Farmers are at risk of going out of business - and without them, many skills (such as the maintenance of traditional hedgerows) will be lost.

The silence of the supermarkets

Riverford's petition urging the Government to curb supermarkets’ unfair treatment of farmers already has over 74,000 signatures. Despite this, the campaign has been met with a stony silence from supermarkets.

Hedgerows can be superficially tamed with the brutality of a modern flail hedge trimmer. But without the care and renewal of occasional laying or coppicing, these historic boundaries and wildlife sanctuaries are slowly dying – along with the industry that once created and tended them. Who will do this skilled, largely manual work once farmers have been brought to their knees?

Our hedges were built 600 years ago. On top of the banks, farmers planted a mix of hawthorn, blackthorn, and hazel, with the occasional spindle, oak, elm, alder, and ash. For centuries, the hedges were maintained by periodic ‘laying and casting up’: bending over select stems and pinning them down, allowing them to continue growing horizontally. New shoots in the spring grow vertically, creating a thick, impenetrable lattice.

South Devon has the UK’s oldest, densest, and most diverse hedgerows, and consequently an abundance of food and nesting sites for finches, robins, wrens, thrushes, and blackbirds, as well as hedgehogs, dormice, butterflies, and insects. Can the provision of such priceless riches be factored into what a farmer is paid? Not if an exploitative supermarket buyer can help it.

The less farmers are paid, the fewer skilled workers will be on the land, and the more hedges will be lost. The larger fields and machinery grow, the less socially and biologically diverse our countryside becomes. As for a transition to regenerative agriculture? There will be no one left to do it. Almost half (49 percent) of British fruit and veg farmers fear closure within the next year, citing supermarket buyer behaviour as a major cause.

Riverford’s petition urging the Government to curb supermarkets’ unfair treatment of farmers already has over 74,000 signatures, including figures such as Deborah Meaden, Rick Stein, and Chris Packham. Support has also come from the House of Lords Select Committee on Horticulture, and the British Growers Association. Despite this, the campaign has been met with a stony silence from supermarkets. If we make it to 100,000 signatures, the petition will be debated in Parliament, and that silence will have to be broken.

Thank you to all who have signed already. If you haven’t yet, please go to the petition here, and help us ask supermarkets to #GetFairAboutFarming.


Leave a Reply

  1. I received the following by email today:
    “Government responded:

    The Government is committed to tackling contractual unfairness that can exist in the agri-food supply chain and Defra is working to support farmers and ensure they get a fair price for their products.

    At the UK Farm to Fork Summit held at Downing Street on 16 May, we announced a new review into fairness in the horticulture supply chain building on what we have already got underway to improve transparency and contracts in the pork and dairy markets. Beginning in December, we will launch a public consultation exploring these issues. We will analyse the responses and provide a formal response that provides a summary of the findings and sets out next steps. We can only decide what, if any, action is needed once we have analysed the responses, but I can assure you we will use the powers in the Act to bring forward legislation, wherever necessary.

    This review seeks to understand issues relating to fairness in the supply chain across the whole of the UK. If responses indicate there are contractual issues that we believe we should seek to address, the powers in the Agriculture Act apply to the whole of the UK. If regulations are developed, we will engage widely with stakeholders, including the devolved administrations, to ensure that legislation works for all parts of the UK and incorporate special provision for differing circumstances, if necessary.

    Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs”

    Frankly, I think that a review is just a way of putting off any action in the hope that we will go away. At least it seems that the government will consider having a debate – a debate date will be posted in 5 days. Then we all need to put pressure on our MPs.

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