Suffolk: Rural charity believes producers can join forces to beat the supermarkets
Farmers compelled to adapt and survive
A RURAL charity is urging independent Suffolk producers to work together, as campaigners call for supermarkets to improve links with the countryside.
Dr Wil Gibson, chief executive of charitable support group Suffolk ACRE, encouraged the region’s thriving network of small producers to consider “collective marketing”, following a report into the sale of local food in supermarkets.
Responding to calls from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) for supermarkets to give more support to the better management of the countryside, local food producers and farmers, Dr Gibson instead proposed the establishment of a cooperative channel for distribution.
He said: “We have such a network of local small producers that we should be thinking about how to market collectively. We ought to be working together for collective distribution and asking what can be done better to get the product out there.”
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The CPRE has sent a “New Year’s message” urging the seven biggest supermarkets to stock more local food, improve the deal for local producers and farmers, and source, stock and promote more foods that contribute to managing the countryside.
Ian Woodhurst, senior farming campaigner for CPRE, said: “Supermarkets have improved their environmental performance, particularly in terms of energy use. But there are other areas where CPRE believes they could do more, which is why our members are calling on them to make a New Year’s resolution to give more support to the better management of our countryside, local food producers and farmers in 2013.”
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Dairy farmers this year faced a battle over escalating production costs and the prices they are paid for milk.
Bad weather also made growing food a real challenge and disrupted the harvest for many farmers, leading supermarkets to relax restrictions on the supply of misshapen fruit and vegetables.
Dr Gibson agreed that some supermarkets had improved environmental performance and urged local producers to become truly independent by considering the conversion of raw materials into finished products.
He added: “We are seeing more and more supermarkets arriving in Suffolk, but at the same time we have seen a real explosion in the local production of food.
“A lot of farmers growing primary products could come together and begin to enter secondary production.
“We have to recognise the evidence of local demand and adapt to survive.”