Covid and Brexit will be 'absolutely crippling' for UK farming says Riverford boss

  • Report by Sam Blackledge

The founder of one of the UK's most successful organic farms believes the combination of the Covid crisis and the possibility of a no deal Brexit could be "absolutely crippling" for the food industry.

Guy Singh-Watson, who founded Riverford Farm in Buckfastleigh, South Devon, more than 30 years ago, says he feels "very gloomy" about the UK's future prospects.

"Sitting here today it does look very much as if we're heading for a no deal, and I think commercially it's going to be an absolute disaster," he told ITV News.

"Exchange rate fluctuations, a very weak pound, we do import quite a lot of vegetables from southern Spain, Italy and France, so that has been incredibly disruptive and added substantially to our costs.

"I find it really distressing actually, I really find the combination of Covid and Brexit is going to be absolutely crippling."

This week Farming Minister Victoria Prentis told Parliament the government was "absolutely committed to high standards".

Existing laws would safeguard them, she said, adding that these were "of more use than warm words" in maintaining animal welfare, food standards and environmental protections.

Guy Singh-Watson founded Riverford 30 years ago. Credit: ITV News

Guy Singh-Watson believes the pandemic has accelerated the need for the food industry to move beyond its reliance on meat and dairy and embrace more sustainable farming methods.

Riverford has seen a surge in demand for its hugely popular veg boxes since the pandemic arrived - and Guy says his passion for going green is as strong as ever.

"I hate to say it because I'm the brother of a dairy farmer, son of a dairy farmer, all my neighbours are animal farmers, but I would like to see a complete removal of all intensive animal factory farming.

"I'm an advocate of drastically reducing our consumption, as opposed to outright veganism. But it is very difficult to farm without animals."

Guy Singh-Watson says he believes in reducing our meat consumption. Credit: ITV News

Food production has not escaped the difficult summer, with Covid forcing the industry to think again about how it works - but it hasn't all been bad news as the way we consume is changing too.

"We had to adapt very quickly to changing customer behaviour. We've seen a massive increase in demand, we're delivering 50 per cent more than this time last year. There have been all the costs and stresses of adapting to a new world and keeping our staff safe at work."

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