Every day, my mother used to cook lunches for family, farm staff and anyone who was passing. It was great food, made from great ingredients – with minimal fuss, no packaging and no supermarkets quadrupling the price in between. As a child, I thought everyone ate like that. Those lunches inspired so much of what I have done at Riverford; like most farmers, I love feeding people and have devoted my working life to doing it well. However, farmers cannot keep feeding us if they are denied commitment and security and are not making a fair, reasonable profit.
During my 50 years of farming, the proportion of the price of food which actually goes to farmers has fallen relentlessly. Instead, ever more goes to supermarkets and food processors. This imbalance of power, combined with climate change and fickle government policy, has brought the farming industry I love to its knees. Almost half (49 per cent) of British fruit and veg farmers fear they will go out of business within the next year. Supermarket behaviour is a leading cause.
We have written an open letter to the CEOs of the ‘big six’ supermarkets, urging them to adopt five key principles from our charter.
The exploitation of many small producers by a few large, powerful retailers, driving the surviving farmers to increasingly environmentally destructive practices, is not an immutable rule of nature. It is a political and social choice – and a better way is possible. Over 20 years, Riverford has developed a Fair to Farmers Charter. Unique in our industry, this humane and honourable document sets out guidelines for both us and our suppliers, ensuring that our relationships are mutually fair and beneficial. An independent ombudsman is in place to settle any disputes. After decades spent building Riverford, our supplier relationships and the diverse businesses they support are what I am most proud of.
We have written an open letter to the CEOs of the ‘big six’ supermarkets, urging them to adopt five key principles from our charter: pay what you agreed to pay, buy what you agreed to buy, agree on fair specifications, commit for the long term and pay on time. Government support is also vital – so we are petitioning for three of these principles (commitments to agreed quantities and prices, and prompt payment) to be made legally binding for all supermarkets, without exception.
If you would like to help us save British family farms, please sign our petition at GetFairAboutFarming.co.uk. Thank you.