Below is the full text of a letter we sent today to Chancellor Rt Hon Rishi Sunak and Rt Hon Victoria Prentis. If you would like to show your support for this letter, you can sign our petition here.
Dear Chancellor Rt Hon Rishi Sunak and Rt Hon Victoria Prentis,
I am writing to you on behalf of the Landworkers’ Alliance, a union representing more than 1000 small, medium, community, and family farms, especially a significant number of horticulturalists.
The current public health emergency has enormous implications for small farms and market gardeners across the countryside. These producers, food processors and local food distributors are key workers, providing an essential part of our national food infrastructure, but many farmers are facing challenges due to loss of sales to restaurants and catering businesses. These businesses are having to rapidly and radically reshape their operations to focus on direct sales and deliveries at a time of year when usually the soil is being prepared and crops are going into the ground.
In the coming months there is no doubt that the UK will experience an interruption in the supply of imported fresh fruit and veg as much of our fresh produce comes from Southern Europe, where producers are already delaying and reducing spring plantings due to restrictions on movement of seasonal workers from Eastern Europe, illness, transport restrictions and cash flow. In the UK, many larger farms in the horticultural sector are also facing acute labour shortages since pickers (prevented by both coronavirus and home office) will not be able to travel from Europe to the UK. Many farmers are also over 70 and may need to self-isolate and will be unfit to work if they fall ill, so may not be able to start production this year.
As the vulnerabilities of the globalised food system shows itself, this is an important moment to work together to strengthen our localised food systems and agricultural workforce. As I am sure you are well aware, we need to act now to make sure farmers, fruit growers and market gardeners can get their crops in the ground and feel confident that they will be able to distribute them effectively. We cannot lose our food producers when we need them most!
Our union also represents potential New Entrant farmers who want to start producing food, especially fruit and veg, but are not able to due to lack of access to land and finance to get started. Now would be the ideal time to give them the boost they need to get them onto the land, but they need to start quickly since the growing season starts now. It is a huge risk for them to invest in land, begin production and set up safe supply chains in the face of potential economic downturn and a volatile marketplace. Rapid government intervention is needed now to ensure they are in a position to produce, process and distribute the fresh food we will need.
We are asking for an emergency “Land Army” package with 4 strands:
1. Emergency Business Support for small farms and market gardeners
We want to ensure that the recently announced measures to support businesses are also applicable to below 5 ha small farmers and growers. Above 5 ha farms will still have basic payments to rely on as a financial buffer, however, the productive farms that are below 5 ha in size – largely producing fruit and veg – are not eligible for these payments. These businesses are often run by people who are self-employed and are not currently eligible for current government small business support as they do not pay rates on agricultural land.
Self-employed farmers and growers involved in the production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery of food are ‘essential key workers”. They urgently need a support fund so they can produce the food we need.
As small farm businesses do not to pay rates, they are not eligible for the £10,000 small business grant that is being offered to other businesses. We are asking for a pot of £1.3 million to be made available to allow small-scale horticulturalists and market gardeners whose businesses are suffering and are facing hardship as a result of the situation to apply for a £10,000 grant.
2. Supply Chain Transition Fund
Urgent supply chain support is needed to develop new routes to market for all scales of farm and market gardeners. They need quick support in facilitating doorstep deliveries and maintaining safe access to farm shops and open-air market spaces. The Open Food Network is working hard to enable small businesses to set up online ordering services, but most businesses will need to make some investments in IT and delivery vehicles to transition. They also need support to set up distribution co-operatives so that smaller producers can centralise their distribution and feed into exiting delivery routes, like those maintained by larger Box Schemes or localised Food Hubs.
Essential food infrastructure like abattoirs and food processing facilities will also need to implement systems for collecting, processing and distributing processed food and meats. The fund would enable farms to hire extra workers for processing and distribution and could support investment in processing facilities that would help stem losses of post-harvest grade out produce.
We estimate this fund would need £1 million to create sustainable local and co-operative supply chains.
3. Community resilience programme
This programme would be linked to the supply chain transition fund but would specifically focus on ensuring supply chains of healthy fresh food are available to those most in need. The fund would be targeted at distributing to those who are isolated, in disadvantaged communities and in urban areas. This fund would enable community integrated routes to market like Community Supported Agriculture to grow and strengthen the capacity of existing organisations like the Independent Food Aid Network.
It is possible disease outbreaks may become recurrent. Other supply chains shocks will inevitably occur. This intervention now will ensure we have a fair, resilient and equitable food distribution system in the future.
We estimate that £2 million would substantially support alternative food distribution networks to support those most in need.
4. New Entrants Start Up
To create a resilient, domestic, localised fruit and vegetable supply, we need new entrants to rapidly get onto the land. This is the best time to invest in our next generation of farmers, especially as many existing farmers are vulnerable and will be retiring within the next few years. The Landworkers’ Alliance has developed a scheme to promote New Entrant Start Up Grants of £70,000 to enable new farmers and growers to access land and invest in the tools and infrastructure they need to get started. This scheme could be rolled out rapidly.
At a time when the average age of farmers is 59 in the middle of a food system emergency, we request that you open a £5 million fund so we can grow the land army we need to feed the nation.
If we act quickly and decisively, we can make the rapid transition to a shock resistant localised food system fit for the future. We are asking for an investment of £9.3 million which will result in returns to our economy many times over. Thank you for your support during this stressful time.
The Landworkers’ Alliance
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