One of our customers sent us a message recently saying, “she would love to support British farmers but understood if we couldn't do that at the moment”. This really got me thinking about how we communicate with our customers the how and where we procure our produce from.
Having spent many years sitting on Government Boards and advising policy makers about food security for the 2020, 2030 and 2050 vision I feel that I have a reasonable understanding of the pressure us farmers face in the coming years. The challenges we face are trying to provide twice as much food as we do currently on less land and with a reduced dependence on artificial fertilisers and chemicals. A rising population, changes in household purchasing as well as a horrific percentage of food waste generated on a weekly basis are the main reasons for the challenges.
The Covid-19 pandemic has devasted the fresh produce industry across the world but more significantly here in the UK. It wouldn't be remiss of anyone to think that this situation should have presented more opportunities for local producers. But we now find ourselves in a situation where dairy farmers are throwing milk down the drain, beef farmers are struggling to survive, and vegetable and fruit farmers can’t find workers to harvest their crops.
With European borders and transport being limited it begs the question why this should ever be. With schools, pubs, restaurants and hotels shut, wholesalers have seen a drop of up to 85% turnover in their business. The retailers that have been least affected are the supermarkets. They have existing contracts with their suppliers which probably limited their ability to change strategy and support more UK farmers. People queueing around the block, a three-week delay on home deliveries and empty shelves still couldn't help.
Through the various projects that Ashlyns have initiated over the years, we have always been huge advocates and supporters of local produce. At the end of March, the schools that we supply closed except for the children of key workers etc. In the beginning we did struggle to source our usual high standard of produce due to the unavailability of fresh produce. The markets and wholesalers have adjusted to the “new normal” but I anticipate a shift again when the schools return next week. Hopefully when pubs and restaurants open again it will see an increase in demand for UK produce and the industry will be able to start to recover.
Throughout the Pandemic we have maintained the ethos that our business was founded on by always supporting local producers and UK farmers wherever we possibly could. We are still using our normal suppliers and even when food was scarce, we were able to limit imported items.
We are so fortunate that we were able to increase our “Home Delivery” and support our local communities, especially those that are self-isolating, shielding or in a vulnerable position. The supportive messages that we have received are very humbling. We welcome your support in our fight to support UK farmers. The landscape has changed but the passion is as strong as ever.