Half of British fruit and vegetable growers say they are likely to go bankrupt within 12 months, according to new research from Riverford Organic Farmers.
A survey of 100 growers conducted by the organic vegetable box sector in July found that 75% of them said supermarket behavior was one of the biggest concerns within the sector.
Supermarkets and their buyers were accused of failing to pay on time, pursuing cheaper food alternatives from abroad and canceling or changing orders at the last minute, with farmers also criticizing fruit and vegetable specifications for being too difficult and complex .
“British agriculture is on its knees, which is why most small family farms believe they will be out of business in the next generation,” says Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson. “Is that what we want from our countryside? Is that what we want from our food system? Is that what we want from farmers? Farmers need to be treated fairly – they need some commitment from supermarkets.”
According to Riverford’s research, one in five farmers (22%) said their crops had been lost due to canceled orders from supermarkets. Twenty-nine percent had also received a canceled order from supermarkets without explanation, and just under a third (29%) had seen supermarkets fail to pay within 30 days.
And 70% of farmers surveyed agreed that it would have a positive impact if buyers paid the initially agreed amount and then did not reduce prices after the initial agreement. Another 64% agreed that it would have a positive impact if buyers bought everything they said they would buy.
Riverford’s findings follow research from The Grocer in April which found that while on-shelf apple prices had risen by as much as 46% in the mults, growers had only seen an average price increase of 1%. At the time, Ali Capper, chairman of UK Apples & Pears, said: “British apple growing is simply not profitable at the moment. For most it is even loss-making.”
Meanwhile, research by the NFU last November found that many growers were now “walking away” from retail contracts, cutting production by as much as 20% or diversifying into other more profitable crops such as oilseed rape and wheat because they were not yet as successful. not getting sufficient returns from rising food price inflation.
It comes after more than 100 food industry figures, including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Chris Packham and Deborah Meaden, this week signed an open letter addressed to the CEOs of the country’s six major supermarkets, calling on them to treat farmers more fairly .
The letter is part of a new Get Fair About Farming campaign, launched by Riverford, calling on supermarkets to adopt better business practices to safeguard the future of British fruit and vegetable growing, starting with adhering to the Fair to Riverford Farmers Charter Principles.
These principles include: paying what you agreed to pay, buying what you agreed to buy, agreeing fair specifications, committing to the long term and paying on time.
The charter is intended to establish ethical business practices among growers and farmers, to ensure a fair deal is always reached.
“Sustainable trade relationships are based on cooperation, good communication and trust as well as competition,” said Singh-Watson. “A brutal short-term focus on annual price negotiations is supporting supermarket margins while destroying British agriculture, along with the landscape, wildlife and rural communities it once supported.”
Riverford has also launched a petition calling on the government to intervene and protect the UK’s food system from further collapse.