Moss Brook Growers

Winter Update

We’ll be glad to see the back of 2012…

What a year it’s been. We know we all sound like stuck records, but it really has been a diabolical year of weather. Every farmer we speak to – be they organic, non-organic, dairy, livestock, arable or growers like us – has said the same thing. It’s been the worst year in living memory, and probably much further beyond.

It was the wettest summer since records began (around 100 years ago). Apparently the levels of sunlight in June were akin to those normally experienced in January. September brought the worst storm for 30 years. Slug populations have apparently been 200-300% higher than normal. So far this year we’ve had over 50 inches of rain. And only four periods of dry conditions that we can remember: March, 10 days in May, a week or so in September, and some of October.

Obviously there’s been a lot of areas hit harder than us – with burst rivers and floods – but the volume and persistence of the rain we’ve had this year has made our business of growing vegetables extraordinarily hard. The trouble is, for anyone like us who’s growing on a field-scale, we rely on getting tractors on to the land week-in week-out for a good six months of the year – between April and September. With a year of rain like we’ve had this year, you just can’t get the tractors onto the land without them getting stuck or seriously damaging your soil.

So we ended up hand-planting tens of thousands of seedlings, crawling on our hands and knees, with our fingers twice as wide as normal because they were caked in mud. It was slow (and expensive) work. Weeding was virtually impossible all year. Docks have thrived. Slugs were rampant. And with low temperatures and low levels of sunlight, plant growth has been really poor.

To top things off, what should’ve been our best crop – leeks – has been ruined by a drainage issue that was caused by someone else. Leeks are our staple, but we’ve stopped cropping them already.

All in all, we’ve really struggled. We estimate our yields (and income) are down by around 65%, which has crippled our cashflow and makes the future look very uncertain. Where do we go from here?

Between November and January, we do our crop planning for the following season – normally a pretty hopeful and positive time of year, speaking to customers, getting feedback and projected demand for the season ahead. Frankly we’re approaching this year’s crop planning feeling exhausted, demoralised, unsure of ourselves and our business.

The only brightness in our otherwise gloomy world is positive news from our customers. They seem to be doing well, holding their own amidst the difficult economy; some are even growing sales. We’re really lucky to have these customers, and to have ample demand for our vegetables. We can only hope that the weather is good next year, so we can meet that demand, make some income and scrape this business off the floor and back on to its feet.