Planning crops over a year in advance gives Riverford's growers stability and a long-term view, and minimises food waste.

Planning a future together

Riverford's planning team are finishing off the crop plan that will fill our veg boxes from May 2024 to May 2025.

It has been a grey and soggy descent into winter, giving us very few opportunities to cultivate the soil, or even travel over it without causing damage. Most root veg have been safely harvested and stored, but greens have to be picked fresh, to order, whatever the weather. Transporting the day’s leeks, kale, cabbage, and cauliflowers to the gate can be a challenge for wet, weary pickers, as the field boundaries become a slippery quagmire. Over the years, we have adapted most winter harvesting machines to run on low-ground-pressure caterpillar tracks, hugely reducing damage to the soil.

Back in the warm office, Riverford’s planning team are finishing off the crop plan that will fill our veg boxes from May 2024 to May 2025. We have monitored customer feedback over the last year, as well as what farmers feel happy and confident to grow, and when. From this, we start with ideal box contents and projected sales for each week of the year, then calculate our weekly requirements for each crop.

It is an uncomfortable truth that the flexibility and responsiveness demanded by unlimited customer choice are fundamentally incompatible with sustainability, minimal food waste, and fair treatment of farmers. Riverford’s ethical behaviour is made possible by our customers embracing a limited (perhaps I should say curated?) seasonal choice. After 35 years, I am still surprised and delighted that our unconventional model works.

Mostly, the same farmers have grown the same crops for us for years, shaped by their soils, skills, machinery, and climate. Volumes require only marginal tweaking up and down. The final plan is always a compromise, but that process is normally remarkably agreeable and stress free.

A hardline neoliberal economist would be horrified, and we may end up paying a little more in the short term – but my observation is that shared pride, and our common endeavour to grow the best veg, in the best way, for customers who care, are as powerful as naked competition in shaping an efficient supply chain. Add vastly improved communication, focus on flavour, and minimal waste, and I am left convinced that there is far more to be gained from co-operative, mutually trusting, long-term trading relationships than the annual ritual of brutal, competitive supermarket negotiations.

Thank you to all who have signed Riverford’s Get Fair About Farming petition! It has now reached over 100,000 signatures, and will be debated in Parliament on Monday 22nd January.


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