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Redressing the balance

Picking pak choi

Despite the recent kind weather, it has been a hard year for growers – and possibly an even harder one for purveyors of veg boxes. Come snow, rain or shine, we must fill those boxes and get them delivered for a fixed price. After losing four delivery days to snow late last winter, we were already financially stretched; a wet spring then delayed planting, forcing us to rely on additional imports made expensive by a weak pound. This was closely followed by a sweltering three-month drought that led to widespread crop failures. Some sun and heat-loving crops have exceeded expectations, but to nothing like the degree that the failures fell short of them.

You are probably getting the gist of this; we are putting our prices up next month by somewhere between 1.5% and 5% (or 20p-£1) – less for the smaller boxes, more for the larger. We are not alone; under pressure from a weak pound, rising employment costs, scarcity of labour, and weather anomalies, fruit and veg prices across the UK are rising at this rate and more. It is tempting to hang on and hope that the pound will rise against the euro before the UK’s critical Hungry Gap (the late-winter time when fields are bare, before spring crops arrive); that we can claw back summer losses through our winter crops, or that we can press more out of our staff and growers by delaying pay rises and squeezing prices. But none of these options would provide a sustainable and ethically acceptable future.

We completed the elections for our first staff council last week with a 95% turnout. As an employee-owned company, we have some hard decisions to make to balance the needs of staff, suppliers, customers and the environment, while striving to make the right choices on ethical issues like packaging. We hope this modest rise will feel fair to customers, staff and growers alike.

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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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