Riverford founder and
organic grower Guy Singh-Watson has warned that a no-deal Brexit will increase
the gap in crop availability from March to May.
He told reporters that the
availability of many UK grown organic crops such as kale, cabbage, greens,
cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, swedes, apples, onions and potatoes all come to
an end in March, while the harvest of new-season produce does not start until
“For 30 years, Riverford
has struggled with this reality – we even suspend our UK-only veg box from
March to June because we often cannot find eight UK-grown items to put in it,”
said Mr Singh-Watson. “While at Riverford, we import 30 per cent of our produce
in the fallow March-May period, as a nation, we import about 50 per cent of our
fruit and vegetables. And that figure starts to rise in the New Year, reaching
about 80 per cent in April before falling again in June.
“If there was a “best time
for a no-deal Brexit”, it would be July to September, as any gardener could
tell our politicians. Were we to leave without a deal there couldn’t be a worse
time than March 29, unless you like woody swedes and sprouting potatoes!” To
fill gaps in UK production Riverford has established partnerships with
small-scale organic suppliers in Spain, France, Italy and further afield.2
Riverford already suspends sales of its UK-only veg box from March until June.
Worldwide Fruit has said
that it could consider stockpiling fruit in the event that the UK leaves the EU
without a deal being agreed, although such a step would not be ideal and is
full of complications.
Talking to the Fresh Produce Journalat
the National Fruit Show in October, Worldwide’s technical and procurement
director Tony Harding warned that without a suitable trade and customs deal
there was a real danger that supply chains could break down.
Mitigation strategies being
considered by the fruit supplier, which sells imported and UK fruit, included
stockpiling, although Harding acknowledged that a lack of storage capacity and
technical challenges to preserve fruit quality would make such an approach
“It’s not an ideal solution
at all,” he said. “What we hope to see is some kind of workable status quo in
terms of how we currently do business.”
Defra has pledged to
maintain current levels of funding for recognised producer organisations (POs)
until the end of the current parliament following Brexit.
The announcement means that
the government will take over the £35 million of funding, which is currently
provided via the EU Fresh Fruit and Veg Scheme until 2022. The funding will
continue to be matched by growers in the 33 UK POs.
NFU Horticulture and
Potatoes Board chair Ali Capper said that she was delighted by the news, adding
it would provide “much needed clarity and certainty for the grower-members of
producer organisations which sell 50 per cent of all British fruit and veg.”
Photo Caption: There
are 33 producer organisations in the UK.
Scottish soft fruit growers in Perthshire and Angus are seeing perfectly good produce left behind on bushes due to a shortage of pickers, just as demand peaks during one of the UK’s hottest summers in forty years.
As well as the unprecedented demand, the weather has lead to high yields of fruit which is ripening extremely quickly. These factors, when added to the ongoing labour crisis has created perfect storm which has seen fruit go to waste.
General Manager of Angus Soft Fruits, William Houston, told The Courierthat most producers were “just about” coping, but said that most fields weren’t getting a final pick over to clear up any last fruit.
“The other big issue is that the standard of workers from Eastern Europe isn’t as good as it used to be,” he added. “If we had the same standard as even two years ago they’d all be relishing the busyness, working their guts out picking huge volumes of fruit and everyone would be happy. But there is a huge difference between the best workers who can pick 20kgs an hour and the worst at only 8kg an hour.”
Peter Marshall Fruit at Alyth said it had left 15 tonnes of strawberries and five tonnes of raspberries to rot last week because of a combination of too few pickers and an unusually long period of sunshine which meant the fruit ripened quickly. “The fruit is ripening so fast, by the time the pickers get to the end of a drill they need to start all over again,” commented the firm’s Meg Marshall.
Photo Credit: Claudette Gallant / Public Domain Pictures
Farm business advisors at Strutt & Parker have warned UK farmers to continue to be aware of proposed changes to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) even as the UK prepares for Brexit.
The firm recently highlighted some of the key proposed changes to the CAP for 2021 to 2027 in a briefing paper published on its website. Amongst the key proposals is ‘greater power for Member States to design their own policies, under both Pillars 1 and 2’ which will see ‘each country producing a ‘CAP Strategic Plan’, which sets out how it will meet nine EU-wide objectives.’
In terms of funding, direct payments will be capped at €100,000 (£87,000) and payments above €60,000 will be subject to regression reductions. Overall the budget for Pillar 1 payments will see an 11 per cent reduction in real terms, while Pillar 2 will see a cut of 27 per cent.
Chair of Strutt & Parker’s Farm Research Group, George Chichester said, “These changes are important to the UK as it is still unclear when a British farming policy will apply from, given major uncertainties remaining in the UK-EU withdrawal negotiations, and so we may have to comply with these rules until our British policy is ready.”
English Apples & Pears (EAP), the association for UK top fruit producers, has said that the government must continue to support fruit growers after the UK leaves the EU.
