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BAPL responds to government announcements (May 2024)

May 2024 has been especially busy with government announcements of high relevance to British apple and pear growers. 

In this article, we summarise the two key government announcements relating to seasonal workers and fresh produce farming more broadly, and BAPL’s response. These comments have been publicised widely in the trade media. 

 

Five-year seasonal worker scheme announced by Defra

Ali Capper, executive chair of BAPL spoke on behalf of the organisation when the government’s response to John Shropshire’s independent labour review was announced in early May 2024.

Ali Capper said:

“We are delighted with the government response to John Shropshire’s independent labour review. At long last, our growers have the labour certainty they need to plan for the future. Our pleas have been answered.

“Until now, apple and pear growers in the UK have not known from one year to the next whether they would be able to access the seasonal workers they need to pick their crop. This kind of uncertainty has been incredibly stressful and entirely unnecessary.

“With a seasonal worker scheme commitment to 2029, we can now plan for the long term. Just as we do when we plant young apple trees.

“What is really important for government to understand is that we, as a sector, want to grow – we want to produce more apples and pears – and that means more labour not less. We hope that this government commitment to 2029 is associated with a growing number of workers to support our sector’s growth. We would also urge the government to look at extending the visa length from six to nine months to better reflect the reality of the extended fresh produce growing season in the UK.”

“In terms of this announcement, we also welcome the commitment to robotic picking technologies. This is an incredibly complex area and many technology companies have struggled to create a workable solution. When you’re trying to replicate the expert eyes and gentle hands of an experienced fruit picker, it’s not easy. However, we are keen to see progress in the technology in this area and the government support could definitely help.

“In terms of automation of packhouses, most of our apple and pear growers are already using highly automated processes. However, we definitely welcome the further automation funding the government has promised in this area.

“Finally, we want to thank John Shropshire for his thorough and thoughtful Independent Review into Labour Shortages in the Food Supply Chain. British apple and pear growers in the UK feel we have been heard at last.”

 

Prime Minister’s announcement at the Downing Street Farm to Form Summit on 14th May 2024

Just a week later, the Prime Minister hosted growers, retailers and other interested bodies at its annual Farm to Fork Summit. Several new government commitments were announced at the Summit.

BAPL welcomed the government announcement that included much-needed funding for UK apple and pear growers.

Ali Capper, on behalf of BAPL, commented:

“British apple and pear growers will be absolutely delighted with this much-needed announcement from the Prime Minister. 

“Our growers will be especially heartened by the announcement of up to £10m for English orchard growers to access equipment, technology and infrastructure. This fast-forwarding investment will give our sector the critical confidence it urgently needs right now.

“We also want to welcome the doubling of funding for a retained EU scheme replacement in the PM’s announcement. We will need to look carefully at the detail to ensure it doesn’t add more red tape with any new structures, but that notwithstanding, it’s very welcome news.

“Finally, the Food Security Index is a positive move. We’ve been in desperate need of a device like this that can drive home-grown fruit and veg production. We’re not surprised at all that this year’s Index has revealed that UK farming is at its most productive since records began – it’s something our apple and pear growers tell us all the time.

“The future of British orchards and the growth of British apple and pear volumes is definitely looking brighter today.”

Both these government announcements are testimony to the hard work of British Apples & Pears to highlight the issues facing growers and the solutions needed to support the industry. 

 

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BAPL retailer webinar

On 30th April 2024, BAPL held its annual retailer webinar.

Broadcaster, Charlotte Smith, expertly introduced and chaired the event, which gave retailers, political stakeholders and others the chance to hear direct from BAPL growers.

BAPL executive chair, Ali Capper, provided an update on:

  • Why we all need to get behind British apples and pears
  • Challenges facing growers
  • Recent sales and market share data
  • Start of season plans for 2024

A grower panel then answered questions from the audience on topics as diverse as labour, orchard grubbing, varietal development and climate change.

View the slides from the BAPL retailer webinar

It was encouraging to see representatives from all the major retailers on this webinar. This is is a critical time for everyone to come together to ensure that British consumers have the access they want to nutritious and delicious British apples and pears.

 

 

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The trees are talking!

