Cream of the crop

UK - Farmers are getting their own back on tight-fisted supermarkets, with the help of a Cornish college, reports Joe Clancy.
calendar icon 2 October 2007
clock icon 3 minute read
Duchy College in Cornwall is supporting those who want to sell directly to the public at markets and "high-end" food shops. It offers advice on product development, and helps farmers to create, test and market top quality foods.

Wheatgrass juice, yoghurt drinks, speciality cheeses and handmade crisps are some of the foods that the college is helping to develop at its new food innovation centre, which was opened by college landlord, Prince Charles, in May.

"Farmers are having to diversify and go down the premium-foods route to make their money," explains Jon Stephens, head of the agri-food innovation service at Duchy. "But their skills in bringing the product to market are limited. Here, we can provide the facilities for them to do some trial manufacturing to enable them to test the market, as well as provide scientific and technical support. We are trying to add value to the products they are growing and rearing."

Farming in Cornwall has undergone a dramatic transformation, he says. Just four years ago, the area was locked into the production of low-value commodities such as milk, cream, potatoes and brassica. Products like pork had reached such low production levels they were in danger of disappearing.

Four years on, the picture could hardly be more different. Pubs and restaurants all over the county are proclaiming the local origin of food on their menus, and there is a thriving food economy that grew in value by 50 per cent, from £1bn to £1.5bn, between 2003 and 2006. Yet commodity prices remain suppressed.

The explosion of farmers' markets is possibly a consequence of the low prices farmers were getting for their produce. The first farmers' market opened in Bath in 1997, and there are now 550 throughout the country. The whole sector of direct sales, including farm shops, pick-your-own and box schemes, has become a £2bn a year business.

Source: Guardian Unlimited
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