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In Your Field: Tom Clarke - 'Potatoes destined for fish and chips could now be dumped'

In theory, it should be fairly easy to farm while staying two metres away from every other human being. Open fields and solitary tractor cabs mean arable farming is fairly self-isolating at the best of times. There are clearly fewer face-to-face meetings than, say, being Prime Minister.

Still, my lads are under strict instructions to disinfect the cabs before and after each use, wear gloves, stay apart from each other and stay home the minute they display any symptoms.

 

Talk of food rationing has filled the same newspaper columns which recently proclaimed Britain does not need farmers. It is tempting to cry ‘told you so’ when suddenly we have empty shelves, disrupted supply chains and panic buying.

 

But we farmers have a job to do and it is just our day job. We are fortunate we can carry on and, on the whole, not be cooped up inside, laid off or forced to rely on the kindness of strangers as many millions of people are today.

 

Things change pretty quickly. A month ago I was worried about flooded fields, but this week I am watching dust billow across seedbeds which I fear may soon be too dry.

 

At home, my six-year-old talks matter-of-factly about coronavirus, social-distancing and pandemics, much as a few weeks ago she spoke of birthday parties, school trips and staying with Nana. It might as well be a new world.


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Coronavirus has affected our farm as part of the food supply chain. Panic buying of bread and flour has seen the mills at full pelt and, last week alone, we loaded nearly 100 tonnes of milling wheat out of farm stores into waiting lorries trying to keep them fed.

 

As wheat prices have spiked, world sugar prices have tanked and it is hard to fathom exactly why, other than more panic and speculation.

 

Last week, I visited my neighbour’s store where we keep our JV potatoes. The day before was the busiest loading out anyone could remember.

 

But that day all the orders were cancelled and the prices offered fell by £100/t, as fish and chip shops everywhere were shutting their doors. The ripples have fed right back to the farmyard.

 

Towering stacks of boxes, 7-8m high, filled with perfect spuds, are now at risk of being dumped unless we can get new orders or find new markets in short order.

 

I have read that before the lockdown, 40 per cent of all food was going into food service and the restaurant trade. Now, it’s all going to have to supply supermarkets – here’s hoping supermarkets and consumers will learn to be more tolerant of the natural variation they have been insulated from for so long.

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