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Guy's news: an unholy alliance

Last week a report was released suggesting that the EU’s proposed ban of a range of pesticides would have devastating consequences for farming and food prices. A little scratching reveals that the report was co-commissioned by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), alongside manufacturers and suppliers of chemical pesticides and herbicides.

I may be a white, male farmer, fairly well off and getting on a bit, but I don’t feel represented by the NFU. In fact I find myself increasingly alienated by their self-righteous lobbying for the short term interests of a small number of largescale farmers. This especially applies to their resistance to any representation of the interests of the tax payers who prop up their industry; to even the tamest environmental regulation; to public access to land; and to any redirection of farming subsidies to encourage younger, smaller scale entrants to the industry.

For 60 years, farming policy in the developed world has been led by the agrochemical industry; whatever the problem, the solution is to be found in a chemical container. No-one could question that food has become cheaper as a result, but the costs in terms of a devastating loss of biodiversity, where bees and songbirds now thrive better in cities than the countryside, cannot be denied. I wonder where we might be if a fraction of the agrochemical research funds had gone into understanding the ecology of our soils, crops, pests and countryside. In glass houses, where insect pressure is at its highest, insecticide resistance and increased regulation has forced growers to develop alternative methods with huge success. It’s not easy but with patience, observation and learning, a more ecological approach to pest management is possible.

I believe that a countryside where highly skilled farmers who embrace GPS technology, mechanisation and ecology to facilitate mixed farming is possible. Our industry should be learning from nature, employing only subtle and minimal intervention with chemicals. I suspect that will remain a dream for now and I don’t expect the NFU or their unholy alliance with pesticide manufacturers to help us get closer to it. Meanwhile, we are doing well enough without chemicals that many of you will get extra leeks in your box this week.

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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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