In its submission to Defra’s Health and Harmony consultation, the group called for, ‘A more enabling and holistic regulatory framework for the approval of plant-protection products and to provide parity for UK growers with EU growers before we leave the EU.’ It also called for support for new varietal development, saying that this would help to ‘bolster plant health and pest and disease resistance.’
Overall EAP set out 12 points for action, including continued support for Producer Organisations, labour availability and health & sustainability. EAP chairman Ali Capper commented, “We are asking government to urgently support policy and campaigns that will increase the consumption of British-grown apples and pears. British orchards are capable of delivering public good – it’s good for the environment and the fruit produced is good for the nation’s health too. We’re ambitious to grow the size of the British crop. We know this is possible but we will need action in key areas in order to make this happen.”
According to an advisor from Cardiff University who is advising the Welsh Government, Defra is consciously planning for around a quarter of the UK’s farms to ‘disappear’ after Brexit says a report in Farmers Guardian.
Dr Ludivine Petetin told a Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) meeting: “A lot of farms are currently profitable only because of direct payments coming from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). From reading the agriculture consultation, it seems to me, and this is going to sound harsh, Defra has made a choice that the 25 per cent of farms which are at the bottom and are not doing very well will perhaps disappear.”
She believes that Defra’s core focus is on how the ‘middle 50 per cent’ of farms can continue to be successful when funding moves from direct payments towards supporting environmental schemes. He added that being outside the EU would see farmers come under pressure as they would not benefit from existing EU tariffs on agricultural imports.
A Defra spokesman said, “Our proposals will see money redirected from direct payments based only on the amount of land farmed to a new system of rewarding farms of all sizes for their work to enhance the environment.”
A survey of Scottish farmers and growers has indicated that two-thirds of them may quit the industry if they are unable to access EU labour after Brexit, causing fears about the survival of the country’s horticulture sector.
The research, which was conducted by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) last summer, Research by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) showed there were 9,225 seasonal migrant workers in Scotland last year (which it described as a conservative estimate), with the majority involved in picking soft fruit, as well as the field veg and potato sectors.
The survey also suggested more than half of farmers would also consider diversifying their operations due to labour shortages. The survey’s authors said, ‘Brexit has undoubtedly affected the confidence of a proportion of workers and therefore their expectations about returning to Scotland in 2018. Approximately 40 per cent of the surveyed workers were certain they would be returning to Scotland in 2018, with 12 per cent unlikely to return due to having permanent jobs to go to in their home countries, or returning to studies, etc. 46 per cent were uncertain about whether they would return in 2018.’
Around a quarter of workers worked on more than one farm in the UK and there is also transition to other sectors particularly food processing and hospitality. On average, seasonal migrant workers were employed for just over four months per year, corresponding to the key soft fruit harvest period, but the seasonal pattern of crops in Scotland provided an opportunity for workers to work for extended periods.
Concerns about the ability of Defra to cope with the extra volume of work being created by Brexit have resurfaced after Environment Secretary Michael Gove admitted that there could now be as many as 70 different Brexit-related work streams.
The statement was made in a letter by Mr Gove to the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) which has been published. Back in December 2017 the National Audit Office was predicting that Defra would have 43 Brexit-related work streams. MPs on the EAC have expressed concerns that Defra will be unable to hire the thousands of extra staff required to cope.
In his letter, Mr Gove said plans are in place for all ‘day one’ projects, adding he was “confident” that Defra is focusing its planning on the most complex projects. “All projects have risks attached, which will ebb and flow as the projects mature,” he said. “The department has been closely monitoring plans and risks and completing regular reviews drive out any blockers to progress.”
However, Mary Creagh, chair of the EAC, said, “We are concerned by how few of the ‘day one’ plans have been published and outlined to businesses and investors, who need clarity about our relationship with the EU during the transition and beyond. From chemicals to climate change, huge regulatory questions remain unanswered. Defra and its agencies have lost almost 5,000 staff since 2010, leaving them struggling to cope with Brexit. We have concerns about the Department’s capability to deliver a growing amount of Brexit-related work, and the cost of hiring new staff.”
Photo Caption: Michael Gove has said there are up to 70 Brexit-related work streams at Defra.
Geographical protection of products such as Vale of Evesham Asparagus, which is currently provided under the EU’s protected geographical indication (PGI) scheme, is expected to continue after Brexit according to MPs.
In answer to a question from Mid-Worcestershire MP Nigel Huddleston, Food Minister, George Eustice said that it is the Government’s intention to transfer the existing PGI legislation across into UK law.
According to the Evesham Journal, Mr Huddleston commented, “I was delighted to hear the minister confirm that it is his intention for the existing PGI designations to continue to be recognised post-Brexit and know that this will be welcome news to many of my constituents too. The granting of PGI status by the EU can make a real difference to regional products like Vale of Evesham Asparagus by boosting brand recognition and sales.
“Vale of Evesham Asparagus is a source of great local pride and I was pleased that the Minister spoke of its fantastic reputation both across the country and around the world.”