Opinion: Covid-19 could be the defining moment of our lives

I am writing this column in the week before Mothering Sunday – ordinarily one of our busiest weeks of the year, as we plant and harvest crops and supply the dramatic peak that occurs for cut flowers.

As in previous years, we currently have hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of flowers sitting in our cold stores ready to meet the predicted demand.

The risk of not selling them has never caused me anxiety before; the repercussions of undersupplying a supermarket have always felt more grave a prospect.

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This year, I feel it may be different. I could be left holding the baby. And this is a fat, screaming baby with a very full nappy. To quote US investor and philanthropist Warren Buffet: “The tide is going out, and I’ve been swimming with skimpy trunks on.”

It is difficult to predict how things will have turned out by the time you read this, but we are seeing lots of our export orders to mainland Europe cancelled and UK supermarket orders are coming in low.

Panic buying reigns and, if current news reports are to be believed, mothers across the UK are going to be receiving toilet paper and pasta this year rather than the traditional gifts of chocolates and bouquets.

Aalsmeer market in the Netherlands, where half of the world’s cut flowers are bought and sold, saw demand cut in half and tens of millions of pounds worth of flowers were dumped last week.

After the challenging weather conditions of late and the disruption from Brexit, I didn’t imagine that 2020 could bring our business bigger challenges. How wrong I was. The next week or two will be make or break for thousands of businesses.

The civil crisis caused by this virus will, of course, bring challenges for almost everyone, and I am not looking for sympathy. If anything, I am thankful for my good fortune. I am healthy, live in an isolated area where my routine is less affected, and I have a diverse business and some financial security.

But the Covid-19 epidemic could be the defining moment of our lives. The children of today will be singing “Happy Birthday” while they wash their hands for the rest of their lives, and the whole population is learning an important lesson about where their food comes from.

This is the first time many people will ever have seen an empty supermarket shelf. It is an unnerving sight. Whether this highlights the fragility of our distribution systems or points to a wider problem with our food industry is yet to be established.

Nonetheless, it appears to be a moment to commend the prescience of those – particularly the sage of these pages, David Richardson – who have championed food security. It is also an opportune time to pour scorn on anyone – I am especially scowling at government adviser Tim Leunig here – who thinks the UK doesn’t need its own farming industry.

Good luck with your own challenges. I will sleep easily knowing that, if I run out of toilet paper, at least I have thousands of bunches of cold, unsold daffodils to fall back on.

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