With the Food and Agriculture Organisation estimating that agriculture production needs to rise globally by around 60% by 20501 in order to feed the larger population, what is the future for vegetable production in Wales?
The UK has a huge deficit in fruit and vegetable production. The National Farming Union (NFU) say the UK grows around 60% of the food we eat3. According to the Food Foundation, thirty years ago, 83 per cent of the veg we ate came from the UK. Now it is 58 per cent, partly because we eat more exotic veg4. The picture looks bleaker in Wales, with sources (Welsh Government, Food For Wales, Food From Wales, 2010-2020) suggesting that as a nation we are only 19% self-sufficient in vegetables5.
But its not as easy as simply sowing more seeds, with only 14% of land in Wales classed as suitable for arable cropping6. Not all of this land is utilised so there is still a lot of room to grow, but It’s also not about growth at any cost, says Sarah Gould, Project Director at Tyfu Cymru: “Access to natural and finite resources such as land, energy and water are vital to growing produce. The careful management of these natural resources is needed to open-up opportunities to expand horticulture in Wales”
A network has now been established by Tyfu Cymru to support Welsh growers in overcoming some of these challenges. Renowned American farmer Ben Hartman and author of 'The Lean Farm', recently led a teaching day for Welsh vegetable growers on ‘How to grow a lot of Food on a little land, which was hosted by Tyfu Cymru, The Landworkers' Alliance and the Organic Growers Alliance.
In 2017, Ben was named one of fifty emerging green leaders in the United States by Grist and published a companion guide to The Lean Farm titled The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables. Ben and his wife, Rachel Hershberger, own and operate Clay Bottom Farm in Goshen, Indiana, where they make their living growing and selling specialty crops on less than one acre.
The Tyfu Cymru Vegetable Network is bringing like-minded, vegetable growers in Wales together to learn new techniques, overcome challenges and exchange ideas with other growers. The next network event ‘Growing Sustainably Produced Vegetables All Year Round’ was held at Blaencamel, which is a leading and innovative organic enterprise registered with the Soil Association since 1976. A wide range of vegetables are grown in 1.5 acres of greenhouses and 12-15 acres of fields. Their crops are produced 52 weeks a year and the farm is carbon neutral/negative. Kate McEvoy, from Real Seeds, a network member who attended both events said:
"We’ve really appreciated the Tyfu Cymru Veg Network and training events. We’re always looking to keep up to date with new ideas and techniques, and we particularly appreciated the opportunity to hear Ben Hartman speak about his approaches to improving efficiency on farm and to see Blaencamel’s composting system."
With climate change and Brexit still high on the political agenda, now is a good time to highlight the opportunities for home grown Welsh produce, whether that be grown for supermarkets, local or hyper local. The Tyfu Cymru Vegetable network aims to bring growers together, to speak with one voice and to look to secure funding and long-term support in the future.
However, to achieve this, detailed information on edible horticulture production in Wales is needed, and this can be hard to come across, particularly in terms of volume. This is why, Tyfu Cymru are calling on Welsh vegetable growers to spare a couple of minutes to complete a survey to provide basic statistics on Welsh edible horticulture. The survey will measure the area, production and volume of horticulture crops – fruit, vegetable (potato as a separate category) and herb production as at February 2020.
To participate in the survey please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
We are also encouraging vegetable growers to make use of the support currently available, by joining the fully funded Tyfu Cymru Vegetable Network. To join please email email@example.com