Farmers will no longer need to be entrepreneurs to add value to their produce, if a new south-west initiative proves a success, writes south west correspondent Olivia Cooper.

John Sheaves, chief executive of food promotion organisation Taste of the West, says that opening a farm shop may be the way forward for some producers, but it will not suit everyone.

Fortunately, a solution is being planned.

“There is massive interest in adding value – our membership has risen by 10% year-on-year, which reflects that,” says Mr Sheaves.

“The south west cannot compete with world commodity prices so we have to find a point of difference – and that has to reflect the quality of our landscape, the quality of our produce and the skill and enthusiasm of our farmers.”

Taste of the West is talking to a number of buyers about developing a new regional brand, he says.

“The south west needs to stand up and be counted as a food region.

We have got a fantastic array of products and the market is there – we just need to talk ourselves up.”

Over 70% of consumers want to buy more local food, and the food chain must find a way to respond to that, says Mr Sheaves.

Producers in the south west also have to make the most of their attributes: Food, farming and tourism.

“We have more than 20m visitor days to the region each year, and all those people eat out and want to sample local produce.”

Taste of the West is now developing a one-stop shop for hoteliers and restaurateurs, to help them source excellent local produce without having to deal with copious suppliers.

“We are also going to offer a similar service to local schools.

This venture means that we are not just talking to specialist producers – we’re talking to all producers, enabling them to add value without having to branch out themselves.”

A good place to gain information is the South West Excellence Conference.

“We want the conference to motivate anyone involved in food production, farming and tourism in the south west from field to the plate or from supplier to buyer to see the opportunities in regionally produced food and drink,” says Mr Sheaves.