How new ‘listening’ technologies could help British growers produce even better apples

AI technologies could be coming to an orchard near you. Things are high tech now in some UK apple and pear orchards. The latest ideas involve ‘listening’ to the trees to find out exactly when they are starting to feel thirsty. 

British apple supplier and BAPL member, Adrian Scripps, has joined a trial to evaluate a new ‘listening’ technology. The sensors on the trees detect biosignals that give growers an early alert to potential stresses – like needing a drink!

The sensors are small, with two wires that go into the tree, usually into a branch. They detect micro-electric biosignals inside the tree and trigger irrigation the moment the tree needs it. The grower no longer has to guess, or wait for the tree to show signs of ‘thirst’ – such as leaves dropping or going yellow. 

The fact is that by the time the tree is showing visible signs of stress, the damage may have been done. So it’s better to be able to provide some water before that happens. 

We’re also very mindful of the need to conserve water as much as we can. And this technology can help growers do just that. While we might have the perfect maritime climate for growing delicious apples in the UK, rain is not always in plentiful supply. Water sustainability is very important. 

Ultimately this technology can also help growers conserve water and be more sustainable. Without this insight, growers might have to water the trees when they ‘think’ they might be thirsty and that could be a waste.

We’ll bring you updates as this trial progresses. In the meantime, you can read more in this Fruitnet article.

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Audit overload: Ideas for saving time while maintaining high standards

We all want high standards when it comes to fresh produce. It’s something that sets British apples and pears apart from the rest of the world. Audits are an important way to ensure there is independent endorsement of the high standards and ethical practices apple and pear growers follow.

However, there is a serious risk that the top fruit industry is facing audit overload and duplication. The audit burden is doing nothing to maintain standards, but everything to waste time and money.

Here’s an insight into the audit situation for apple and pear growers, together with some ideas for a more efficient, but equally effective, way forward.

 
What audits apply to apple and pear growers?

The exact details of the audits each grower undertakes varies by farmer and the requirements of their supermarket customers, but the following are very typical:

Red Tractor checks every element of work on the farm from planting to harvest and storage. It will also cover pesticide storage and equipment, the tidiness of farm and the quality of accommodation. It requires documentation about water and energy use and even specifies the number of toilets for staff. Typically, the Red Tractor audit preparation takes five days and the audit itself one day. However, the audit will take longer if there are multiple sites or farms. The documentation often runs to hundreds of pages and there is significant overlap with the BRC audit (see below) when it comes to packhouses and cold stores.

LEAF focuses on sustainable farming and has more than 70 control points that growers need to undertake, document and evidence. LEAF covers many of the same areas as the Red Tractor scheme, including soil management, energy efficiency and water management. The audit for LEAF accreditation usually takes around eight hours to prepare and the audit itself is added onto the Red Tractor audit. In terms of evidence, LEAF requires just as much evidence as the Red Tractor audit but with a greater emphasis on the environment, carbon footprints and waste.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) audit for food safety, as the name suggests, is about food safety. It covers policies, training, identification of potential hazards, completing records and internal audits, as well as traceability, complaint handling and product packaging, inspection and testing. These audits are usually unannounced, so preparation is ongoing. There are also peaks of activity reviewing documentation when BRC standards are changed – which typically happens every four years. During an audit, the BRC team usually spends two or three days on the farm and the related paperwork for the grower runs to 100s of pages.

SMETA (Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit) is a check on ethical operations. It covers labour standards as well as health and safety. This audit is typically required every three years and it takes one day, with significant preparation required by the grower.

GRASP audits focus on worker health, safety, and welfare. This annual audit covers social practices such as labour rights and worker protection. These audits take around three hours and require dozens of pages of documentation. The main issue concerning GRASP audits is that they are conducted at peak labour usage time. That means having auditors on the farm during the very busy harvest. GRASP audits are an annual alternative to the three-year SMETA requirement.

The ETI (Ethical Trading Initiative) is about providing evidence (it’s not strictly an audit) of a commitment to ethical trade. This is a continuous commitment which is completed using the Sedex Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ). The questionnaire takes more than a day to complete and is getting increasingly onerous for growers, with lots of crossover with other audits.  Most supermarkets want Sedex SAQs undertaken annually or even twice a year. 

