13 October 2000
Food chain too long, says Paske

By Donald MacPhail

FARMERS must have more direct dealings with supermarkets if they are to prosper, claims the new vice-president of the NFU.

At present the food chain is too long and farmers are often at the wrong end, said Lincolnshire asparagus grower Michael Paske, who was elected last week.

Coming from the unsupported horticulture sector, Mr Paske claims to have a better understanding than most sectors of the importance of good relations with retailers.

My business is not the same as a commodity like cereals and livestock, where there are a number of intermediaries between you and the supermarkets.

With horticulture, you deal directly with the customer and quite honestly that is something the rest of the industry is going to have to come to terms with.

The supply chain has got to get shorter because, if everyone takes a margin, the producer is left on the wrong end of the chain.

He welcomed this weeks recommendation by the Competition Commission for a legally binding code of conduct between retailers and producers, saying this would clear the air.

Mr Paske followed in the footsteps of his asparagus-breeder father and started out growing the vegetable in Suffolk.

But a Nuffield Scholarship to the USA and Mexico in 1977 convinced him his talents lay in marketing.

He now runs Exotic Farm Produce Limited, dealing with a wide range of produce, and is still a partner in a 75-acre asparagus farm in Nottinghamshire.

This also provides sea kale and globe artichoke plants.

In 1996 Mr Paske was seconded to MAFF for eight months and helped establish what is now the Horticulture Export Bureau, a one-stop shop for producers wanting advice on exporting.

He believes his work and contacts made in the ministry can benefit producers in all sectors, despite export difficulties caused by the strength of Sterling.

We have some of the best producers in the world in this country and they ought to be looking at exports, he said.