01275 843825

60 MINUTES ON HORTICULTURE - what was said?

Date Published: 01/07/2020

John Giles, Divisional Director, Promar International

I was asked to participate in an on line webinar organised by the Institute of Agricultural Management on what is happening in the UK horticultural sector  - and maybe further afield too. I did this in conjunction with Hayley Campbell – Gibbons, who is Head of Horticulture at AHDB and who I first met in her NFU days - at a dairy conference in Mexico - as you do….!

After Hayley and I had gone through our paces, a Q & A session followed - as often, this was as interesting as running through a few power point slides. We faced a range of questions on a number of subjects.

In particular, I was quizzed on these sorts of issue – with a summary of my replies given as:

  • in terms of improving self sufficiency post Brexit - well, depending on what sort of Brexit we end up with (this is still not clear), we might still be able to import fresh produce from the likes of Spain, Italy, France and the Netherlands relatively easily, but in any case, the objective of producing more of our own produce still makes sense 
  • to do this though, we will need growers who have access to land, labour, water and technology as well as the support of major retailers and consumers too.  For a long time, we have been a net importer of fresh produce. Can we replace all that imported produce from the rest of Europe and even North America – well, maybe not all of it, but at least some it, surely? But we need to be able to do this in a cost effective manner. The “best of our best” are very good, but we do need the right enabling environment in place to be able to do this
  • during CV - 19, right across the supply chain, businesses have learnt to master new forms of communications technology and carry out business remotely.  In some cases, there will be no going back to the “old ways” of communicating with each other, but with huge potential savings in travel costs and environmental impact. I am not saying for one minute, no more trips up and down the M6 (for me) from Reading, as an example. There might be a few less than in the past though, when at times, it almost became a habit
  • in Chile, they have managed to use e commerce to promote their cherry crop to consumers via home delivery schemes very effectively.  Back in February, it became clear that landing some of the 160,000 tonnes of fruit they export to Chile was going to become very difficult, as port facilities, supermarkets and wholesale markets went in to lockdown. The Chileans responded very quickly by diverting supplies to other markets in SE Asia. They have also set out rigorous procedures to control CV – 19 at field and packhouse levels and produced a daily bulletin on current market conditions in key export destinations. And they switched their promotional activity around in very quick time
  • UK and international supply chains will probably shorten. Customers will look to stress test their procurement of fresh produce. This might well benefit UK suppliers, but defining what genuinely constitutes “local” is still difficult – is this 30 miles away or just meaning being sourced from within the UK itself? And just being “local” is not enough - being good is what counts and in most cases, “really good”
  • Shopping habits will change too and the popularity of buying fresh food from neighbourhood retailers, as opposed to out of town or town centre stores will increase - but in many cases, the major retailers also have also invested in local retail outlets, but farm shops and farmers markets could also benefit too

Some of my conclusions from the session were a combination of the following: “shocks” in the supply chain, whatever they are, tend to accentuate & accelerate what’s already happening, but well organised & structured companies tend to get through these tough periods.

At the same time, some will inevitably fail. This will provide opportunities for others. Our supply chains will be stress tested and need to be more sustainable than ever before and the “Big Ticket” issues of mid March 2020 won’t go away. 

We need to spend more time than ever before looking to understand customers and consumers and be “good” managers – we have all had to step up to the plate in a way we had probably not envisaged say 3 months ago. Change right across the supply chain for fruits and vegetables has happened quickly - and in some cases, is permanent.

The IAGRM is running a series of these lively webinars on various subjects - and you should keep an eye out for them at the website: www.iagrm.com

You should join in one soon……!


FIAgrM & Council Member