Going ‘back to better’ – why farmers must nurture new customers won during lockdown

Norfolk farming film-maker Susie Emmett says farms can emerge stronger from the coronavirus crisis i

Norfolk farming film-maker Susie Emmett says farms can emerge stronger from the coronavirus crisis if they nurture the new customer relationships forged during lockdown. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Farmers need to nurture the new relationships forged during lockdown if they hope to “go back to better” after the crisis, says a Norfolk communications expert.

The enforced isolation of recent weeks has prompted farm businesses to find creative ways to interact with their customers and share knowledge along supply chains – such as developing online order systems, virtual shows and farm tours, “lockdown learning” initiatives and trading websites.

While maintaining vital food supplies, such innovations have also helped bolster farming’s growing reputation with grateful consumers – illustrated by the huge surge in demand for local food from farm shops and box schemes.

And Norfolk-based farming communications specialist Susie Emmett said these engagement efforts should now be extended to help the industry emerge stronger from the crisis.

Mrs Emmett, a BBC World Service broadcaster who works across the globe as an agricultural videographer with her company Green Shoots Productions, said: “The whole situation has brought us closer to communities and to suppliers, but we have felt more remote from other things – so can we make use of being remote to be able to do more of what we want to do?

“There are people saying thank you to NHS carers and people saying thank you to farmers. But there has been a bit of a kick-back against the ‘thank a farmer’ idea. They are not doing it as volunteers, or charities. They are doing it all year round as part of a business. Yes, people might be more appreciative but it is about what you do with that now.

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“What are you going to do to nurture that relationship? What are you going to do to show how you are producing good-quality food, and how will you explain there may need to be an increase in the cost of it? What are you going to offer that rewards people’s loyalty and appreciation?

“Otherwise it is just a flimsy thing that just reverts back to normal. I would rather go ‘back to better’, rather than going back to normal.”

READ MORE: Cattle farmer aims to capitalise on huge lockdown demand for local beefMrs Emmett said some food businesses had been able to find new customers and strengthen their public engagement during the lockdown.

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“It goes back to how farmers perceive their role in society,” she said. “When some dairy farmers were throwing milk away because of a slump in demand a lot of cheese suppliers were struggling to find outlets, but some got together and put together a £25 basket of English cheese. As a consumer, I want to show my appreciation for these farms by buying their product. The next thing I got an email back saying ‘thanks for what you did’.

“We need to feed that relationship. It would be a great shame if all this new appreciation is lost because it is not nurtured.”

READ MORE: Now is the time for farmers to reach out to the public, says dairy and farm shop owner

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