Down on the farm, Brexit casts its shadow

Organic farm co-manager Ellie Woodcock picks blackberries on a farm in East Sussex, which is run to strict biodynamic principles. (AFP)
Updated 13 October 2019

Down on the farm, Brexit casts its shadow

  • Even with no customs duties to pay, the UK-EU divorce can deliver an unexpected bite

EAST GRINSTEAD, UK: On the face of it, Ellie Woodcock’s organic farm two hours south of London shouldn’t be affected by Britain’s impending departure from the EU.

“We don’t export anything, so that wouldn’t affect my farm. We sell very much directly to the English public and quite locally,” she told AFP.

But even with no customs duties to pay or headaches at the border, Brexit can deliver an unexpected bite.

“I think for the farming community, Brexit will have quite a negative impact,” said Woodcock, who co-manages Brambletye Farm, near East Grinstead, in Sussex.

“The farming community around here really rely on foreign workers, so changes to the legislation and people movement could really affect them.”

“There’s not one positive thing that I can spring out of it, even if I was to twist my mind,” added co-owner Stein Leenders, as he harvested the final fruits of the season.

Brambletye grows apples, pears, raspberries and blackberries, and sells eggs laid by dozens of free-range chickens over its nearly 45 acres of land.

Woodcock, Leenders and their 20-odd employees make or grow virtually everything on site, including fruit purees and bottled juice from a shed housing three busy workers.

“Some of the supplies I might buy from other European countries directly or indirectly through a third party,” said Woodcock.

“One of them would be corks. I also buy mushroom substrate, which comes directly from Holland.”

Such products risk becoming more expensive because of Brexit, which has both made the pound weaker since the 2016 referendum and upped expectations of disruption at the border.

Where Brambletye has opted to focus on a few products, other smallholders bring in fruit from Spain, Portugal and other sunnier European countries to sell during the long rainy winter months.

Fans of organic produce wander among the stalls at The Spread farmers’ market in the trendy Primrose Hill area of London. But the high spirits of the weekend hide a downbeat mood.

“Everything we plant is imported,” said Dave Newton, from Brockmans Farm, at his stall opposite Brambletye’s. “Brexit is going to affect us a lot because prices are going to go up. “Small farms are going to suffer the most.”

Large farms which export most of their produce, and particularly livestock rearers, are facing the threat of financial ruin.

They could see the possible loss of European subsidies and huge customs duties while importers could be given tax free incentives.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen yet in terms of subsidies,” said Mike Norledge, who helps run The Spread.

“A lot of workers have to go back to where they’re from, so that’s a worry,” he added.

Woodcock meanwhile said economic conditions since the landmark Brexit vote have not helped.

“It’s not a particularly glamorous job to pick fruit for eight to 10 hours a day,” she said.

“There was an incentive for workers from poorer countries when the pound was high as they made a lot of money quite quickly.

“With this sometimes xenophobic atmosphere, the big thing with Brexit is do (workers) feel welcome? If they don’t feel welcome and if there’s not a big incentive for the money, then they’re not going to come.”

Woodcock herself only employs locally because she has no facilities to house seasonal workers but has faced great difficulties finding anyone.

“That makes me really worried for other farms. How are they going to manage?” she said.


Google enters battle for cloud gaming market

Updated 17 November 2019

Google enters battle for cloud gaming market

SAN FRANCISCO, California: Ever-expanding Google becomes a gaming company Tuesday with the launch of its Stadia cloud service that lets people play console-quality video games on a web browser or smartphone.
The Internet giant hopes to break into the global video game industry expected to top $150 billion this year, with cloud technology that could broaden audiences attracted by rich new features as well as ease of access with no more need for consoles.
But analysts say Stadia’s outlook is uncertain as its faces rivals such as PlayStation Now in an emerging and highly-competitive market.
Stadia plays into a trend in which content — ranging from blockbuster films to work projects — lives in the cloud and is accessible from any device.
“All of these new services are merely pointing out that we don’t need sophisticated hardware in the home to access entertainment,” said Wedbush Securities equity research managing director Michael Pachter.
Google last month sold out of “Founder’s Edition” kits, which are priced at $129.
Each kit contains a Stadia controller and a pendant-shaped Chromecast Ultra wireless connection device that plugs into television sets.
Stadia games are playable using Google Chrome web browser software on computers.
It also works with Google-made Pixel smartphones from the second-generation onward, and on televisions.
Stadia Pro subscriptions, priced at $10 a month in the US, will be available in 14 countries in North America and Europe.

'Underwhelming'
However, analysts say Stadia could wind up as another “bet” that Google walks away from if it fails to live up to expectations.
“Stadia will live or die by its content,” said Ovum senior analyst George Jijiashvili.
“The announced 12 launch titles are underwhelming.”
Subscribers will be able to buy games that will be hosted at Google data-centers, but some free games will be available to subscribers, starting with “Destiny 2: The Collection.”
Stadia on smartphones will work with WiFi connections rather than rely on mobile telecom services.
Being able to play without lags or interruptions is paramount to gamers, and flawed Internet connections could cause frustration. Internet speed will also determine how rich in-game graphics can be.
Some promised features such as integration with YouTube will not be in place at launch.
“Stadia appears to be rushed out the door before fully ready and, worryingly, Google is risking falling short on its promises,” Jijiashvili said.
“These shortcomings however would be easily overlooked if Google can deliver a very reliable and high-quality game streaming service.”
Google appears committed to doing just that, according to Ubisoft senior vice president of partnerships Chris Early.
The French video game giant has been working with Google and its games are among titles coming to the service.
“From what I have seen, their plans are too deep; they are too good, and they are too invested,” Early said. “They are not calling it quits any time soon.”
He expects a long launch period during which Google will beef up Stadia.
“If there is a one-day problem at launch, it isn’t the end of the world; it isn’t even close,” he said, stressing the potential for Stadia to let people play without investing in consoles.
But Pachter questioned whether subscriptions were the right approach.
“The right model is pay as you go or pay for the game and play unlimited without a subscription,” Pachter said.
“Amazon will try one of those and will win the streaming wars.”
Amazon has game studios but no online game service.

Project xCloud
US technology veteran Microsoft has been testing a Project xCloud online game platform.
“Next year, we’ll bring Project xCloud to Windows PCs, and are collaborating with a broad set of partners to make game streaming available on other devices as well,” Microsoft corporate vice president Kareem Choudhry said in an online post.
Sony Interactive Entertainment last month slashed the price of its PlayStation Now cloud video game service by about half in the US to $10 monthly.
Japan-based Sony also boosted the library of games that PlayStation Now users can access through its consoles or on personal computers powered by Windows software.
Sony and Microsoft are also poised to release new-generation video game consoles next year.
“While we expect dedicated consoles to eventually lose relevance in the face of cloud gaming services, there’s no guarantee that it will be Google’s service — rather than Sony and Microsoft’s — that catalyzes this trend,” said Ovum senior analyst Matthew Bailey.