Scotland’s fruit and vegetable sector has received a boost with the introduction of a programme designed to help growers increase their production while at the same time ensuring a fair return for the farmers.
A quest for a healthier diet, coupled with the popularity of exotic food and drink, has fuelled a growth in the sector in recent years.
While many in Scotland still fail to meet the “five a day” target for eating fruit and vegetables, consumption has gone up.
Production too has increased, with Scottish Government figures showing fruit production up 86 per cent over the past ten years to a value of £114 million. Vegetable production has grown by 50 per cent over the same period and is now worth more than £122m.
For years, agriculture in Scotland has been famous for producing world-class beef and lamb, as well as growing acres of grain for whisky, but the trend towards fruit and veg is encouraging more farmers to move in that direction.
Now it is not just perennial favourites such as raspberries and strawberries that are boosting production, but also more exotic honeyberries and rare breeds of cauliflower that suit fashionable diets.
The rediscovery of traditional vegetables, including kale and spinach – now more popular than ever due to their health-boosting properties – has also led to increased production and consumption.
Farmers are also hoping to capitalise on the success of Scotland’s food and drink industry, which is aiming to double its turnover to £30 billion by 2030, by meeting demand for locally grown and sustainably produced products.
Speaking at the launch of the campaign at the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston yesterday, Fergus Ewing MSP, the Scottish rural economy secretary, said a task force would be charged with identifying opportunities and challenges for growth in the fruit and vegetable sector, encouraging consumers to choose home-grown products over imported goods.
“By growing our fruit and veg sector we can also benefit from potential environmental and health benefits through increased consumption of locally sourced food,” he said.
Jim Withers, head of Scotland Food and Drink, said that the country punched above its weight in the area, producing more than a third of the UK’s soft fruit and a quarter of its potatoes – accounting for a significant proportion of Britain’s billion-pound retail spend on the sector.
However, he said it was crucial that a fair share of the profit margins remained with the farmers and growers who produced the crops, rather than purely adding to supermarket and other retailers’ margins.