The true cost of food
This year has seen some unprecedented weather events, and it has put pressure on food producers. We have had tanker after tanker in to water our vegetables, the outcome was generally positive. We saved all our crops bar two plantings of broccoli.
The impact of such losses came to about €5,000 worth of broccoli plus there was the added cost of watering. Our farm operates on the premise, if we can break even we are doing well. Farming in the West of Ireland certainly is not for the faint hearted, but this year we were lucky, lucky to be in the West. For once the extra rain we normally get saved us, and allowed us to mostly survive in-tact, farmers in the East were not so lucky.
Many conventional vegetable farmers suffered massive losses, all of their costs are the same, but they were left with nothing to harvest in many fields. Did the supermarket buyers step in and offer a better price to reflect the disaster that had befallen many? From what I can gather speaking to those that know, they did not. Market shortages have driven the price up, but only begrudgingly will the supermarkets offer a better price and generally of the order of a few cents.
The society we live in demands food to be cheap. That in turn puts pressure on food producers. Just the other day a striking report revealed that hedgehog populations have dropped by over 80% in Britain since the 1950’s. Large scale intensive farming is to blame, but why is this the system of agriculture that we depend on, it comes back to the demand for cheap food, engineered by food price wars in the supermarkets.
We break even some years, but we put everything into the farm, we plant flowers, we plant trees, we treat our team well, we invest in rainwater harvesting, we leave wild patches, we leave land fallow for two years with red clover leys to enrich the soil, we weed by hand and we don’t use chemicals. All of this costs money, the old adage you get what you pay for is no different when it comes to food.
We have received our first shipment of potatoes from Oliver Kelly in Wicklow. He has experienced a large drop in yield and has had to pay for a lot of expensive irrigation. Wicklow was severely hit by the drought. We had agreed to buy his potatoes. The price compared to last year has gone up by more than 60%, it is hard to find money to cover that kind of price rise, but we will. These are the first new season Irish organic potatoes.
The margins on our boxes suffer, which makes it difficult for our business to function, but we know the experience Oliver has been through, we know because we are farmers. We will do what we can do be fair and survive at the same time.
Ultimately though how we view food and the way it is produced is going to have to change.
Kenneth & Jenny
PS if you want to see what we grow on our own farm check out the Irish section of our website here www.greenearthorganics.ie/farm-or-irish-produce Please don’t forget to order, we need your support! Thanks!