There are also Home Office (often unannounced) visits to check policies, HR files and records, as well as staff training in relation to visiting seasonal workers. These visits can take one or several days depending on the number of seasonal staff employed by the business.

Labour provider audits. All farms must use a licensed permit operator agency to fill vacant seasonal worker jobs. They operate a bit like recruitment agencies. These providers also come on to farms to check the conditions of employment and accommodation for seasonal workers. These checks usually take one or a number of days for each labour provider. There are also lots of documents that must be submitted before the audit takes place. These are required under the government seasonal worker visa scheme. Most larger farms use a number of different labour providers which means several audits covering the same things.

Grower audit of labour providers. Just as the labour providers audit the farms, our growers have a responsibility to audit their labour providers to check that workers have been recruited properly, that there are no poor recruitment practices, and that the recruitment process meets the guidelines of the seasonal workers visa scheme.

Customer unannounced audits. Supermarkets don’t just rely on the results of all the above audits, they often conduct their own audits too. These tend to be unannounced. They typically take ten hours and involve three people from the packhouse and farm. Each apple and pear grower might work with three or more supermarkets and each one sends in their own audit team for similar audits.  The audits can be annual or every three years, depending on the supermarket concerned and the previous audit scores for the farm. Much of the content of the supermarket audits is the same as the BRC audit.

Beyond the above, there are also farm specific audits, such as the Soil Association Organics audit for our organic farmers. Packhouses who pack organic products also have an annual inspection, during which all documents that are covered during the BRC audit are inspected again. Marketing desks also conduct grower due diligence to make sure growers have all been audited correctly, all of which is already available on Sedex.

In short, there are a lot of audits, and a lot of duplication in those audits.

One of the reasons there are so many overlapping audits is the slightly different audit requirements set by supermarkets. There is no coordination to ensure that audit requirements are standard across retailers.

Not only is there duplication across audits, most audits are also undertaken every year, asking the same questions – and getting the same answers – again and again. A school that receives a good or outstanding OFSTED inspection will be inspected every 4 years or so, a school that requires improvement will be inspected every 2.5 years. That’s not the situation for top fruit growers. Even if they have been consistently meeting all the audit requirements, there is no flexibility, and they will still be fully audited every year.

 
Here’s what our growers say about the audit burden:

Tom Hulme, director, AC Hulme & Sons:

“We want audits because we want to be able to demonstrate that we are operating at the highest possible standards. The issue is that there is so much duplication. Of the nine audits we are subject to, four cover our packing activities, all nine review our policies and procedures and five cover almost exactly the same elements of worker safety.”

Ross Goatham, managing director, A C Goatham & Son:

“Just five years ago, one person managed all our auditing preparation. Now we have to employ three people full time and we also need part time assistance from upwards of 12 more people from various areas of the business across the course of the year. The total hours spent managing audits now exceeds 7,500 annually. With profit margins so tight, the audit burden is really costing us.”

James Simpson, managing director, Adrian Scripps Ltd

“There is so much audit duplication. If the supermarkets could take more of a joined-up approach and agree one suite of audits that would save a lot of time and money.”

 
The NFU’s view of fresh produce audits:

BAPL is not the only organisation raising the issue of the audit burden, Martin Emmett, chair of the NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board said, “We need audits to become more consolidated.  Our members are increasingly concerned about the proliferation of assurance schemes required by their customers. Duplication is creating significant cost and resource challenges for growers yet delivers no added value.

“In particular, there needs to be significantly more effort to reduce the burden on growers who have clearly demonstrated that they run operations that meet the high standards required of them.

“Finally, we want to see a willingness from assurance schemes to avoid building in standards which are covered elsewhere in the market.”

 
BAPL recommendations

To help our growers focus on the important job of growing delicious safe fruit and, at the same time, ensure that high standards are maintained, BAPL is recommending that supermarkets agree one suite of audits for all apple and pear growers.

We are also asking assurance schemes to adopt an OFSTED-style approach to audit timing, so that consistent high performers are recognised as requiring a lighter touch.

We want to be audited, but we don’t want to waste time repeating the same audits in slightly different formats. We believe that with some simple coordination and recognition of repeatedly demonstrated high standards we can reduce the red tape audit burden on growers without any compromise on safety and quality.

