Guest speakers included Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, and EFRA (Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) chair; as well as the well-known and much loved chef Rosemary Shrager.
These talks began life as a lockdown project but have rapidly increased in importance as a voice for the rural community so I was pleased to be asked to participate.
We talked about the new technologies helping farmers and businesses associated with agriculture to become as efficient and effective as possible. Of course, at Fourayes we cover both aspects – not only do we grow English Bramley apples for use all year round, we are also the UK’s number one fruit processor.
As the talk progressed one thing became abundantly clear: everyone felt that British farming, together with the wider industrial base that ensures we all have high quality food on our table every day, simply isn’t appreciated. Worse than that, it’s undervalued.
I made the point that over the last 60 years, the percentage of household income spent on food has more than halved whilst the cost of housing (for example) has more than doubled.
And yet the quality of food available to us today has never been of a higher standard.
There’s a reason for that. In Britain, in particular, we are highly regulated and take food standards extremely seriously. At Fourayes we subscribe to the Red Tractor audit scheme for our farm and to BRC for our factory, ensuring our standards are the very highest at all times.
Despite that, both aspects of our business – growing and preparation/processing – remain at the lower levels in terms of the importance they are afforded outside of the rural food community. We are, if you like, treated as though we’re at the bottom of the food chain without any thought given to the fact that the food chain wouldn’t exist without businesses like ours.
It may seem as though I’m complaining. I’m not. Like many other rural businesses we’ve embraced the need for increased efficiency without loss of quality. We’ve also embraced technology and invested heavily in the best people, equipment and storage solutions and we will continue to do so.
But the fact still remains that British food, despite being amongst the best and highest quality in the world, isn’t given the credit it deserves.
As Brexit trade negotiations become an increasingly dominant part of the future of farming and food manufacturing in the UK, it really is time to change things. How can British produce be properly credited when we are happy to invite overseas producers to supply our tables from a lower cost and quality base? As we enter the economic storm resulting from COVID-19, there can only ever be one winner in the minds of hard-pressed consumers, and that’s price.
It was clear from the breadth of the RED talk – covering everything from food appreciation in schools and colleges to the need for greater visibility for British food benefits – there are many actions that need to be taken. It was also apparent that a great number of questions remain unanswered. Neil Parish MP certainly handled more than his fair share of the questioning.
I don’t think I’ve spoken with anyone in the rural economy that doesn’t welcome more competition as a result of the trade deals that will help sustain our country following Brexit. We know that, given a level playing field, British farmers and British food manufacturing can outshine any competition. But that’s the point – it takes a level playing field to ensure the light is visible.
RED Talk. 2nd July, 2020
Managing Director of Fourayes, Vice-Chair of British Apples & Pears and Fruitician
Neil [Parish] is a great advocate for farming. It is comforting to have someone flying the flag in government. Farmers should be regarded as being at the top of the food chain. If we can’t have a level playing field in trade deals, we need more support from government to level the field domestically. As a nation we need to become more food secure and try to move from 50% to 70% domestic production.