By Nick CrouchThe UK’s biggest fruit and vegetable growers are pushing back against growing a garden as an important part of their businesses.
They want the Government to reverse its decision to allow farmers to grow fruit, vegetables and herbs on a commercial basis, arguing the move will be costly and will cause “economic havoc”.
The Government announced it would allow commercial growing of fruit, vegetable and herbs in April.
But the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said commercial growing would be restricted to areas such as a “special purpose zone” and “special agricultural area” for fruit and vegetables.
It is a significant change, given there are only around 10,000 such zones and more than 80,000 acres of agricultural land in England and Wales, which is the most densely populated area in the UK.
But Mr Crouch, who runs a farm in South Shields, said he would not be able to get the land if the move went ahead.
He told the Today programme he was not opposed to growing fruit and veg on the land, but he said it would cost him more to grow it.
“I am not a gardener.
I am not interested in getting the land,” he said.
The Government has said it will consider all of the evidence and make a decision on whether or not to allow commercial farming in its special agricultural areas.
But many growers, including Mr Crouches, said they were opposed to allowing them to grow anything on the farms because of the environmental impact of doing so.
The Minister for Agriculture, Richard Bacon, said the Government had been listening to growers’ concerns and had agreed with the growers that commercial growing was not a good idea.
He said it was a complex issue and it would be a matter for the Government.
But Mr Bacon said that while there would be no limit to the number of farms, farmers could only grow on an area of 500 hectares and the Government was trying to make sure the area of commercial growing did not grow beyond that.
Mr Crouch said he had tried to persuade the Government not to limit the number farms in special agricultural zones, saying the “dramatic reduction” in his farm area was due to the Government’s “outrageous” decision.
“I would be quite surprised if this is just a very small number of farmers that could be affected,” he added.
The Government said it planned to set up a special purpose zone in a rural area for “special purposes”, such as the farming of apples, carrots and apples.
The farm in question is on a 1,000-hectare plot of land in the heart of South Shields.
It is one of about 1,600 small-scale farming estates in England.
The Department for Agriculture said it had received about 30,000 letters from growers, but the majority of those had been against the change.
“Many of them said that they would not want to grow on the farm because they did not think that it would do anything to help the environment or the farming economy,” a spokesperson said.
“However, it is vital that all farmers are allowed to grow what they want and for that to happen, we need to see a wider debate.”
Farmers’ group UK Growers says there are many other small growers who would like to grow their crops on the same land as Mr Crouse’s farm.
In a letter sent to the Department of Agriculture, the group said: “Farmers are rightly worried about the negative environmental impacts of commercial fruit and potato farming on the environment, on their own land and the environment of their surrounding communities.
They have every right to grow whatever they like, and it is important that the Government does not make it harder for them to do so.”
The UK Grower’s Association said it supported commercial farming on a small scale, but added: “If we are allowed our own land, and are allowed the land to grow, then that is all we want.”
Mr Crouse said that he would be happy to pay his own rent if the Government did not allow him to grow food on his land.
He also said that if the farmers had a dispute, he would take legal action to get a fair settlement.
“They will take a legal action, but it will be a very long and complicated legal process, and they will try to get it to the level where they can get it through,” he told the BBC.
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