Prince Charles

Prince Charles has said supermarkets take less risk in food production than farmers, in a guest editorial for Country Life Magazine

Prince Charles has hit out at supermarkets for “taking none of the risk” of food production and for profiting from small farmers.

The heir to the throne has written a spirited defence of British farming in an edition of Country Life Magazine guest-edited by him and published today.

In his editorial, the Prince said: “Small farmers find themselves in the iniquitous position of taking the biggest risk, often acting as the buffer from the retailer against all the economic uncertainties of producing food, but receiving the least return.

“It cannot be right that a typical hill farmer earns just £12,600, with some surviving on as little as £8,000 a year, whilst the big retailers and their shareholders do so much better out of the deal, having taken none of the risk.”

Farmers were being penalised for their way of life, Prince Charles said, with their low incomes preventing them from re-investing in their land.

The Prince added that the countryside was “the unacknowledged backbone of our national identity” that “is as precious as any of our great cathedrals and we erode it at our peril”.

The Prince of Wales was invited to guest-edit Country Life to mark his 65th birthday tomorrow.

“The Prince has become the countryside’s strongest voice. His support for it is something that, as a nation, we should treasure,” said Mark Hedges, editor of Country Life. “What the next king thinks matters.”

Investing in the supply chain

The British Retail Consortium’s food director Andrew Opie acknowledged that a strong partnership between farmers and retailers was “fundamental” to the success of British supermarkets, but said that retailers were already investing back in the supply chain. “A good example is the dairy chain where retailers use dedicated chains to get the best prices back to their farmers for the milk they sell, the best in the market,” he said.

“Retailers are confident their investment means a strong future for farmers in their chain and that a very high proportion of our food will continue to be sourced in the UK,” he added. “However, retailers cannot resolve all the problems for farmers, many of which are structural and beyond their control.”

Jim Twine, business development director at the Soil Association, welcomed the Prince’s comments. “Anything that can be done to draw attention to issues that really matter has got to be a good thing,” he said. “At the end of the day, farmers need to stay in business and need to reinvest in their business.”

Twine added that it was incumbent upon retailers to communicate better their supply-chain initiatives. “There is a bit more for them to do to get across what they are doing when they are doing things well.”

Prince Charles is behind the Duchy Originals organic food brand, exclusively stocked by Waitrose, which marked its 21st anniversary in September. It recorded profits of £3.23m in 2012 and now encompasses 230 products.