UK fruit and vegetable farmers will hold a scarecrow protest outside of Parliament on Monday morning as they fight for survival against “unfair” treatment by the country’s six largest supermarket chains.
Demonstrators will place 49 scarecrows outside the British legislature to illustrate the fact that 49 per cent of farmers say they are on the brink of leaving the industry, said Guy Singh-Watson, one of the protest organisers.
“British agriculture is on its knees,” said Singh-Watson, the founder of the firm Riverford Organic, which initiated the petition.
Singh-Watson says government policies have failed to provide adequate support for farmers and were rarely enforced.
“The livelihoods of our farmers are being laid to waste,” he added.
The farmers want the supermarkets to adhere to “fair” purchasing agreements, including buying agreed quantities and paying the agreed amount on time “without exception”.
They say unfair purchasing agreements by the chains Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, Aldi and Lidl will drive many of them out of business in the next 12 months.
The protest will be held as lawmakers debate a petition by the farmers to overhaul the grocery supply chain code of practice.
The petition, which has more than 112,000 signatures, asks the government to ensure that retailers “buy what they agreed”, “pay what they agreed” and to pay on time.
“Without fairer treatment for farmers, the reality is the destruction of British farming along with the landscape, wildlife and rural communities it once supported,” said Singh-Watson.
William White, a co-ordinator at the Sustain alliance for sustainable farming, said the protest aims to send “a stark message” that only strong regulation from the government can ensure farmers get a fair deal for the food they produce.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said fruit and vegetable farmers are crucial to the resilience of the UK’s food system to the wider economy.
“It is only right that British farmers and growers should be paid a fair price, and our review into the fairness of the supply chain will help address these concerns,” it said.
Farming and food leaders sent an open letter to the supermarkets last year, saying their buying practics were “all too often imbalanced, short term and wasteful” and leave farmers “struggling to survive”.
Supermarkets sometimes reject whole crops “at the last minute”, the letter said.
“Good food ends up rotting in the field. Farmers are left without payment for their crops. And without a stable, reliable income, they are struggling to survive.”