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BAPL responds to BRC comments on BBC Countryfile

On Sunday 24 September 2023, BBC Countryfile broadcast a segment on the dire state of the British apple industry.

Two British apple growers shared their personal experiences of the challenges they face and how low supermarket returns are causing them to make a loss and remove some orchards.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, spoke to Countryfile on behalf of the supermarkets. However, his comments have been criticised by members of British Apples & Pears Limited (BAPL).

“Andrew Opie said that supermarkets were keeping prices low and implied that’s why they couldn’t pay growers a fair return. That’s simply not true.” Said Ali Capper, executive chair of BAPL. “Shoppers are already paying more – 17% more for British apples in UK supermarkets. It appears retailers have increased the prices of apples and pears to cover their increased costs, but not the increased costs of their suppliers. Someone is making a profit, but it’s not growers.”

New data released by BAPL, exposes the dramatic shift in the fortunes of British apple and pear growers. BAPL has analysed the published business results of a number of growers that together represent over 70% of the British apple and pear industry. This analysis shows a dramatic drop in profitability.

Across six major growers the average level of profits has declined by 133%. This means that each of these representative businesses has suffered a very significant reduction in profit with many incurring substantial losses. This was inevitable because while the price of apples to the consumer has increased, input cost inflation to growers ran at around 23% while supermarkets paid growers, on average, only 0.8% more than the previous year.

BAPL growers were also surprised by Opie’s remarks that supermarkets are fully supportive of British fresh produce.

“Talk is cheap.” Said Ali Capper. “For the BRC to claim that retailers are ‘100% invested in our British supply chain’ is disingenuous at best. The numbers do not lie. Apple growers are not receiving a fair return from supermarkets. This is putting the future of British apple growing at risk. It’s a situation that must change and change quickly.

“If retailers really were ‘doing their best to ensure a sustainable future’ as Andrew Opie claims, we would not see farmers pulling out of apple growing and reducing the numbers of new trees they’re planning on planting.”

BAPL was also surprised to hear Andrew Opie ask the government for additional support for the industry. “Shoppers are already paying more for their fresh produce.” Explained Ali Capper. “We don’t want them to have to pay higher taxes to support the industry as well. We want profit-led investment by growers, but that requires a fair return from supermarkets.”

Below: Listen to Ali Capper’s response to Andrew Opie on behalf of British Apples & Pears Limited

Notes: 

Data points above based on 2022 crop. The 2023 crop is currently being picked and supermarkets are still negotiating prices.

Profit data above from an analysis of published company accounts for six large growers comparing financial years ending 2021 with financial years ending 2022.

Sources for other data points from ONS, NFU and BAPL sources available in the following published BAPL paper: BAPL submission to EFRA Committee – Fairness in the Supply Chain


Media coverage for this news included:

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BAPL EFRA inquiry response

At the end of July 2023, British Apples & Pears Limited submitted a response to the EFRA Committee inquiry on fairness in the food supply chain.

Read the BAPL written evidence.

This eight-page BAPL response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s inquiry sets out BAPL members’ experiences of the food supply chain and includes clear proposals for improving the health and sustainability of the sector.

Visit the EFRA Committee website for more details on this inquiry.

 
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BAPL retailer webinar

On 16th May 2023, BAPL held its annual retailer webinar.

BAPL executive chair, Ali Capper, provided an update on:

  • Recent sales and market share data
  • Plans to reinvigorate the apple and pear category
  • Energy costs and inflation

A grower panel discussion then followed the presentation to enable retailer questions to be answered.

View the slides from the BAPL retailer webinar

The food industry faces many challenges and it was acknowledged that this is a critical time for everyone to come together to ensure that British consumers have the access they want to nutritious and delicious British apples and pears.

 

 

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BAPL House of Lords Horticulture Committee evidence and report

On 20th April 2023, Executive Chair of British Apples & Pears Limited, Ali Capper, gave oral evidence to the House of Lords Horticulture Committee.

The oral evidence was a follow-up to written evidence already submitted to the Committee by BAPL. 

Read the BAPL written evidence.

