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Farming   |   Ethical business

Guy’s news: Talking kettles & selling solutions

I have a kettle that talks to me. It lights up and is full of clever solutions to problems I never knew I had, but it is unreliable at boiling water. I should probably read the manual but instead I curse it for being an over-elaborate solution designed with little regard for the problem it’s there to solve.

The same could be said of agriculture. Since the ‘60s, farming has been shaped by the solutions peddled by agrochemical, pharmaceutical and machinery suppliers. So often both the underlying problem and its solution lie in the husbandry of the soil, livestock and the farm environment; something previous generations of farmers understood and had the confidence to manage through intimate knowledge of their farms; essentially they were welly-wearing ecologists. Perhaps it was the closing of so many agricultural colleges, the withdrawal of virtually all public funding for ‘near market’ agricultural research and advice, or the power of Big Ag’s advertising and lobbying, but somewhere along the line many farmers have lost confidence in the power of their own knowledge and experience to solve problems, and have ceded control to the agrochemical industry. However, many of the problems non-organic farmers face would not exist without the last round of agrochemical ‘solutions’; insecticides to control aphids thriving in over-fertilised monocrops for example, or antibiotics to keep stressed, overcrowded farm animals alive.

I don’t believe that agrochemicals, veterinary medicines, machinery and even (potentially) GM have nothing to offer agriculture, but the approach adopted by their proponents too often ignores the underlying problem and focuses on selling something. I made this point to camera in a leek field last week and it has gone viral on Facebook (1 million views and 20,000 shares so far, visit
facebook.com/riverford to watch it) so I am guessing many agree.

On a lighter note, most of you will find a cob of dried corn in your box this week. We grew them in France and the idea is you hang it on your Christmas tree then, come twelfth night, break off the kernels and make popcorn. Oh dear; perhaps that solves a problem you never knew you had, but I hope you get some pleasure from it at least.

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    Guy Singh-Watson

    Self-confessed veg nerd, Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 55,000 customers a week. Guy is an opinionated and admired figure in the world of organic farming, who still spends more time in the fields than in the boardroom. Twice awarded BBC Radio 4 Farmer of the Year, Guy is passionate about sharing with others the organic farming and business knowledge he has accumulated over the last three decades. His weekly veg box newsletters connect customers to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about. In June 2018, Guy handed over the reins of Riverford to its staff, choosing employee ownership as the model that will protect Riverford's ethical values forever and ensure the security of its employees.

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