Riverford Wicked Leeks

rising temperatures + fuel costs

The November-sown broad beans have finally emerged at the tail end of a soggy January, having stayed subterranean through a frigid December. Things are quiet in the fields while we wait for the remaining leeks, swedes and cabbages to start growing again. A team left for France last weekend to plant lettuce and cabbages on our farm in the Vendée and most of the remaining field team are either weeding rhubarb (back breaking), pruning fruit (more desirable, apart from the thorny gooseberries) or have been seconded to the barn to join our packing and grading team. They are a hardy lot; most would rather be outdoors however foul the weather, so their incarceration will end as soon as things are growing again or the seedlings arrive for the first spring plantings.

It is normally a mistake for my ramblings to stray far from vegetables, but as things are so quiet I will risk it anyway. Every time fuel prices rise farmers and road hauliers are the most vocal table-thumpers, protesting their right to cheap fuel. As a farmer, importer and user of more lorries than I care to admit, I find this belligerence an embarrassment. The sooner fuel doubles or even quadruples in price, the better. It will encourage me to stop procrastinating and make the changes that I know I should, and eventually will have to do, anyway. It makes perfect sense to tax things we should do less of.

Businesses can be incredibly inventive and responsive but the truth is that most only respond to one metric: money. When oil prices last spiked to 147 dollars a barrel in mid 2008, suddenly it took three weeks instead of two for a container of fruit to arrive from Chile: the ships went more slowly, created less wake, burned less fuel and the world was a cleaner place. It took a bit more planning from buyers but was no great hardship. No amount of corporate social responsibility policies can bring about that sort of action. To put fuel prices in context, were we to use a hand saw instead of a chainsaw, a hand scythe instead of a tractor mower and a shovel instead of a diesel-powered concrete mixer, it would take up to a month to do the work that can be done by a gallon of petrol or diesel. Put in context, fuel still seems pretty cheap to me.

Guy Watson from Riverford in Devon