This week we've started talking more publicly about batchseed and what we're building. Unlike many technology companies we're not wrapping what we do in layers of secrecy ahead of a fanfare launch. Just like the producers we work with, we aim to be open and transparent wherever possible.
Easter and spring bring new life and fresh produce to our plates. With the Easter weekend becoming the ‘new Christmas’ in terms of supermarket promotions, we are buying significant amounts of food to impress friends and family. Home-cooking and baking is almost a societal expectation at this time of year and recently we have a growing interest in sourcing and using local produce. Britain is slowly coming into bloom and it is the perfect time to take advantage of the freshest ingredients. So, why are supermarkets choosing to offer imported lamb instead of supporting British farmers by selling local meat?
In the wake of The Guardians "Dairy is Scary" article, farming is once again having to defend itself against biased media coverage. As a result modern farmers and food producers must increasingly become good communicators to ensure that consumers understand and can make informed decisions. This blog post highlights some of the most successful examples we've seen from recent days.
Departure from the EU is set to cause a period of uncertainty and change in Farming and food production not seen in recent generations. With change there is opportunity as well as risk. In our Third and final part of our Brexit articles we look at how exit from the EU may impact farm finance and economics.
As consumers begin to scrutinise supermarkets and retailers more rigorously, the complexity and length of the food supply chain from producers to shop shelves has become a controversial issue. Fruits, vegetables, and raw meat tend to have shorter supply chains than processed foods; however, the product has still traded hands several times before being purchased from a shop or supermarket. Buying direct from the producer shortens the chain to one simple transaction, making the system cleaner and fresher.
A day does not pass without the mention of ‘fake news’ either as a shaming accusation or a mockingly sarcastic witticism. As we look deeper into the ‘fake news phenomenon’, we see that the public world is littered with bias and embellishment. Although the media itself has shone a negative light upon the obfuscating nature of ‘alternative facts’, there could ultimately be a positive outcome to the whole saga.
It’s widely acknowledged that we are living in unprecedented political and economic times. British farming and food production faces a highly uncertain future. But in change there is always huge opportunity.
With some UK farms receiving as much as half their income from EU subsidies, the threat to farm income is very real. Whilst this funding may continue until 2020 it is unlikely to continue beyond that in it’s current form. This alone will prompt many small and family farms and small scale producers to seriously reconsider their viability and business model, add to this a continual downward pressure on prices from large retailers and it paints a bleak picture.
However change represents opportunity, and the silver lining is that consumer interest in provenance and what we eat has never been higher. So ahead of the launch of batchseed.com we will be sharing positive opportunities and success we see in UK food and farming. Producers already involved are sharing their ideas for communicating their message direct to consumers.
Why not let us know about how you would like to see the sector change.
Some useful facts about the UK food and drinks industry show that demand for ethical and artisan produced food is very strong:
The UK’s food and drink industry* contributes around £26 billion to the UK economy, with 3-4% year-on-year growth. There are more than 8,500 food and drinks producers employing around 450,000 people meeting the growing demand for craft and artisan food and drink products. It is unlikely that this growth is going to slow significantly in the immediate future.
Sales in ethical and artisan produced food and drink, including organic, fair-trade, free range and freedom foods rose to £8.4 billion in 2013, representing 8.5% of all household food sales. Sales of this type of produce have increased year on year since 2007, despite the economic downturn.
Fairtrade and organic products contribute 15% (£1.6 bn) and 13% (£1.3 bn) respectively, of the total ethical food sector.
In a 2014 Food and You survey, food safety in imported products, in particular meat from outside the UK, caused the most concern, with 67% of survey respondents expressed concern about imported meat, whereas only 27% were concerned about food produced in the UK
* All data provided by Defra National Statistics 2015
As a father of 4 who grew up in the country surrounded by food production, I've wanted the same connection with food for my children. Whilst the strains of running a modern farming business would be totally out of my comfort zone, we've been fortunate enough to secure a few acres to raise poultry, sheep and pigs and grow a variety of vegetables with varying degrees of success. We've shown our children the effort that goes into the to food they eat. Countless weekends spent mucking out and building fences but also the pleasure of seeing a pig give birth to 14 piglets or an apple tree so heavy with fruit it could hardly hold it's limbs up. We've reaped the reward of producing more sausage than one family could viably consume, and certainly more cider than I could drink.
This process, watching what my own children gained and more importantly the interest of friends who were happy to pay for sausages and other produce, led to the idea for batchSeed.
The world is changing, fast. You only need switch on any media channel for a few minutes and the uncertainty and disconnection of modern life is worryingly apparent. From the Dairy Crisis to Brexit, farming and food production is caught up in the turmoil of a connected world where consumer choice is greater than ever before yet understanding and empathy for it is at an all time low.
With batchSeed we hope to address the disconnection that I personally believe is at the heart of issues with modern food production. Helping make the story behind food an intrinsic part of its value, as well as sharing the risks and rewards. I hope this is what sets us apart from other food retail websites. Transparency is something that a new generation of food producers are increasingly comfortable with, but consumers need convenient and safe ways to engage using technology with which they are familiar. My hope is that batchSeed will provide that platform and that you will give it a try!
A letter to The Times highlights the desire for change in British farming post Brexit.
Further to Oliver Moody’s article “Sow the seeds now for the future of farming” (Aug 4), the industry is on the cusp of a technical revolution. Biology is replacing chemistry and heavy cultivating work on commercial profitable farms, where zero-till and cover crops cut costs and raise output. Biology is equally beneficial in low-cost grazing systems, and in both cases farmers are finding their work fascinating and profitable. With little interest from Defra, it’s a technology that is being developed and shared by farmers themselves.
The farming revolution is equally evident in the sale of farm produce. Direct selling from farm to consumer is an obvious way to increase margins, but has largely involved farm shops and farmers’ markets. Now rural broadband is linking farmers, even in remote areas, with urban consumers through food assemblies, which provide online ordering and easy collection from central meeting places.
Today’s farm “support”, which is based on a farm’s size, provides state help to the biggest, richest farmers who enjoy efficiencies of scale. So the big get bigger, taking on land through business tenancies, and the landscape becomes increasingly uniform.
If we want agricultural diversity there needs to be a fundamental change in subsidy systems, as Oliver Moody implies.
Editor & Publisher, Practical Farm Ideas