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Jobs lost as farm firm stops growing potatoes to seek a viable future

PUBLISHED: 06:00 18 January 2020 | UPDATED: 17:11 18 January 2020

Mark Brighton, managing director of RBR Crops in North Walsham, which has announced it will stop growing potatoes, with the loss of 10 jobs. Picture: Chris Hill

Mark Brighton, managing director of RBR Crops in North Walsham, which has announced it will stop growing potatoes, with the loss of 10 jobs. Picture: Chris Hill

Archant

A north Norfolk farm business is ending its long tradition of growing potatoes - with the loss of 10 jobs - after being forced to refocus on the more profitable aspects of its operation.

RBR Crops in North Walsham advised staff of the redundancies on Friday and said the difficult decision was taken in response to "unsustainable" market forces including high production costs and land rents, and low retail values for its produce.

The company, founded in 1965, grows 170 acres of seed potatoes, 80 acres of salad potatoes, and around 550 acres of commercial ware potatoes, of which about 80pc is on contracts for supermarkets.

But although that costly growing operation is to cease, the company's three directors - brothers Mark and Stuart Brighton and David Southwell - are optimistic for the future as they aim to expand the firm's existing merchant, seed sales, storage and consultancy work.

Managing director Mark Brighton said: "The idea of the whole thing is to increase that side of the business without having the massive burden of the costs of growing potatoes.

"I don't want to point a finger at any particular sector of the industry. There are many challenges and a long list of reasons added together, but the main one is the financial burden of continuing to grow high input-value crops for very little return.

"It is very difficult with the rents we have to pay for the land and costs going up all the time. But all the processors and supermarkets are interested in is getting prices down. It is not sustainable.

"In 2017 we lost £750,000 through no fault of our own, just through market forces. Everyone in the potato industry would have lost money that year, because there was an over-supply of potatoes. But that's obviously a severe loss and it takes a lot of coming back from.

"But we are not insolvent. We are not going bust. We can pay our bills, but we need to change the focus of the business.

"I am excited for the future, and very optimistic that we can take things forward and concentrate the business on the sectors where we feel we can make money."

Mr Brighton said the decision was not taken lightly.

"My real sadness for the whole thing is that I feel the industry has let us down, and therefore I am having to let my staff down," he said.

"A lot of our staff have been here 25-30 years plus. Our longest-serving employee has been here over 40 years. He started the same time I did. They are part of the family. I grew up with them.

"So it is going to be a very sad day when they go. But you have to let the head rule the heart, not the other way around.

"Businesses need to be honest with themselves and we have to look at the future. We have families too and we have succession here and what we didn't want to do is end up carrying the business forward and having to sell assets to prop it up."

Mr Brighton said he was trying to find the company's workforce new jobs with other employers, and that new opportunities could be created at RBR Crops in future "if things go how we are projecting them to go".

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