Retailers urged to treat farmers more fairly as many 'on their knees'

Guy Singh-Watson, founder of Riverford Organic, has warned that British agriculture is 'on its knees'
Guy Singh-Watson, founder of Riverford Organic, has warned that British agriculture is 'on its knees'

Farm leaders and celebrities are calling on retailers to give a fairer deal to the UK's struggling farmers, as many are 'on their knees'.

An open letter addressed to the CEOs of the nation’s 'big six' supermarkets has been signed by over 100 leading figures and industry bodies.

It calls on retailers to 'pay what you agreed to pay', 'buy what you committed to buy', 'agree on fair specifications' and 'pay on time'.

It is part of a new #GetFairAboutFarming campaign launched by organic farming firm Riverford, calling for better business practices to safeguard the future of British farming.

Notable signatures include entrepreneur Deborah Meaden, conservationist Ray Mears, JLS singer and farmer JB Gill and chefs Rick Stein and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

It comes as half (49%) of British fruit and vegetable farmers say it's likely they will go out of business in the next 12 months.

The shocking statistic is included in new research by Riverford, with many farmers blaming supermarkets and their buyers as a leading threat to their livelihoods.

Supermarkets and their buyers are accused of not paying on time, pursuing cheaper food alternatives from overseas, and cancelling or changing orders at the last minute.

Three quarters (75%) surveyed say the behaviour of supermarkets is a leading concern within the industry.

According to the research, one in five farmers (22%) say they have suffered a wasted crop due to cancelled orders from supermarkets, 29% have also received a cancelled order from supermarkets with no explanation.

And just under a third of farmers (29%) say they have seen supermarkets failing to pay them within 30 days.

However, 70% of farmers agreed it would have a positive impact if buyers paid the amount initially agreed, and did not then slash prices after the initial agreement.

A further 64% agreed it would have a positive impact if buyers bought everything they committed to buy.

Guy Singh-Watson, founder of Riverford Organic, warned that British agriculture was 'on its knees'.

"That’s why most small family farms think that they’re not going to be in business the next generation," he said.

"A brutal, short-term focus on annual price negotiations is supporting supermarket margins while destroying British farming along with the landscape, wildlife and rural communities it once supported.

“Exploitation of family farms, the march to scale and the destruction of our countryside is not an inevitable result of a free market.

"It is driven by unbalanced trading relationships, deceitful marketing, externalised costs and a government that has abdicated responsibility in the hell bent pursuit of cheap food at any cost."

Riverford’s new research also showed farmers are currently being squeezed from all angles, including the impact of climate change, the loss of post Brexit subsidies and rising input costs.

In the face of these pressures, 67% of growers surveyed agree that making a living through farming has never been harder and 61% fear that they won’t have a farm to pass on to future generations.

And it’s not just supermarkets; over half (54%) of horticultural farmers believe farming sits on the bottom of the government’s list of priorities.

Current government policies in place to protect farmers from supermarket buying behaviour are inadequate and rarely enforced, says Riverford.

Fruit and veg farmers agree, with 69% saying tougher regulations are required to redress the imbalance of power between farmers and the supermarkets and their buyers.

For example, 64% of farmers surveyed said that having a commitment for the long-term would have a very significant positive impact on their business.

The public can show their support for the campaign by signing an online petition.