that the vast majority of major supermarkets refused to discuss this issue in a public forum speaks volumes about their attitude to small farmers.
“The stark reality is that half of our fruit and veg growers may be forced out of business over the next twelve months. We welcome the Horticulture Sector Committee’s comments and recommendations, but these now have to be put into action by the government”.
He said the supermarkets’ snubbing of the enquiry mirrored their refusal to respond to an open letter from Riverford pleading for fairer treatment of smaller suppliers.