Published: 00:00, 08 March 2017
A farmer in Sandwich has warned that producers in the area could be wiped out if supermarkets continue to import goods from overseas.
Richard Ash says the industry is at an all-time low and admits farmers are being left with no choice but to destroy thousands of pounds worth of unwanted crops – currently cauliflowers.
Charity Feedback Global, which works with farmers to distribute unwanted produce to organisations such as homeless shelters, is in east Kent this week helping a neighbouring farmer Geoffrey Philpott save some crops from going to waste.
But Mr Ash, who runs 900 acres near Sandwich and who has been farming there for half a century, says something needs to be done at government level to encourage supermarkets to buy local.
Tesco caused controversy with the launch of its farmed produce with fake names like Rosedene and Boswell when some of the food was actually imported.
Mr Ash said: “It seems crazy that foreign companies are taking the profits and the foreign economy is benefitting from us importing their produce when we have British produce right here that we should be using,” he said.
“We should be buying British. I don’t know why supermarkets do it. It’s costing them and it’s hitting our economy.
“Eventually what will happen is they will drive the British growers out of production. We’ll end up with no home producers.”
Mr Ash says all the farmers locally, including himself, are feeling the strain.
“We’ve been growing since the 1950s and we’re at the worst point now. We’ve had bad times before but we’re at an all time low,” he said.
“The general feeling is farmers are worried about the future in all their produce.”
British farmers receive between 15p and 20p for a cauliflower which can then be sold by supermarkets for up to £1.90.
“They make a nice profit so I don’t know why they are obsessed with importing,” said Mr Ash.
“When it comes from Spain it takes three days to get here and then it goes into cold storage. It won’t get on supermarket shelves until it is six to eight days old.
“British produce can be on the shelf within a day.”
He is calling on more support from the government to control the amount of importation.
“Maybe we should be looking at punishing them (supermarkets) if they are continually importing,” he said.
“Maybe there should be tariffs – something to deter them and encourage them to use British produce as much as possible.”
He added: “We used to make a reasonable living, we could look after the countryside and reinvest.
“Now, the average age of the British farmer is about 60. The old boys like me love it, but no one wants to come into this industry, there’s no money to be earned.”
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