UK Environment Secretary Vows to Support Sustainable Horticultural Expansion

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by KnowESG
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Environment Secretary Ranil Jayawardena announced plans to expand homegrown fruit and vegetable production and support the expansion of high-tech horticulture as part of the HM Government's work to unlock the potential of British farming.

Although glasshouse growing, a type of Controlled Environment Horticulture, has numerous economic, food security, and sustainability benefits, it now accounts for only 10% of English horticultural businesses. It means that the UK only grows 25% of the cucumbers and 17% of the tomatoes consumed in the country, but businesses using this strategy are already reaping benefits such as extended growing seasons, more effective water use, and higher yields per square metre.

To jump-start efforts to grow the horticulture sector and boost domestic production, the Environment Secretary announced a further £12.5 million investment in automation and robotics through the Farming Innovation Programme, on top of more than £70 million already invested in industry-led research and development.

The fund opens in January with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and will match-fund projects that will drive economic growth, food security and deliver on environmental commitments. Previous initiatives that have received funding include fruit scouting robots, automated vegetable harvesters, and new types of fertiliser.

Environment Secretary Ranil Jayawardena said:

"We all rely on farmers and growers every day to produce high-quality food and look after our environment.

"While 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."

The Environment Secretary visited the Netherlands last week to learn more about high-tech greenhouse and vertical growing technologies, touring a robotics institute and a glasshouse business that grows produce using artificial intelligence, robots, renewable energy, and water-neutral systems.

He also stated that he would engage an industry expert to collaborate with him and colleagues from the edible and ornamental sectors to get a complete picture of the challenges and prospects in Controlled Environment Horticulture. They will make suggestions and propose policy initiatives that the government can undertake immediately and in the long run.

Furthermore, the Environment Secretary has written to several large Controlled Environment Horticulture farmers to solicit feedback on how the government can best assist the industry's expansion and ensure that government regulations best reflect industry needs.

HM Government has already signalled its commitment to incorporating industrial horticulture into decisions on industrial energy policy and reviewing the planning permission procedure to promote new developments and create a favourable investment climate for the horticulture sector. Plans to incentivise the sector to make use of surplus heat and CO2 from industrial processes and renewable sources of energy are also being considered.

Source: UK Government

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