Farmers face challenges
everywhere and the Channel Island
of Jersey is no exception as
Tessa Gates found when she visited this
British island that is neither part of
the UK nor a member of the EU
FOR over 450 years the le Feuvre family has farmed on Jersey and Carlton le Feuvre is carrying on the tradition.
He was born and bred to it, loves it, but even he would think twice about encouraging his children to him.
"It is very difficult for young people to come into this industry but would you want your children to come in? For the effort you put in and the returns you get out you would have to think about it," he says.
Carlton and his wife, Kristina, live at La Hougue Farm, St Peter, and have a son and two daughters aged two, four and five. He bought the farm from his father three years ago and farms in partnership with his cousin Nic Vautier.
The land is measured in vergees, an old Norman measure (2.25 vergées =
1 acre). Between them they
Jersey Royals are the major crop and they also grow pinks and daffodils
"There are only 60-70 commercial standard potato growers left," says Carlton, a member of the islands Potato Committee. He had looked forward to good returns from the early potatoes this year but it was not to be.
"We had a horrendous season. Main crop prices were so high in the winter that it scared a lot of supermarkets into tying up prices with Israel, Portugal and Cyprus. We were expecting a good year because of shortages, but in the event the buyers did not want the quantities and we were sitting on a lot of waste," he says. "We did not dump any, but it caused a lot of hassle.
"We were running below the cost of production for most of the season. I dont know of any potato grower that comes away with a profit, basically you are looking to break even. Last year was a good year, it seems to be boom or bust.
"We get a lot of flack from Cornish growers about the UK importing our potatoes, but we are British. Where does the salad potato originate from? Jersey. Nothing goes to Europe, our crop goes to England.
"We are fiercely British and royalists by nature. Our cars, tractors and fertilisers all come in from Britain. Only the electricity comes from France," he says.
* Cost of production
It costs £1200/vergée to produce Royals and the return this season was £400/vergée. Growing them is very labour intensive like most of the traditional crops on the island. Workers are brought in from Portugal and Madeira and Carlton houses 20 staff on the farm for about eight months of the year.
"We grow our own seed here and have our own storage to bring it on. For every vergée of Royals we have 120 chitting boxes," Carlton says.
Excess chits are rubbed off in November/December. In January the seed potatoes are planted out by hand and emergence comes six weeks later.
"Crop husbandry starts in the store," he says, adding that they retard the shoots by tapping on each of the boxes to stop them bolting.
The crop is in the ground for 10 to 12 weeks and, like most farmers, Carlton keeps it in good heart with vraicing. Vraicing is fertilising with seaweed, which is gathered by government sub-contractors and provided free.
* Carting and labour
"We meet the costs of carting and labour, he says. We set it out in little piles 20t to a vergée and you want to put it on in Oct/Nov/Dec, to give it time to break down. Just before planting the potatoes you till it in with a Rotavator to 10in. It produces better skins in our sandy ground and there is new evidence that it helps the pcn problem and so there are less nematodes.
"Year ago my dad grew calabrese, parsley anemones, garlic, daffodils and Royals on 300 vergées, which was considered massive then. He employed 30 staff. Now we are relying so much on Royals, all our costs are there and it brings tremendous pressure," says Carlton, who grows 6 vergées of organic Royals and intends to put another 15-20 vergées into conversion.
* Making money
Finding new ways to make money seems harder on Jersey, where land is at a premium and all crops incur high transportation costs. Farming, once the mainstay of the economy has been superseded by the finance industry and tourism. Even tourism is facing hard times, with visitor numbers down, due, some think, to the high cost of travelling to Jersey. That rules out that mainstay of diversification on the mainland, farmhouse B&B.
"The only farmers here making money are those selling off their land. We may be sitting on property, but if you sell it off where would you live, what would you do?" he asks.
Jersey covers 45sq miles and is the most southerly of the Channel Islands.
The States Assembly governs the islands affairs.
Jersey is British but not part of the UK .
Jersey is not a member of the EU.
Jersey is VAT-free.
Principal industries are: Finance, tourism, farming.
Land is measured in vergées: 2.25vergées = • acre.
53% of the island is farmed.
77% of farmed land is rented .
Total number of holdings is 403.
Average size holding is 85.08 vergées (37.81acres)
Farmers: 242 (full time), 48 (part time).