Memorandum submitted by East Malling Research (SFS 28)



East Malling Research (EMR) is the principal UK research organisation supporting the fruit growing industry. EMR was privatised by Defra in 2004 having previously been part of Horticulture Research International (HRI).



The consumption of fruit and vegetables is a key element of healthy diets. Emerging medical evidence is now linking an aging European population with increased rates of cancer, heart disease, type II diabetes and obesity. The prevalence of all of these diseases is mitigated by diets rich in fruit and vegetables (hence the various 'five-a-day' campaigns in the UK and other European countries).


Unfortunately the UK's ability to supply itself with fruit, in particular, falls well short of current consumer demand. Consequently only 10% of the fruit consumed in the UK is grown in the UK - the lowest self-sufficiency figure of any agricultural or horticultural category. Of course there are many categories of fruit that can not be grown in temperate climates, such as bananas and citrus and there are considerations of seasonal availability. However, the fact that the UK only produces, for example, 27% of its requirement for apples and 5% of cherries is not due entirely to seasonality but also to technical and market development.


The UK consumer prefers to buy locally or nationally grown fruit when there is an option. High quality fruit products, including fresh supply, are required to deliver dietary and food additive benefits to an unhealthy population. Sustaining an economic UK-based production platform to meet this demand against a background of climate change and increasing urbanisation is vital. UK based production faces many challenges with respect to both economic and climatic limitations. However, sustainable UK production delivers benefits in terms of control of supply, quality (provenance and traceability), maximal shelf-life reducing waste and less food miles.


The fruit industry requires underpinning R&D to improve sustainability and drive innovation. Improved agronomic techniques, the breeding of improved varieties and the development of post-harvest storage regimes have lead to some notable successes in improving the availability of UK fruit. For example, Bramley apples, the main culinary apple in the UK, can now be stored all the year round to ensure continuity of supply. The research on growing and storage techniques that enabled this innovation was completed over three decades. Home grown strawberries are available from April until late October due to varietal selection and the use of different agronomic techniques. Again, the selection of varieties is the result of a breeding programme spanning 20 years.


Innovation on perennial horticultural crops such as tree fruit and soft fruit requires continuous support over a long period of time for the very obvious reason that trees and fruit canes take a long time to develop. EMR has been working for 10 years on the development of UK cherries that crop in September and October (the UK cherry crop is currently mainly July and early August) but a further 5-10 years of development is required to bring these innovations to market.


In the recent past the long term strategic support required for these innovations was provided by Defra who, since the break-up and privatisation of HRI, are conducting a phased withdrawal from the support of production-focused horticultural research. Unfortunately the timescales, and therefore cost, of perennial horticultural research is well outside the normal criteria for industry investment and a 'funding gap' has been created which will lead to ossification of UK fruit growing and a lack of medium to long-term innovation.


In conclusion therefore, we believe that UK food security would be enhanced by intervention and encouragement of the indigenous fruit growing industry. An increase in self-sufficiency of UK fruit growing to say 20% would increase the offering of UK fruit to the consumer, encourage healthier diets and reduce food miles. It is achievable but requires market and technical development stimulated by supporting R&D.


Colin Gutteridge


January 2009