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Agriculture in Jersey W

The face of agriculture in Jersey has undergone significant changes in recent years. Tony Le Brun, a lifelong farmer in the island, scopes out the landscape

HAT IS the current state of agriculture in Jersey? The industry is underpinned by the Jersey Royal new potato export crop. It’s the biggest money-spinner

and the biggest area under production – a good half of the agricultural land here is used for growing Jersey Royals. The corporate approach to the Jersey Royal has been a big evolution in our industry, which, in the past eight years, has brought huge benefits by rejuvenating and re-establishing the brand. If that hadn’t happened we probably wouldn’t have the Jersey Royal industry any more. Indoor tomatoes were traditionally our second biggest export crop,

but that died out three years ago when supermarket orders suddenly dried up. Nowadays there is no food grown under glass for export – apart from some very early potatoes – which, when you think back to the large areas of indoor tomatoes we used to see, is an extraordinary change. Apart from the potato crop, there is a niche export business in plants and flowers. Virtually everything else is for local consumption. I can’t see a major new crop around the corner which could take off that hasn’t already been thought of.

What are the biggest threats to the industry? We have high production costs in Jersey, and there’s a constant threat that they will get out of hand. The tomato export business came to an abrupt end because it was squeezed out by foreign competition – the glasshouses had to be heated using oil, and as the cost of heating rose production shifted to Spain where they can grow more economically. Supermarket orders suddenly dried up because they wanted cheaper products and a sustainable supply chain.

One of my biggest fears for the future is that very few young people want to follow in the footsteps of my generation

Whatever we grow here incurs transport costs – both bringing

in fertiliser, seed and packaging and then shipping out the crop itself. This can be a barrier to making any financial sense out of a crop. To overcome the challenge of transport costs, a product needs to have a degree of ‘distinction’, and that’s where the Jersey Royal is successful, because it is a brand particular to Jersey. One of my biggest fears for the future is that very few young people

want to follow in the footsteps of my generation. Government has done nothing to encourage young people to enter the industry – agricultural loans have gone, and it will be very difficult for young people to start out in farming because the set-up costs are horrendously prohibitive. It’s a sad thing to say, but Government doesn’t see agriculture as very important any more. We don’t portray ourselves well as an industry – you get farmers together and all we do is moan. It isn’t very encouraging for our sons and daughters. Another worry is that the Jersey Royal brand is no longer in

the domain of the growers – it’s in the hands of one of the big two marketing organisations. If anything was to happen to one of those two big corporate organisations, if they were sold on, or disbanded, the threat to the brand could be huge.

How does the future look? Agriculture does have a future, but we need to be very commercially minded, and it could be a struggle for local growers to maintain the range of products they currently offer. It is a struggle to keep our local producers going in the context of cheaper imports from all over the world. The States has a role to play in raising awareness of locally grown produce and giving the public a clear understanding of the wider benefits of making local purchasing the preferred choice. They could also put pressure on retailers to display Jersey produce on the shelves and to promote it. The whole of the Western world should be concerned about food

security, and we neglect local production at our peril. If we lose our farmers, we’ll have to rely on other countries to grow our food for us, and this will leave us in a potentially very vulnerable position. n

TONY LE BRUN is Founder of specialist vegetable producer Amal-Grow

46 August/September 2011

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