Written evidence submitted by the Food Research Collaboration


About the Food Research Collaboration

Established in 2014, the Food Research Collaboration (FRC) brings together academics, civil society groups and practitioners to produce and share the evidence-based knowledge needed to protect and expand the UK’s sustainable food sector.

The FRC is based at the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London.


Response to the call for evidence

The following evidence is a summary of recent Food Research Collaboration research[i] on horticultural training in the UK.


1. Horticultural training is vital to UK food security

The British public is being urged to eat more fruit and more vegetables, but the British farmers who grow these are in crisis. The UK currently produces 54% of field vegetables and just 16.4% of fruit that is consumed domestically. Earlier this year, the EFRA Committee found “clear evidence that labour shortages have badly affected the food and farming industry - threatening food security.[ii]

Although the Government Food Strategy (GFS)[iii] emphasises high-tech innovation as a main driver of productivity, the advocates of innovation must recognise that productivity arises not just from technology itself, but also from people.

In order to create a resilient food system, the country requires sufficient people with the skills, capacity and knowledge to grow food efficiently and sustainably. The current situation in the UK is precarious: the diverse skills and knowledge that are essential for food production are now concentrated in just 1% of the population. In light of Brexit, Covid disruptions, the war in Ukraine and wider geopolitical volatility, the food sector cannot continue to rely on migrant labour: the UK therefore urgently needs to retain and strengthen the skills to enhance domestic fruit and vegetable production capacity. It is essential that the process to build domestic skills capacity begins without delay.


2. The horticulture sector has varied and changing skills needs

The UK edible horticultural sector is highly diverse, comprising a vast range of different crop types (annuals, tree fruit, soft fruit, glasshouse salad veg and herbs), scales (from field scale to urban market gardens), and growing systems (from conventional to organic and Integrated Pest Management). As a result, there is a variety of training needs.

However, the current system for training fruit and vegetable growers, both for entrants to the sector and for those wishing to progress their careers, is fragmented and under-funded. This is a critical problem, as evidence shows that horticultural work requires complex knowledge and skills.[iv]

The horticulture sector has varied and changing skills needs, ranging from the foundational training required by new entrants to marketing and post-harvest technology skills that hone the efficiency of entrepreneurs and managers. Going forward, workers will also require knowledge of soil health, soil management, biodiversity, pest and disease management, agronomy, chemical use and pesticide spraying. Over 5-10 years, as technology may reduce the need for labour in a hybridised way, there will also be a need for agricultural engineers, IT specialists and technicians to operate increasing levels of automation.


3. Horticultural training is currently very fragmented

Horticultural training opportunities are currently offered by a mix of county agricultural colleges, universities, private colleges and social enterprises. These training opportunities can range from practical traineeships and vocational courses to academic degrees. Although organisations including the Ecological Land Cooperative, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and the new Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture separately detail where people interested in a career in fruit and vegetable growing can access training, there is no single official list of courses or providers.


4. Horticultural training needs to be more coherent and better supported

Horticultural careers need to be made more readily available, more affordable and more attractive. The EFRA Committee has stated that “attractive educational and vocational training packages to attract British-based workers” are needed to reduce the horticulture sector’s dependence on overseas labour,[v] and the Government has recognised that “an increased focus on domestic workers… will be vital to ensure a sufficient and suitably skilled workforce for the food and farming sector in the medium to long term.[vi]

A single access point for those seeking information about careers in edible horticulture would be an easy first step. A recognised career progression, supported by accredited qualifications, is desirable. Horticulture has a ‘culture’ problem, in that jobs are perceived (accurately) to be low paid; but also low-status. The latter could be tackled through educational training, both of students and of educators.

In order to boost horticultural production, it is therefore essential that both the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the devolved agriculture departments work with the sector and with training institutions to create and implement a bold strategy to recruit and train a new generation of horticultural entrepreneurs and skilled, motivated workers.

The transition to more sustainable food production practices may help make horticulture more attractive to a diverse range of potential participants. Agroecological horticulture[vii] (which uses holistic, nature-based approaches to production and also values equity and diversity) enjoys higher job satisfaction and job retention levels than conventional horticulture. Research has found that new entrants to growing are more likely to farm organically and engage with agri-environment schemes, and that the new generation of farmers working in sustainable forms of agriculture are more likely to be female, educated and young compared to conventional farming.[viii] Moreover, with younger people prioritising environmental concern in their career choices, businesses looking for labour will need to demonstrate that their workplaces are addressing pressing environmental concerns if they wish to


make themselves attractive to new staff. These factors must inform efforts to expand and enhance UK horticultural production.

If we are to meet climate and environmental goals and ensure that the expansion of horticulture does not entrench the problems encountered in the past, it is crucially important that relevant training is available in agroecological, regenerative and/or low-impact forms of horticulture. The new Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture, due to launch in 2023, should provide some help for farmers and growers seeking to access these skills.

To achieve an increase in horticulture production to match the 30% increase in consumption necessary to have an impact on public health without adversely affecting progress on climate and environmental goals, efforts to recruit, train and support new and existing growers must be scaled up, adequately funded, include agroecological and regenerative skills, and be prioritised in policy.

To achieve this, the new government must fulfil the previous government’s commitment to produce a horticulture strategy. This must be cross-departmental, supported by the UK’s four nations, and be firmly focused on providing skills and training for existing and future UK horticulturalists that will support food security, climate security and public health into the future.


October 2022



















[i] This evidence is mainly based on Laughton, R. (2022) Eat more vegetables! Grow more vegetables! But who will grow the vegetables? A Food Research Collaboration Policy Insight.

Available at: https://foodresearch.org.uk/publications/eat-more-vegetables-grow-more-vegetables-but-who-will-grow-the-vegetables/


[ii] House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (2022) Labour shortages in

the food and farming sector: Fourth Report of Session 2021–22, (HC 173) p3.


[iii] Government Food Strategy, published 13 June 2022.

Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1082026/government-food-strategy.pdf


[iv] Pitt, H. (2022) Knowing to Grow: Increasing the resilience of plant-centred food production skills. Cardiff University School of Geography and Planning.

Available at: https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/2633208/Results-Report-Skills-Ecosystems-FINAL.pdf

[v] House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (2022) Labour shortages in

the food and farming sector: Fourth Report of Session 2021–22, (HC 173) p31.


[vi] House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (2022) Labour shortages in

the food and farming sector: Government Response to the Committee’s Fourth Report of Session 2021–22, Second Special Report of Session 2022-23, (HC 412) p9.


[vii] The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN defines agroecology as an integrated approach that simultaneously applies ecological and social concepts and principles to the design and management of food and agricultural systems.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2018) The 10 Elements of Agroecology: Guiding the Transition to Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems.

Available at https://www.fao.org/3/I9037EN/i9037en


[viii] Taherzadeh, A. (2019) Learning Pathways into Sustainable Agriculture: The motivations and approaches of young entrant farmers. The Sustainable Places Research Institute, Cardiff University.