Environment Secretary Ranil Jayawardena has set out plans to boost homegrown fruit and vegetable production and drive the growth of high-tech horticulture.
Glasshouse growing is said to have multiple economic, food security and sustainability benefits but currently represents just 10% of English horticulture. Because of this, the UK only grows around 25% of the cucumbers and 17% of the tomatoes supplied domestically.
Businesses using glasshouse growing can benefit from extended growing seasons, efficient water usage and higher yields per square metre.
Mr Jayawardena has now pledged a further £12.5 million investment in automation and robotics through the Farming Innovation Programme on top of more than £70 million spent so far.
The fund will open in January, with UK Research and Innovation, and will match fund projects that will drive economic growth, food security and deliver on environmental commitments.
Mr Jayawardena said: “We all rely on farmers and growers every day to produce high-quality food, and to look after our environment.
“Whilst 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.”
Last week, he visited the Netherlands to learn more about high-tech glasshouses and vertical growing approaches, including touring a robotics institute and a business using artificial intelligence, robotics, renewable energy and water-neutral systems to grow produce.
There was a further announcement, promising to appoint an industry expert to work across the edible and ornamental sectors to build a clearer picture of the barriers and opportunities in Controlled Environment Horticulture. They will provide recommendations and policy interventions.
The Environment Secretary has also written to a number of Controlled Environment Growers to seek the industry’s views on how the Government can support its expansion and ensure policies best reflect industry needs.