MOST locally grown vegetables could disappear from Island shelves as the farm supplying the bulk of the Island’s stores contemplates a move to medicinal cannabis production.
Blaming the situation on inflationary costs within the industry, Charlie Gallichan, owner of Woodside Farms, said it was ‘99% certain’ that they would stop growing vegetables for local consumption this summer. It follows the sale of their daffodil and potato export business to the Jersey Royal Company.
Mr Gallichan confirmed that diversifying into medicinal cannabis growing was one of a number of options now being considered.
‘We’ve been through a difficult time over the last couple of years, as many businesses have,’ he said.
‘The trading environment generally for agriculture both in the Island and nationally is incredibly difficult. All our input costs are showing double-digit growth and we can’t pass that cost on,’ he said, adding that exiting food production at a time of their choice, in a controlled manner, was preferable to being forced to take action later.
Although the government is shortly to produce a new rural strategy, likely to contain additional support for the agriculture industry, Mr Gallichan denied that the timing of Woodside’s announcement – which he said he regretted having become public at this stage – was in any way strategic.
‘Our timing of this decision is what’s right for our business and not anything else. We are looking at this commercially and the numbers are the numbers,’ he said.
In 2015 Woodside Farm was encouraged to take over local vegetable production from UK-owned Amal Grow when it stopped trading, and it received government grants of £450,000 over three years. This was intended to help avoid what Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham described at the time as the ‘unthinkable’ prospect of the Island not having access to its own sources of food.
Seven years later that appears a likely prospect, as Mr Gallichan said he thought it very doubtful in the current economic climate that the bulk of the Woodside Farm production would be taken up by other growers. It accounts for approximately 80% of locally grown vegetables.
Mr Gallichan declined to comment in detail on alternative plans for the farm, which will remain active, but he confirmed that medicinal cannabis was one of their options.
‘We are looking at a range of opportunities outside of traditional food production. Lots of people are asking us to do different things, from medicinal to agricultural non-food, including regenerative farming and carbon sequestration. There are lots of options out there,’ he said.
With regard to staff at Woodside, Mr Gallichan said they expected to retain some of their staff, with others repurposed within associated companies or offered work with Jersey Royal. There would be no job losses, he said. The Woodside Farm shop would also remain open.
Peter Le Maistre, president of the Jersey Farmers Union, said they were ‘very disappointed’ to learn of the news from Woodside Farm. ‘We hope for further government support following the upcoming rural strategy that will encourage other farmers to continue to provide the food security that the Island needs,’ he said.