Brexit And What It Means For Us

Francesca Regather Veg Box Leave a Comment

Brexit has been dominating the headlines these last few months and like most people, Regather has been watching progress closely.

Leaving the EU is likely to affect Regather and the products we offer in various ways; the greatest impact will be felt if we leave with no deal.

In this worst case scenario, without a deal for trade, the UK would automatically adopt WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules for international trade. BBC Reality Check  (4th Feb, 19) says that “Under WTO rules…agricultural tariffs would be significantly higher, rising to an average of more than 35% for dairy products. The UK could choose to lower tariffs or waive them altogether, in an attempt to stimulate free trade. That could mean some cheaper products coming into the country for consumers but it could also risk driving some UK producers out of business.”

The date of Brexit (29th March) is due to occur at a very difficult time food wise for the UK. April is one of the leanest months of the year in the UK for crops. You would expect that Spring means lots of new produce but in reality this is the period where winter crops such as cabbage and kale are no longer available and the stores of potatoes, onions, roots, apples and pears are running out. Spring veg has only just been sown and won’t be ready till May and June. This is a period recognised as the “hungry gap”. It happens every year and to fill the gap we have to look to our neighbours with warmer climates. But this year it will (or may depending on votes in parliament about delaying) also coincide with Brexit and we are unsure (especially in the event of a “no deal”) if we will be able to access produce from the EU in the same way as in previous years.  For the UK as a whole this is likely to have some significant (and frankly quite scary) impacts on those most vulnerable in our society, such as food for children, hospital patients and low-income families. See Sustain’s briefing document for in-depth details.

Although we don’t have a crystal ball, here are some of the ways we are worried that Brexit will affect us:

– With “no deal” imports get delayed and there is a shortage of fresh produce available from the EU; this then causes an increase in price of produce due to higher demand on those items that do come through.
– Imported fruit and veg becomes subject to import tariffs (that when we were part of the EU were not there) and prices increase
– We have to seek fresh produce from further afield i.e. non EU countries such as South America and Mexico (meaning greater carbon footprint)
– There is a shortage of variety available for our boxes. Fruit boxes are likely to be more greatly impacted than veg due to stores of UK fruit (pears & apples) running out and no in season UK fruit at this time
– Some add on items may not be available or prices increased such as Oatly Milk (which is a Swedish brand). You may want to consider switching to Minor Figures which is a UK brand.

Despite everything, we will continue to celebrate what is great about UK produce, providing weekly recipes in our newsletter and working with local farms to bring great seasonal produce to homes across the city.

In 2019, Regather is establishing a 15 acre farm to the South of Sheffield, which is currently in conversion to Organic status with the Soil Association, and we’re developing a market garden, agroforestry, fruit trees, polytunnels, wildlife areas, and more. It’s a long-term project, but the produce will be going into the Regather boxes from Autumn 2019, and we see this as a significant step in improving Sheffield Food sovereignty.

Regather could be affected in a longer term way by Brexit too.

Every year for the last 4 years we have hosted volunteers from different European countries through the Erasmus+ programme. These volunteers are really valuable to us, and also enable us to offer long-term structured learning opportunities to young people interested in learning about working in a food business and a cooperative. With “no deal” and depending on how hard a Brexit we end up with, this programme could end. Three of our current workers are former volunteers on this programme (from Romania and France) plus our trike driver is from Sardinia (Italy); so we are a very international team and this will affect us on a people level too, not just financial.
There are some positives – as a smaller company than some our national competitors, we think we will be able to weather the storm better as we are less reliant on imports from Europe. Brexit also means that supporting our UK farmers through things like veg box schemes will be even more important and reinforces our commitment to put our efforts into getting the Regather Farm up and running so that we can increase the amount of Sheffield Organic produce available.
We will of course keep our customers as updated as possible as and when we hear new information. If you’d like to get in touch, or have any questions (or even suggestions) about the above, please do drop us an email ([email protected]) or comment below.

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