Except to say it’s great news that SAWS (the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme) has been reintroduced, at least for the short term, to attract the labour that’s essential for harvesting many British crops. Our own seasonal pickers are largely from the local area (and have been for many years) but I know of many farms that simply couldn’t survive without seasonal workers from countries such as Poland and Bulgaria.
2018 has been a very mixed year in many ways and not just because of Brexit. We had an appalling start to the growing season, weather-wise, followed by a summer of unprecedentedly high and sustained temperatures – although the harvest is progressing well as I write. Sadly, earlier in the year, Richard Hawkes passed away following a fall. Every business can benefit hugely from listening to the challenges raised from an external perspective and Richard used to do just that, in such a disarming way, when we regularly met. He was also a great friend and a person I will very much miss.
My ‘hot topic’ this time though is the way in which invoice payment terms seem to be growing Pinocchio-nose-like, longer and longer. Some companies claim it’s as a result of uncertainty brought about by Brexit but I’m really not convinced.
In 2017 the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy launched a ‘Prompt Payment Code’ setting out how Central Government Departments would ‘lead by example’, paying 80% of undisputed invoices within 5 days and the remainder within 30. That got me thinking: how incredible would it be if all businesses operated in that way? Not just incredible but business and economy transforming.
In the world of growing and processing we already offer probably the lengthiest ‘terms’ imaginable. It begins when we invest hundreds of thousands of pounds to plant or replace an orchard in the knowledge that we’re unlikely to see anything like a commercial crop for 5-6 years. As our own apples are harvested there’s the cost of bringing the crop in and that follows all of the input costs for maintaining great quality orchards throughout the year. Even when we purchase produce from the farms around us, here in the ‘Garden of England’, those farmers are paid immediately for their crops. Then we carry the cost of storing the fruit for anything up to 12 months.
Finally, we receive an order and invest in the labour and manufacturing costs to produce the finished goods. Even then the investment isn’t over – there’s still the cost of delivery to our customers. 30 day payment terms from date of invoice goes some way towards mitigating the sustained investment but beyond that it becomes increasingly difficult to justifybeing in business. It’s hardly surprising that our industry fails to attract the levels of venture capital enjoyed by many other sectors. Still, despite that, we love the work we do and we love being a part of the fantastic products that fill the shelves of British supermarkets, coffee shops and many other places. After all, we’re not just growers and processors, we’re Fruiticians!
Managing Director of Fourayes, vice-chairman of British Apples & Pears, Fruitician and Mad Scientist.