Cash challenge for Farmer Focus writer Andrew Charlton

Andrew Charlton farms 92ha (277 acres) at Stow Bridge in south-west Norfolk, where he is a stockless organic arable producer, adviser and council tenant. Crops include cereals, potatoes, vegetables and fertility-building clover

The constant challenge for all small business owners – getting cash from customers – is plaguing me.

An unscientific analysis of over-winter payments from three veg packers/wholesalers in differing supply chains and of different sizes shows an average of 76 debtor days, which is hopelessly unacceptable.

The cereals sector seems to be over this problem, but veg people, with some honourable exceptions, are getting worse.

Does this reflect greater financial pressure on them from supermarkets and others? I don’t know, but it would be easy to make that assumption.

As an organic producer supplying products generally in shorter supply I have the relative luxury of being able to turn into Sir Alan Sugar from time to time and tell those with short arms and long pockets “you’re fired”.

There are invariably other fish to fry and I will be doing this for 2008. But supermarkets and packers need to address this most basic of issues if they aren’t going to be told to “go and whistle” the next time requests for large amounts of information for efficiency or environmental initiatives gets handed to the producer end of the chain.

Those customers who have been key to my business over the long term are still in exactly the same position today. It’s these people who create the fewest problems and give me the most confidence for the future. It reinforces my view that farming is all about successful long term relationships.

Getting back to more basic matters the second half of March was remarkable for having no tractors moving out of the yard at all. That’s probably the first time that has happened during my nine years here.

Everything is moving again now, however, with sugar beet drilling, a collaboration with a neighbour, finished and potato planting well under way.

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