Almost 100 chefs, farmers and celebrities have signed an open letter asking supermarkets to treat farmers more fairly after new research has found half of British fruit and veg growers say they may go out of business in the next 12 months.
The survey, which was done by research firm Opinion Matters on behalf of organic veg box company Riverford, found 75 per cent of those asked said treatment by supermarket buyers was one of their top concerns.
A third (29 per cent) said they have received a cancelled order with no explanation, leading to loss of income and food waste, while a similar amount said supermarkets have failed to pay them within 30 days.
Two thirds of fruit and veg growers asked said that making a living through farming has never been harder and 61 per cent fear that they won’t have a farm to pass on to future generations.
The news comes after a series of reports this year from farmers repeatedly warning that prices they receive from supermarkets don’t match how much it costs to produce.
TV chefs including Rick Stein, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Melissa Hemsley are among those who have signed the open letter, as well as conservationists and TV personalities Ray Mears and Chris Packham, Dragon’s Den investor Deborah Meaden, musician and farmer Marcus Mumford and a wide range of farming representatives, all calling for supermarkets to ‘get fair about farming’.
In the letter, which has been sent to the chief executives of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, Aldi and Lidl, founder of Riverford, Guy Singh-Watson, said: “British agriculture is on its knees, and that’s why most small family farms think that they’re not going to be in business the next generation. Farmers need to be treated fairly; they need some commitment from supermarkets.
“Sustainable trading relationships are based on co-operation, good communication and trust as much as competition. A brutal, short-term focus on annual price negotiations is supporting supermarket margins while destroying British farming along with the landscape, wildlife, and rural communities it once supported.”
One potato farmer, who didn’t want to be named, said: “I’ve not grown for the major supermarkets for five years, and I would never go back. It cost me £25,000 to grow the crop – they just said ‘we don’t want them now’ – that was it, 60 metric tonnes of potatoes wasted.
They added: “There is no way I would grow for the supermarkets again. They’ll squash you to keep the prices down. You just don’t know how much to expect in terms of income, and at times you end up taking huge financial hits and wasting so much food. We need a fairer, shorter, and more transparent food chain.”
The letter is part of a new #GetFairAboutFarming campaign, launched by Riverford, calling for supermarkets to adopt the principles of its own Fair to Farmers charter. Devised by Singh-Watson to cement fair trading into the Riverford business, these principles include:
- Pay what you agreed to pay
- Buy what you committed to buy
- Agree on fair specifications
- Commit for the long term
- Pay on time
In the new research, two thirds of farmers surveyed said that having a commitment for the long-term would have a very significant positive impact on their business.
As well as needing better treatment from farmers, over half of those asked believe farming sits on the bottom of the government’s list of priorities, while almost 70 per cent say there should be tougher regulations to protect farmers from the imbalance of power held by supermarkets.
People who would like to show their support for farmers, can sign a petition asking the government to step in and protect Britain’s broken food system.