Guy’s news: Unknown unknowns, freak weather and screw-ups

Before Donald Rumsfeld gave the world ‘unknown unknowns’, Riverford had the Screw-up Factor. My early budgetary computations included an estimate of crop risk arising from poor germination, pestilence, adverse weather, market forces and human error. The estimates were based on experience to date. But what about the previously unexperienced; freak weather, unknown diseases or mineral deficiencies? These were accounted for in the Screw-up Factor.

My 30 years of growing have been a long battle to reduce the Screw-up Factor. It started at 30% of the budget, but with accumulating experience we have brought it down to about 10%. That victory, our success, and the affordability of our veg are all dependent on refining our practices to make the best of the conditions we know. If those conditions change, we are back to square one.

I am typing this on the train home from our farm in the Vendée, where our well laid plans were trodden into the mud by a wet start to the year. The last two very dry summers in France suggested our investment priority there should be a new reservoir; this year, we have barely used our existing water store, and 10% of our budget will not come close to covering the losses. At home in Devon, even 30% may not cover the consequences of a ten-week drought.

I am reluctant to attribute it prematurely to changing climate, but this pattern of longer and more frequent periods of extreme weather does fit the predictions for climate change. In temperate Devon, with enough time and investment we can adjust to substantial changes in the norm. What’s harder to adapt to is unpredictability; the widening variation that ‘the norm’ may become.

Having abandoned the frosted beans, some weed-smothered sweetcorn, and split kohlrabi and turnips, the remainder of the Vendéen crops look good. The first corn will be in your boxes this week, possibly along with a few grubs of the corn borer moth; once rare in our region, but moving north in hot years. The obviously affected cobs are graded out, but some will inevitably get through – let us know if you get one and we will refund you. We did release predators that achieve a good level of control over these pests, but it seems we should have released them earlier. Another screw-up, but at least this one we can learn from.

Guy Singh-Watson

13 responses to “Guy’s news: Unknown unknowns, freak weather and screw-ups

  1. Michelle Bohlaender

    Farming has never been easy or weather very reliable; communicating is key & often underestimated as an important aide in building customer relationships & maintaining their loyalty. Hope every loyal customer hangs in there & takes the rough with the smooth.

  2. Jacqui Tatnall

    Goodness didn’t realise quite how difficult farming ha become…what with changing weather patterns! Grateful for what we get now 😁

  3. Have always admired those who grow things for a living….I find even trying to grow a few vegetables in the garden is a bit hit and miss!

  4. We really appreciate our box of Riverford veggies. Trying to grow a few rows of Runner beans I realise how difficult it is in this drought, so hats of to you guys 🎩Xxx

  5. So appreciate these communications – and echo that communication is key in the customer relationship – thank you for keeping us informed and very much appreciate all of your efforts.

  6. Thanks for sharing your news, good and bad. Growing anything with weather as it is now is a juggling act. That you have anything to put in our boxes after the last few weeks is a miracle. We are with you 100 per cent. Better days will come, they always do.

  7. My first time reading one of your newsletters. Thank you for being transparent and so giving with your information!

  8. Guy, your honesty is refreshing in a world where it is generally in short supply. Long may it continue.

  9. I really enjoy your open and informative news letters. It’s an eye opener how difficult farming is, especially organic farms. Thank you for persevering.

  10. jane holdsworth

    Oh dear! So not a very good summer, then Guy? Nevermind – whilst you’ve been battling with the dry (or waterlogged) soil it should be good to know that your faithful “organic or die” clientele have been enjoying every minute of this wonderful weather with their salad picnics on the beach or in the woods with friends who might otherwise have traveled to somewhere hot for their hols, opening up their organic wine bottles, interesting relishes and gorging tons of summer fruits and knowing nothing of what sacrifice it has taken you and the Riverford family to bring it all to us !! Hip, Hip and thank you.

  11. Pingback: Carrots and peas | Go Local Food Ltd

  12. Hang in, there, Guy! We are all with you.

    I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that in a freak year like this (it reminds me of 1976, which was I think before you began vegetable-box farming) we would be happy to accept a few substandard items if it helps you over the bad period. But as one of your commenters above says, the good times will return.

  13. We receive wonderful quality food in our boxes from Riverford, which lasts longer than shop bought organic. Riverford is a name revered round my village, where so many people grow their own. Runner beans are a case in point, needing constant even watering and don’t mention peas and slugs!

    Sally Salter

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