News from the farm

Andy Hayllor, Riverford veg grower & co-op member of 27 years, writes…

Of all the issues caused by this summer’s drought, the one we didn’t expect was seagulls. We had a huge problem with them pulling plants out of rows, looking for moisture or food. We lost 25 per cent of the Calabrese crop this year through seagulls; I’ve never seen anything like it. Summer was extremely difficult all round, soils were like talcum powder and we could barely get the weeding machines through. We’ve now got more weeds than we would normally have, and the crops have had more competition. That said, it’s incredible how well everything has come through the drought… It was looking like it was going to be a total loss, but plants are very clever and they will adapt to the circumstances. They shut down and then start up again when the conditions are right; ours have really come back to life, good and healthy.

I run two farms, with help from my nephew and son, and we grow a range of organic veg for Riverford including potatoes, broad beans, carrots, peas, caulis and black kale, or cavolo nero. We’ve run it on a shoestring this year because last year our Bulgarian field team left; the weather was so bad the year before that they couldn’t face another winter. We have really struggled with finding pickers. We can’t get any British people to do those jobs, so we rely on workers from Eastern Europe. The weather is the biggest challenge but it’s getting harder to find workers since Brexit and the weaker pound. It’s a big worry.

I’ve been with Riverford since the start, so around 27 years now. We’re always trying to find different crops to fill the gaps, like the new Buttonhole kale variety that we planted in June and are harvesting a limited amount of this week. My thinking is you can’t stand still, or you’ll get left behind; people’s tastes change all the time, and we need to grow new crops to reflect that. We have such a different population base now to what we used to, and if we can grow things like pak choi in our climate instead of importing, then we should try and do that. You’ve got to be adventurous or people get bored. And I like trialling new crops – it keeps the job interesting!

Guy will be back writing his regular newsletter next week.

31 responses to “News from the farm

  1. Great post, wishing you all the best from Gevrey Chambertin

  2. I love this post. And how true that plants are clever! However I don’t agree that you have to be fashionable with veg, looking for new stuff. The Riverford recipe books are clear proof of that.

  3. I am a long term Riverford customer but I do not approve over using this channel to bang on about Brexit. What you fail to address is if we (and other countries) rely so heavily on Eastern Europeans coming here as pickers – what happens in their own countries? No doubt their food comes from here…. problem not solved.

    • I fail to see that a factual observation constitutes ‘banging on about Brexit’! Mr Hayllor is describing his situation – no more, no less.

    • Andrew Meek -when you say : “What you fail to address is if we (and other countries) rely so heavily on Eastern Europeans coming here as pickers – what happens in their own countries? “- that could be accused of “banging on” about political issues that were not what the mailing was about – it wasnt one of Guys rants 🙂

  4. I totally agree with that Andrew Meek.

  5. Andy is not ” banging on ” about Brexit – he makes one comment based on his experiences. those who complained are maybe a tad sensitive perhaps ??!!

    • So rude to judge people Annette and I don’t know quite what you’re implying. Andrew has every right to say what he did and there are actually a fair few political sounding posts on here and other customers have expressed their dislike of having politics mixed in with their veg.

      • ok fair enough perhaps it did sound rude but I really dont see how it is unwanted politics for a farmer to comment on how current events are affecting his farm.

  6. Nice blog Andy!

  7. It was great seeing Andy’s post, and very important to connect with the real farmers bringing us our fantastic produce. Andy isn’t “banging on about Brexit” – he’s commenting on how things are from him, and it’s important people see the reality, warts and all. His positive outlook and enthusiasm for adapting are admirable, although I’m sure it’s very stressful with losing field workers and not knowing where they’ll come from whilst also facing weather and other challenges.

  8. Jill at Delfland Nurseries

    Lovely to hear from you, you have our sympathies for a very difficult year. Good to hear that you’re still positive and proactive.

  9. I don’t understand why people are getting so upset about Andy’s blog. Andy has just told the facts about the problems in farming . It is well known that people from other countries do not want to come and work here, and it is causing problems in many places.
    I think this is a good article on what is happening in the farming community, it gives us all a better understanding of the problems farmers have to face , that we don’t get from anywhere else . Long may it continue.

  10. Hi Andy, I really enjoyed reading your article about how brilliant crops are at adapting to variations in climate and so on. We are lucky that, despite all the terrible harm humans are doing to the planet, nature is able to adapt and often still flourish. I love trying out different foods that I have never eaten before. It can be a very rewarding experience and I believe that a more varied diet is likely to be more nutritious too. We hear so much about the negative effects of things nowadays, but I prefer to dwell on the positive side. We just need to get the balance right and most of all, take better care of our planet as well as ourselves.

  11. What deters uk pickers, the hard work or the pay ?
    Can’t it be ‘sold’ to uk students, maybe access to surfing beaches
    as an incentive ?

  12. Well said,Dawn. it seems to me that the big problem is lack of British farm workers with so many young people either idling on benefits or causing active trouble.
    I once had charge of boys in care – some from terrible backgrounds – and from destroying my own little garden they soon found the joy of growing their own and running competitions for the best beans etc.
    In Lesotho prisoners were taken under guard for constructive work and that is another source of labour.
    All a matter of organisation. Probably at Council level.
    Good luck to all organic growers, great and small.
    Milly.

