Robert Benson Agricultural Correspondent THE Government's announcement that an extra £250m is to be spent improving the quality of school meals, with an increasing emphasis on local food, has been welcomed by farmers in Yorkshire.
According to West Riding NFU county branch chairman, Graham Coultish, it comes on the back of growing awareness of the benefits of eating locally-produced food and should result in many more opportunities for local farmers to get their produce into schools.
He said: "We have made real progress on this front over recent years, with many growers already benefiting from supplying into the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme.
"We have also seen several regional projects looking, for example, at how the tendering process can be simplified for smaller producers, how we can develop a more flexible logistics operation and how schools can incorporate more seasonal food into their menus."
Mr Coultish, who farms near Huddersfield, added: "In addition many local education authorities have looked at their procurement policies with a view to giving higher priority to the 'freshness' that only local food producers can achieve.
"That said, this announcement gives a clear commitment to increasing the opportunities available to smaller producers and that can only be good news."
According to the NFU's spokesman on public procurement, Doncaster farmer Michael Holmes, the opportunity to supply into the public sector is one not to be missed.
"Local food procurement is good news all round. It not only offers fresher, healthier food but also results in fewer food miles, less CO2 emissions and better waste management.
"Economically, it will result in more demand for local food and that in turn will help producers financially as well as promoting more local employment. As a result, it's crucial farmers get to grips with this fast-developing market and make sure they know how to capitalise on the opportunities it presents."
Education secretary Alan Johnson, said tendering opportunities for small and local producers would be increased.
Published September 9, 2006