Many producers have been ruined by 2012’s relentless rain – and the major food chains are squeezing margins
Stephen Watkins farms in Elgar country. He has 400 hectares, or nearly 1,000 acres, in the Worcestershire countryside that boast sprawling views of the Malverns, the brooding hills that inspired the composer to capture the essence of rural England in music.
With a picture-perfect Victorian farmhouse replete with Aga and two black Labradors, Watkins seems to be living the good life. He farms sheep, winter wheat, spring barley, mint, coriander, parsley, spinach, hand-picked peas, onions, lettuce and swede; he also runs a riding school and a fishery that supplies local pet shops.
But Elgar’s bucolic idyll is not looking very idyllic at the moment. Huge amounts of rubbish are strewn across Watkins’s land after the Severn broke its banks, drowning much of Worcestershire. Plastic bags, tin cans and even telegraph poles have been left scattered over Watkins’s fields like dead fish on a beach after the tide has departed.
“You couldn’t see the hedges,” Watkins said of the recent floods. “You were wellington boot-deep at the local pub and church. The worst-affected parts of the farm were more than six feet under water.”