One of the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic might be greater collaboration between the UK’s farmers and hospitality sector. That was the view of Wiltshire farmer and National Farmers Union president Minette Batters in a supply chain session at CGA’s Big Peach 2020 Digital Experience.

We’re all in this together,” she said. “These are incredibly tough times, but I really hope on the back of them that the links between our sector and out-of-home will be much, much closer. We’ve always been close, but wouldn’t it be nice if that was the legacy of the ghastly pandemic?” More backing for the Food and Drink Sector Council would be a good starting point, she suggested.

Like hospitality operators, farms have been hit hard by lockdowns and disruption to both supply and demand. “The impacts have been savage. We couldn’t just mothball our businesses and we couldn’t furlough our workforce and our livestock—we’ve just had to keep going.”

With the UK’s transition from the European Union soon to complete, more disruption could be looming. “It’s such a critical market, and the damage that leaving without a deal would do to the food and farming sector doesn’t bear thinking about.” It’s crucial that trade deals don’t bring extra costs or compromise the UK’s high animal welfare standards, Batters added.

Brexit could bring a major opportunity to deepen support for UK farming, she suggested. “The public have been growing in their commitment to British sourcing, and we’re seeing that play out in hospitality, People are thinking about their health more and they’re wanting to buy local.”

Brexit and new limits on movement will present farmers with a problem that is familiar to hospitality: reduced access to migrant and seasonal labour. “It’s a really worrying time… it’s very concerning if you’re planting now and have no idea how they’re going to be picked.”

You can watch the full ‘Keeping supply chains open’ session at the Big Peach 2020 Digital Experience here.


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