November 2008 - Posts
Farmers make great photographers. This week we've been swamped by entries for the FW photo competition so much so that our email system is pretty clogged up. I'm not complaining but thought I'd try to encourage those people thinking of entering to upload their own pictures on to our website direct as a way of ensuring your snaps do actually get through.
In just the last seven days, we've had over 1000 pictures sent in and they are fantastic. There are six categories in this year's contest with £100 prize money on offer for the best picture submitted in each. The categories are:
* Arable scenes
* Livestock scenes
* General farm activities
The closing date for entries is next friday November 28 and for now the best way to get the pictures to us is by uploading them direct to our website at www.fwi.co.uk/photocomp2008. Don't worry if you think it might be tricky to do. There are instructions on the web page on how to put them on the site.
Many thanks for the phenomenal response. The best pictures will be published in print over christmas as well as appear online.
OK, I’ll come clean. I’m a Tesco shopper at least twice a month. In farming, to admit you spend a sizeable chunk of your income with Britain’s biggest and richest retailer is rather like owning up to a having a nasty infectious disease.
The anger that surrounds Tesco within the industry is growing by the day. Many, like me, love to shop there but continue to be increasingly concerned that the tough tactics of the past have turned into something so much worse. Tesco’s actions now amount to aggressive bullying of suppliers and the current situation is untenable.
The retailer is fired up by a need to maintain profit against the worst downturn for years, plus continuing price wars with Asda and discount chains Lidl and Aldi. It is urging its cash strapped customers to buy its cheaper own label products ahead of branded food and it’s adopted an almost farcical assault on the very people who can help it during tough times – suppliers.
In the last week, a number of farmers have told us that through no fault of their own they have been brought to the brink of ruin by the superstore giant. There are examples of appalling bad practice in every sector – fresh produce, dairy, meat and vegetables.
There have been allegations of upfront payment demands, contracts cancelled at late notice, unilateral price cuts and heavy handed negotiations with third parties. Farmers are suspicious, confused, deeply troubled and terrified to challenge for fear of losing the business instantly It strikes me as demeaning that one of the world’s greatest business success stories and prominent UK brands should risk widespread condemnation because of greed.
Tesco’s turnover at £28bn is over half the total EU agricultural budget at £52bn. It’s annual profit of £2.85 bn is equivalent to £55m a week.profit, that is £328,000 profit every hour. It’s therefore not unreasonable to assume that competitive pricing for shoppers can be achieved at the same time as doing sensible deals with suppliers. Tesco can still make an exceptionally healthy margin and it does not need to cripple farmers at home and abroad along the way.
Tesco insists everything is above board and proper. In a patronising statement, it reminds us it cannot afford to jeopardise long term relationships and a sustainable supply base. Yet all the signs suggest that many of those long term relationships are already under threat. So why is there such misunderstanding between the retailer and farmers and can anything be done about it?
The Competition Commission has promised to create an ombudsman to police relationships between retailers and suppliers but there’s no guarantee it will have the teeth to really help farmers.
In the meantime, keeping the pressure up in a united challenge to Tesco may be the industry’s only hope. FW is collecting evidence of dodgy practices to encourage more responsible behaviour and improve dialogue. If you have any experience of retailer power going too far email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0208652 4915. All comments can be anonymous and will be treated in the strictest confidence. As Tesco likes to tell us, every little helps.
A trip to Tesco this week showed that on six out of nine food items the retailer was actually more expensive than farm shops. Our chief reporter Johann Tasker bought meat and vegetables from farm shops in Essex and carried out a price check comparison with Tesco on November 5. He found that on dry cure bacon, a leg of lamb, topside beef, leeks, onion and desiree potatoes Tesco was substantially more costly. Only on broccoli, carrots and savoy cabbage were they cheaper.
In the words of Anthony Davison of Bigbarn.co.uk, "We have got so used to supermarkets saying that they are cheaper, that we believe them. It's actually a load of crap."
Next week, local food hero John Geldard from Plumgarth's hub in Cumbria, is introducing a major new report on what needs to be done to enable farmers to fully exploit local food opportunities in the UK. We need a revolution in the way this is handled and quick.
Douglas Wanstall, winner of the Farmshop.co.uk Local Food Farmer of the Year in the FW Awards last week is a shining example of how to do it. In just a few years, he's teamed up with other Kent producers and is supplying a phenomenal amount of fresh produce and meat to retailers, hotels and restaurants. He's also cracking public procurement by winning some impressive contracts with hospitals in the London area.
We've got to find ways of spreading these messages and sharing this know-how far and wide. And we must work harder at dispelling some of the myths shoppers have about farm shop grub being pricey. With the recession top of mind, this is a positive line that needs much better promotion nationally and locally. .
In just 24 hours, the world may be a very different place. A new US President will be on his way to the White House and, if we're to believe the polls, it looks as if history will be made with the first black candidate, Barack Obama, voted in. The US elections are a bit like Marmite for the British public - you either love it or hate it - there's no in between.
At yesterday's team meeting, the FW journalists decided to wade into election fever too and give it a bash online with a focus on how the two candidates view farming and their differences in agricultural policy. We had no idea whether anyone this side of the pond would be remotely interested.
Kansasfarmer, a regular fwispace user from the US, has plenty to say about the election and is a big fan of McCain's running mate Sarah Palin from Alaska. UK farmers, it seems, are pretty interested too judging by the response to a thread on the forums and our short video made by FW's economics and global markets editor Philip Clarke. At the last look, the FWi poll on "who would you like to see win the US election?" was showing 27% for John McCain and a whopping 73% for Barack Obama.
Some might say the swing is not surprising given that the Democrats had twice as much money to throw at the Obama campaign and their guy doesn't seem to have put a foot wrong. What a cool, unflappable campaigner.....
If he makes it tomorrow, he's going to need all that calm leadership to sort out the mess in the US and pretty quickly. As we discovered all too recently with the financial crash, America's problems can infect the UK big time if not addressed properly.