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HomeFarming News‘Why are we growing food for people’s plates if we can’t afford...
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘Why are we growing food for people’s plates if we can’t afford to feed?’

One summer evening, potato farmer, Tessa Elliott (29), went into her local supermarket to buy steak for supper.

Out of interest, she went over to the vegetable aisle to see what varieties of potato were available.

“All the potatoes were from Egypt or Israel. I just thought it was ludicrous.”

“I would just walk through their entrance which proudly displayed their claim to be an eco-friendly supermarket, that they were trying to cut down emissions, and so much of their packaging bears a Union Jack.”

“Moreover, I approached everyone who went to the potatoes for the next twenty minutes and said: ‘You realise these are from Egypt and Israel, they’re not from Britain?’ and they all put the potatoes back.”

The store manager “ushered” her out and gave her an email address for the press office, who she said subsequently explained that they wanted their produce “to be fresh”.

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“I said ‘Well they can’t be fresh if they’ve come from Egypt – there are miles of fresh potatoes on your doorstep’.”

Family farm

Tessa’s family have farmed 500 acres of arable land in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, for nearly 50 years.

She currently grows potatoes for leading supermarkets and previously supplied leeks, all through a third-party supplier.

Tessa and her brother Patrick work on the farm with their parents Fiona and Ian, who still regularly work extremely long hours at the age of 69, to keep the farm going.

“My dad is nearly 70 years old and doing hours that you wouldn’t even get an 18-year-old doing now and it’s at what cost?”

“Where’s the cut-off point? Farms are going out of business because they cannot afford to grow bigger which is what businesses need to do to survive.”

She knows business can be unfair but asks herself how supermarkets would react if shoppers treated them like stores treat farmers.

“We don’t receive payment from the supermarkets until six weeks after they have sold our produce,” she revealed.

“Consumers don’t go to supermarkets and say they’ll pay for their shopping in six weeks.”

“Supermarkets want the money there and then. There’s no ‘buy now pay later’ in a supermarket.”

“So how is it fair to farmers to constantly be in the red growing these potatoes, for the supermarkets to never be in the red – in fact, the bosses always get huge bonuses, and we seem to be working harder than ever.”

She adds: “The problem is that the supermarkets have always got the upper hand, and unfortunately, we need them to sell to, otherwise what are we growing for – they know that. There’s a link in the chain where it’s all gone wrong.

“We’re currently farming more acreage than we ever have, but we’re thinking that if the contract prices don’t go up or if the prices of other things like fertiliser don’t come down, then we can’t afford to go on like this.”

“And it’s scary because then we have to ask ourselves ‘what is it all for then’?”

“Why are we putting in all these hours and doing what we love – ultimately to grow a premium potato to put on people’s plates all year round – if we can’t afford to feed ourselves?”

Tessa is backing the #GetFairAboutFarming Campaign by organic veg box company, Riverford.

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