Opinion

It really is time to support home-grown produce

I am aware of the ongoing debate within the fresh produce sector as to what proportion of the monies coming in at the retail end actually filter their way back to the primary producer.

The past number of years have seen the UK’s farming industry receive some good news courtesy of European Union’s PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status.

But the agri food sector must now push on and convert all this potential into ‘fruitful’ reality for farmers and growers.

This means that every facet of our society – including the public sector – must be made totally aware of the quality produce available on their doorstep.

The sums are quite simple. More and more people across the UK are eating out. In turn local restaurateurs are committed to sourcing high-quality food, which they can serve to an increasingly discerning public.

Significantly, the margins that can be realised by farmers servicing the hospitality and catering sectors are realistic – provided the quality of the produce on offer is consistently good.

In the US consumers are already spending half of their annual food budgets eating out and the prospects are that the UK will following suit over the next five to 10 years.

Add in the fact that visitor numbers to this part of the world are increasing and one can project with a degree of certainty that the catering industry will continue to expand.

The response at farmer level should make the various farm quality assurance schemes more meaningful. It will also see farmers producing new and novel crops for which there is a strong demand and which can be grown successfully under local conditions.

And then there’s the public sector. It spends vast sums of money on food procurement.

Three years ago, the UK Government announced a major review of the way food and catering services are purchased by public bodies.

Since then the review has been looking at whether small and medium-sized producers are being given a fair chance to compete for contracts with public sector bodies such as schools, hospitals and prisons.

The investigation was stimulated, in part, by claims from Prince Charles that many publicly-funded organisations are not buying enough British produce.

But, unfortunately, the situation remains that there is a lower proportion of locally produced food bought in public sector contracts than is the case on the High Street. 

Over the years, government ministers have not been slow in projecting that local farmers will get a fairer crack of the whip when it comes to the procurement of food by public bodies. It’s about time that some of these predictions started coming true.