>>THE ISSUES THAT MATTER, FROM THE PEOPLE INVOLVED
Eight years ago, we ran a special report that examined the state of relationships between farmers and the major retailers. Back then, we found evidence of partnerships, protocols and plenty of good intentions on both sides - but we also found that underneath the gloss, the old antagonisms remained.
Also in that issue - July 5, 1997 - we ran a comment piece entitled ‘Why we all hate farmers’. It was meant to be ironic; a tongue-in-cheek look at the reasons why retailers and consumers were growing increasingly frustrated with those who made their living from the land. In particular, we made the point that retailers were bemused at how many of their farming ‘partners’ lacked any knowledge about what made shoppers tick and how they seemed unwilling to gain such insights.
Somewhat predictably, I suppose, the article generated a storm of protest from outraged farmers. I even seem to remember somebody very kindly offering to dump a tractor load of manure outside our front door.
A lot has changed since then. In the late 1990s we saw widespread efforts to unite the food chain. That process was accelerated in the wake of the foot-and-mouth crisis, which brought many of the issues facing farming into the political spotlight. Despite everything, however, it is frightening to see how, even today, the same antagonisms are still in place: the lack of trust between buyers and growers; poor communication along the chain; and little understanding of each other’s needs.
It’s clear that retailers and processors are still guilty of allowing far too many cracks to appear in the food chain. But, as our feature this week shows, there are also far too many farmers around who are clinging to the old ways - even as CAP reform starts to bite and agriculture is forced to embrace dramatic change. As you will read on page 36, farmers need to collaborate more, think more commercially and do more to ensure that what they produce is meeting the needs of customers.
Before that nice gentleman offers to bring his manure around again, I would stress that we don’t hate farmers. Of course we don’t. Rather, we believe passionately that a vibrant farming scene is vital for the future success of the entire UK food sector. But that means we all need to do more to ensure agriculture prospers - none more so than farmers themselves.
why we still hate farmers