As Ali explained to the House of Lords Horticulture Committee:

“The shopper seems to be being charged more, but the money isn’t coming back down to the farm gate. There’s something wrong in the supply chain.”

“Growers need certainty. The trees we plant this year, we ordered two years ago. They won’t come into full production for another five or six years. You won’t hit profitability until year 12 or 13. We’re taking massive risks and we need certainty, especially around seasonal labour.”

Click here to watch the Parliament TV recording of the BAPL evidence session.

6 NOVEMBER 2023: UPDATE: Click here to access the final House of Lords Horticulture Committee report from this inquiry.


Media coverage for this news included:

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It’s The Apple Floss-ophy: Leading Dental Hygienist Hails an Apple a Day to Prevent Dental Decay

  • Eight out of ten adults in the UK have one or more teeth with decay,
    which have either been filled or pulled out
  • More than one in five children show signs of tooth decay
  • Tooth decay is the most common noncommunicable disease worldwide
  • The new year sees health resolutions come to the fore for millions of Brits, and while many focus on weight loss, skin upkeep and fitness levels, looking after our teeth and oral health is just as important

Recent research has shockingly found that almost eight out of ten adults in the UK have one or more teeth with decay, that have either been filled or pulled out. Tooth decay is also extremely common in children, with more than one in five showing signs. What’s more, dental caries (also known as tooth decay or dental cavities) is the most common noncommunicable disease worldwide.

British Apples and Pears, the body representing UK apple and pear growers, has partnered with leading dental hygienist and therapist Anna Middleton and founder of London Hygienist, to champion the humble apple as the optimum, affordable and healthy snack to start the new year – the key to healthy teeth and a healthy mouth.

Bacteria in the mouth converts the sugars that we eat into acid. That acid can damage the mineral layer – the enamel – on our teeth, which can lead to decay or cavities. Choosing fruits that are low in acidity and sugar – like apples – means getting plenty of your daily vitamins and antioxidants without impacting your teeth’s enamel. Meanwhile, fruits that are very sweet or very sour, such as pineapple or mango, are best enjoyed in moderation.

Middleton comments: “If you want to snack between meals, I recommend opting for fresh fruit such as apples and pairing them with something alkaline such as cheese, instead of consuming lots of dried fruit, which is high in sugar.”

What’s more, foods lower in free or added sugar are generally better for your oral health. Keeping your intake of free sugars low, including sugar-sweetened drinks and milk-based sweetened drinks, can help minimise the risk of dental caries throughout our lives.

Apples are also packed with fibre which is vital to keep our digestion and gut healthy including our gut microbiota. A healthy gut microbiota is also essential for supporting our immune system.

When it comes to your fruit intake, there’s no question that eating the whole fruit including the skin is the best option for your teeth.

Leading dental hygienist and therapist, Anna Middleton, shares her top recommendations for preventing tooth decay:

  1. Reduce your consumption of food and drink with high sugar content. Try to proactively minimise the amount and frequency you are consuming such foods
  2. Avoid sugar-containing foods and drinks at bedtime when saliva flow is reduced
  3. If you do have food or drink with added sugar, make them part of a meal and not a between-meal snack
  4. Low acid and low sugar fresh fruit such as British apples are great snacks to eat between meals for healthy teeth

British apples offer a huge variety of health benefits that make it a far better option than other sugary or processed foods. At just 77 calories, they are ideal for those looking for a healthy way to start the new year. They also offer great value for money, store really well in the fridge and keep your food miles low, as they are home grown.

With a high fibre content, made up of 86% water and full of essential nutrients, it’s easy to make apples our go-to snack – great for our teeth, our wallets and overall health.

References

[1] Dentistry Today

[2] Sugars and dental caries (who.int)

[3] Is Fruit Bad For Your Teeth? | National Dental Care / DB Dental

[4] https://www.dentalhealth.org/diet-and-my-teeth

[5] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/sugars-and-dental-caries

[6] www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-health-benefits-of-apples

[7] Gov.co.uk – Chapter 10: Healthier Eating

[8] https://www.nationaldentalcare.com.au/article/is-fruit-bad-for-your-teeth

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Raymond Blanc’s Apple Tasting Notes

Download the pdf

Discover more about British apple varieties here.