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Guy's news: harvest woes

As I write, a ridge of high pressure is edging in from the Atlantic and threatening to build into the high pressure system we have been waiting for all summer; too late for most schoolchildren’s holidays, too late for many a fair, festival and fête; too late for our stunted pumpkins and sweetcorn, blighted potatoes, mildew-stricken onions and rotten strawberries.

Any day now I will be asked to fill our local church with bounty for the harvest festival, as we have for twenty years, but the Big Man is pushing his luck. We could decorate the font with parsnips, which although notoriously fickle germinators, have taken well to the rain this year. Our carrots, swede and beetroot are also looking good, as are most of the winter crops of brassicas and leeks. Perhaps our mistake was ever assuming the sun would come out to nourish those semi-tropical plants that only begrudgingly tolerate even a decent British summer. If we had left the solanacae and concurbits in the Americas and stuck to our turnips & swedes, things would have been so much easier.

With a few exceptions, fruit has been equally disastrous. The farm team has sworn never to plant another strawberry unless in tunnels. Plums have been disappointing in yield and flavour. The apple season has started with the first Discovery; eat them quickly to enjoy them at their most flavourful. We should now have a good supply of English apples through to the end of March, with pears until the end of January. We are also pleased to have finally managed to grow a decent crop of juicy melons down in the Vendée. It took three years and though I am not completely satisfied with the flavour, they are almost there and definitely good enough to make me try again next year.

What will next year bring? How will that jet stream and its trail of depressions meander? Should we blame our gas guzzling and carbon burning rather than the Big Man for its deviations southwards? Another bad year would sink many of our growers. As we start to plan our cropping for next year the prevailing concern is how to cope with risk and uncertainty.

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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 50,000 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 video rants have provided a powerful platform to do this, with a video on pesticides going viral on Facebook to reach 5.6 million views and 91,000 shares. 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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