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Coronavirus Kent: Farmers talk about impact of Covid-19 pandemic on farms

The coronavirus outbreak has adversely affected the way we live and the impact hasn't missed those toiling on our farms.

Farms of all sizes have been adapting to a new way of life, trying to cope with the increase in demand for food and the challenges the virus has posed for their workforces and how they do business.

KMTV reports on the impact of the crisis on Kent's farmers

Dairy farmer Robin Betts says his business has had to adapt their operations.

Winterdale Cheesemakers, in Wrotham – which has been running for 14 years – produces cheese which is sold in Fortnum & Mason and markets across Kent and the capital.

He also runs a shop on his farm in Platt House Lane, selling the farm's products and staples including eggs and bread.

He said: "The majority of our cheese goes into London and that's all gone completely so our route to market has been taken away.

"We have had to look at other ways of how we can get our lovely cheese to our lovely customers.

Kent crops such as strawberries could be affected by the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Picture: Andy Payton
Kent crops such as strawberries could be affected by the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Picture: Andy Payton

"This includes opening the shop for longer hours, and advertising our services to locals because they can walk to get milk and essentials."

Robin has also set up a delivery service for the isolated and supplied his cheese to companies who sell delivery boxes of produce to customers.

He added: "In some ways, it's connecting us with our customers; some people didn't realise we were here.

"While it's not a very nice position for us and the world to be in, it has brought some good things out."

Farmer Stephen Jones runs Harvel House Farm in Meopham with his family.

Robin Betts, owner of Winterdale Cheesemakers
Robin Betts, owner of Winterdale Cheesemakers

It was set up in 1976 and rears cattle, pigs, sheep, turkeys and also grows some crops including potatoes, wheat, barley, linseed, oats and sweetcorn.

All of the farm's output is sold in the farm's shop in Harvel Lane, which has been running for 11 years.

For this reason, Stephen says the impact of the coronavirus has been limited, as the farm's outside input is limited.

The shop is still operating and Stephen says people have been mucking in, helping with things such as home deliveries.

He said: "Prices have become much more volatile; two weeks ago, lambs were £125 to £135 if you were selling them in the market, but they've dropped to £80, same with the beef.

Farms large and small have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak
Farms large and small have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak

"People are thinking much more of shopping local and our supply chain is short because it [the stock] goes from the farm to the shop.

"If you look back four or five weeks ago, headlines in the papers were saying we don't need farmers, we can buy all the food from abroad. That's changed a bit now.

"It's a change of perspective; farmers and lorry drivers have gone from being the scum of the earth to heroes.

"Supermarkets have been trying to use it to get in control of farmers again; they always like to use something like this to be in control.

"We are quite insulated from it because we have got most things here. We haven't massively been impacted by it.

AC Goatham's apples and pears.
AC Goatham's apples and pears.

"We are lucky our customers have been really nice; we don't get people kicking off; our customers are lovely and generally people have been really helpful."

One of the UK's major fruit producers, AC Goatham & Sons, based in Hoo, grows one in three apples and pears sold in the UK.

The company's commercial director, Carol Ford, said: “We want to reassure everyone that Goatham’s has plenty of delicious British apples and pears in our cold stores here in Medway and our team is working hard every day to distribute them so that the supermarkets can keep their shelves well stocked with British produce.

"We control every step in our supply chain, from growing the fruit in our orchards, packing and cold storage operations to our own fleet of lorries to deliver them to supermarkets daily.

"Our farm teams are also very busy out in our orchards looking after the health of our trees, ready to start growing a new season of apples and pears which will be harvested from August to November.

AC Goatham & Son’s commercial director, Carol Ford.
AC Goatham & Son’s commercial director, Carol Ford.

"We are working together with our friends and colleagues across farming and horticulture and with government to ensure we can all continue to grow and supply Britain with fresh produce.”

The National Farmers' Union has joined with the government to launch a recruitment drive to fill the potential 70,000 gap of seasonal workers, most of whom will not be able to travel from Europe to help with the harvest.

Isobel Bretherton, spokesman for NFU in the south east, said: "There will be some serious challenges to overcome in the short term.

"Labour availability remains a major concern in our region, despite the encouraging response there has been to appeals to help plant and harvest our food.

"Meanwhile, farm businesses with small labour forces could be badly affected if someone within the business self-isolates or is infected with Covid-19.

The NFU have launched a recruitment drive to help bolster supplies of seasonal workers
The NFU have launched a recruitment drive to help bolster supplies of seasonal workers

"We need to ensure our vital farm-to-fork infrastructure remains operational, including the hauliers, abattoirs, meat processing plants, pack houses and mills.

"Above all, we need to be mindful of the mental health of everyone involved, looking out for each other at a time when all social gatherings are at a standstill.

"In the longer term, the strategic importance of our industry should never be taken for granted again."

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