  13. Very interesting and informative blog. Thanks Andy…

    Like Loub, I wonder why UK folks aren’t interested in picking. In the dim and distant past when I was a student, it’s the sort of thing I’d have liked – much better than waiting tables or being behind a bar (for me, I know other folks love those jobs)

  14. Respect to you Andy and your team!

  15. Funny I run a window cleaning business and there’s always plenty of young welsh boys happy to work for me(to the point some beg for a job) granted not all can stand the hard work(we work whatever the weather and at a fair old speed).
    So makes me wonder is it that the pickers being taken advantage of(maybe paid less than min wage I’ve heard apparently that goes on with pickers) and the British people know the law, or are just the Welsh harder workers than the English, or I’d guess the problem is they local boys are not given a fair chance, it will be the school dropouts and the trouble boys and girls that you will get but most have never had a chance and become your most loyal staff(not go home because of the exchange rate! The winter excuse is a funny one as Esten Europe have bad winters too!)
    Sorry for my grammar and spelling 😉

  16. Agree with those who suggest that students could do the work of pickers. Didn’t we all have a taste of hard work in our holidays – good experience fit life too. Those Eastern European pitchers returning to their own countries – some because their own economies are improving and they don’t have to leave their families any more. Interesting blog. Thanks

  17. Hi good article Andy what part of the country are you in, I’d happily volunteer a week here and there maybe you could get a team together, I like lounging,s idea of getting students involved maybe via agricultural colleges

  18. Francesca Greenoak

    I picked fruit when I was a student. I was very bad at it and slow, and didn’t last long because it was so painful. Politicians think because work is poorly paid, it’s easy. It’s not. These temporary workers are skilled

  19. Why don’t the British do the picking? When I was a girl we all got involved on a piece work basis. It was the mid-60s to early-70s and considered women’s work. Farm workers wives and kids. The men drove the tractors to haul the crops home. The farmer paid everybody the same but of course us kids were slower & earnt less. The Romany gipsies came and helped too – they were fast workers! But times change – kids aren’t allowed to pick blackcurrants, runner beans, peas or anything else these days – good!!. I was 12 working on the potato harvesting machine – not sure it was legal even then!!. There aren’t that many farm workers now and their wives drive into town for a year round job – better paid and much easier. The Gypsies aren’t trusted regulars like they were. I physically couldn’t do farm work now but I remember it as sometimes backbreaking but great fun for a child then teenager working with your mother and all the other mothers and kids, and, in those days, no tax to pay. And there were families in the farm cottages then. Now there are weekending Londoners, retired incomers and holiday cottages.

  20. @Andrew Meek I can only speak for Bulgaria…. most of their food comes from Bulgaria, with only a little from Turkey, Greece or Germany. Your argument is completely invalid. Almost none comes from UK. I’ve also worked in crop picking in Cornwall and can tell you that it was the eastern Europeans that held everything together. Given the hostile environment in this country to anyone non white and anglo saxon, I can understand why they disappeared, probably nothing to do with the weather in reality.
    And for anyone who wonders why native brits won’t do this work, well the benefit system conspires against anyone trying to help themselves by doing casual work. If you need that explaining then you’re part of the problem…..

    • Never heard such rubbish Sheila. This country bends over backwards for foreigners and gives out freebies out of our taxes left, right and centre. They’ve more rights than people born here.

      • Louise, I would be interested to see the evidence for your statements about freebies and rights for foreigners.

        • A Polish couple with one child were given the luxury 4 bedroom detached house next door to me. So that’s one couple with one child in a 4 bedroomed house. He worked nights picking at a local warehouse and that did not support a rent of £1000 a month plus £200 Council Tax.
          Our NHS is breaking because of all the foreigners that come here and take advantage of it. And all so companies can get cheap labour.
          Case closed. I don’t want to enter into any more ‘debate’ about this, it’s supposed to be about veg.

          • Veg doesn’t exist in a vacuum and your one case doesn’t constitute an analysis. But you’re right – enough said in this context.

  21. Population of Bulgaria = 7 million. Population of UK = 66 million. Best not to use incongruous statistics.

  22. Interesting and insightful post from Andy, giving the farmer’s point of view. I can’t quite see how this has erupted into a debate about Brexit when all Andy is doing is stating facts as he sees them from the direct experience of running his farms. It is well known that the farming industry is struggling to attract enough people to pick fruit and veg, and has done for a while – Brexit or no Brexit. The bigger question is why British people won’t do the work, and I remain unconvinced that for Riverford it is because earnings are below the minimum wage – that would be contrary to the ethics that underpin Riverford’s success.

  23. Lesley Somerville

    Very good debate, with no nastiness even when Brexit is mentioned! We organic veg eaters are a cut above….But seriously, the thing I take from Andy’s blog is the adaptability of nature. We too can and must adapt, and so much we hear in the media is about fear of change, fear of the unknown, lack of confidence in OUR ability to adapt. Andy wasn’t being political but then again, everything is. Using workers from eastern Europe is not ultimately sustainable, any more than the way fruit is grown in southern Spain – did anyone see that on the telly?? So we will adapt post-Brexit, and maybe in 5 years we will have changed our eating habits to the same extent that they have changed in the last 20 years or less. Nothing stays the same but we can all adapt. And sometimes hard times produce stronger plants/animals/people. The generation that lived through the war would certainly argue for that.
    Thanks, Andy, for your hard work and insight into your life.

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