As the UK government announces a three-week extension to the lockdown restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the nation’s hospitality and leisure industry will continue to battle to survive the consequences. However, it’s not just the frontline businesses affected – many other businesses that rely on the industry are also feeling the impact, including the farming community; an industry that Alex Demetriou, Managing Director of Regency Purchasing Group - one of the largest procurement businesses in the UK - believes has been somewhat overlooked in recent weeks.
Alex commented: “While a lot has been said about NHS staff and key workers, and rightfully so, there has been very little mention of the incredible job the British farming community are doing. Farmers are continuing to soldier on, working day and night to keep the supply of British produce forthcoming, but they do not consider what they are doing as anything special; they are just doing what they have always done to keep the nation fed.
“However, we are now starting to hear worrying reports that our farmers are struggling due to the pandemic. Some may be surprised to hear this, given the huge demand there has been on retail stocks in supermarkets, but many farmers rely on custom from the hospitality industry. With the food service sector, such as restaurants, cafes and bars closed, many farmers lost their customers overnight. For instance. dairy farmers are now on the brink of bankruptcy following a huge drop in demand, forcing some to pour away their milk, as processors have stopped making the pick-ups.”
As Britain moves into its seasonal crop picking season, fruit and vegetable farmers are now warning that crops could go to waste due to a shortage of seasonal workers from Eastern Europe, as travel restrictions cause most workers to stay at home.
Alex continued: “The biggest challenge, or indeed opportunity, for the UK is that the farming industry requires 80,000 seasonal migrant workers. In previous years, only 1% have been made up of UK residents, providing UK workers with a wonderful opportunity to step-up and fill the gap, particularly given that boarders will remain closed for the immediate future. Many workers have lost their jobs or been furloughed; the farming market is in dire need of workers and could be a great opportunity for those looking for alternative employment. It also has the benefit of being outdoors and is easy to follow social distancing.
“The NHS has had a phenomenal response to its call for volunteer responders with more than 750,000 people applying to help. If just 10% of that number applied to be paid crop pickers, a wealth of British produce will be saved, as well as the livelihoods of hundreds of farmers. While we’re hearing reports of Romanian farm workers being flown over to the UK to help fill the gap, it won’t be nearly enough.
“The support for our farmers can go much further still and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, with people buying local and UK grown produce, in turn, reducing food miles. This is our chance to make a difference and support British farming both in helping them staff up, but also when deciding what food we consume.
“It continues to be an extremely concerning time for British farmers, as it is for us all, however, we should be exceptionally proud of the farming community, who continue with ‘business as usual’ to keep food on our tables. Whilst our cars have stopped, the tractors are still moving.”
Regency Purchasing Group services more than 3,000 businesses across the UK and specialises in sourcing produce from various markets, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.