pete thompson farmer

Source: Rubies in the Rubble

Essex farmer Pete Thompson, who works with Rubies in the Rubble, will be leaving apples and pears on the tree this year

Like the majority of the industry, at Rubies in the Rubble we are feeling the effects of staff shortages in supply chains across the country.

The threatening increases in food prices don’t just feel a temporary measure but a long-awaited, necessary one to ensure businesses can continue to make the right choices and producers gain a fair price.

Many of you will have seen Clarkson’s Farm on Amazon, highlighting how hard it is for farmers to break even (pre-Covid and Brexit). These recent added costs and pressures on logistics and staff are adding huge pressure.

I caught up with one of our farmers, Pete Thompson, and was saddened to learn that this year, he will be leaving his apples and pears on the tree due to ever-decreasing margins.

In addition, 90% of his seasonal picking team come from overseas, so to make it work without these workers he would need to invest a lot in machinery and scaling up.

The sums just don’t add up. This change in workforce is resulting in smaller farmers not being able to compete. “The slightly depressing thing is, we worked out that we would be personally better off in financial terms if we stopped growing food, shed all our staff and become landlords and service providers [of our buildings and carbon offsetting],” Pete told me. “It’s tempting, especially when you would have a lot less stress and a more biodiverse and wild space in which to live.”

Without family farmers and smallholders working the land, all farming would be managed by large corporations. One result of this is that we could lose the biodiversity and care for the local environment local farmers offer. Pete’s father used to say “you can only farm what you can walk” – the rationale being that the farmer knows the intricacies of the land and fields. As they are pushed to continually expand to achieve economies of scale, they are pushed away from that. As good as tech is, it hasn’t got that living field memory third, fourth or fifth-generation farmers have.

So what is the future of farming? Are we moving to a mass-produced free market where food is grown quickly, at scale for the masses – and good, often more nutritious food is reserved for the wealthy few? Will this then lead to many farmers in the UK pivoting from food to land management and all crops being made in concentrated areas? Does this create a bigger risk to biodiversity and freak climate conditions hitting and wiping out all supply?

For Rubies in the Rubble, this change in landscape has encouraged us to pick up the phone to new farmers, and build new relationships to find new sources of surplus.