In the heart of the English countryside, Will Woodhull somehow tries to stay positive, even if several tons of organic beets, worth more than €100,000, have rotted on his farm, due to the lack of European buyers.
“It really is a shame, all the effort for this,” the 35-year-old laments, pointing to a 4.5-meter-high pile of vegetables that has rotted since October.
“I’ve never had an unsold crop this big. It obviously affects our business. I hope we can internalize that, I try to stay positive.”
Will Woodhull’s beetroot is the latest casualty of Brexit, as the bureaucracy associated with Brexit has made it difficult to export British products to the continent.
On his 770-hectare farm, Woodhall Growers, Will Woodhall has been producing organic beets for nearly a decade and exports nearly half of his produce to Europe. He initially believed that Brexit, which took effect in early 2020, would have little impact on his business. But after an 11-month transition period, the UK left the European Customs Union and the Common Market, leaving traders of all kinds in limbo.
‘Too much trouble’
Quickly, a European buyer broke his contract on purchasing hundreds of tons of beets and has not placed an order since. “They said they no longer wanted non-European produce,” explains the English farmer.
Usually buyers of beets mix with others from other European countries, but with Brexit they now have to separate the beets from each other, which takes time and costs money. “It’s a lot of trouble. I can’t blame them,” admits Will Woodhull.
The producer, who usually ships his produce in the winter after harvesting in the late fall, ended up with a few hundred tons of unsold beets, valued at around £90,000 (€109, 000). “We’ve taken a big hit,” he sums up.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other Brexit supporters have promised that leaving the EU after half a century of European integration would free the UK from bureaucratic constraints and open up new markets for the country.
But for many companies, which like Will Woodhull Farm depend at least in part on trade through channels, Brexit has made exporting more complicated.
“From now on we will only produce for the UK. No more exports to the EU of our organic beets, which is a real shame”, regrets Will Woodhull. To compensate, he plans to grow more green onions, grains and peas, in order to diversify his production for the local market.
“You just have to move on,” says the farmer, realizing that British buyers can only partially compensate his European customers. He even plans to embark on “luxury” luxury camping. “You can’t do better with 19 hectares than 34 hectares,” he explains. “It’s a good thing that we produce more so you can really reduce” production costs.
Despite everything, the farmer, who voted to remain in the European Union in 2016, remains optimistic about the longer-term prospects associated with Brexit, if promises are indeed fulfilled.
Do we have the necessary support? I do not know.
“I honestly think that in ten years we will be better outside (the European Union), with Brexit, and we have our own market. But how many will go bankrupt by then?”, he is concerned. Do we have the necessary support? I do not know “.
While agriculture is largely supported in Europe, UK government support is “remain weak” due to the small size of the sector. Will Woodhull says that farming “isn’t worth that much, I think, but it’s a way of life for people like me, for thousands of people.” In the meantime, he has no choice but to let the beets rot. “It’s heartbreaking. I come every day and look at the pile, and sometimes I hold my head in my hands. I really need to think of something else.”