Food Security Crisis – Farmers and crofters ready to play their part

While farmers and crofters can see this food security issue coming, there are many who are, sadly, far too blinkered and only interested in the short term writes NFU Scotland President Martin Kennedy.  He adds:

Two years ago, I did a short video describing some of the concerns we as farmers and crofters had when we had just entered the first lockdown. At that time - just like this year - we were enjoying a fantastic spring whereby good crop establishment and a great start for young lambs and calves made our work as farmers and crofters a real pleasure.

Covid 19 certainly changed the world in many ways, and as we begin to get back to something more akin to normality, we need to seriously learn from what we went through. The pandemic caused horrendous family loss and hardship, and this will never be forgotten, however there was one positive that came out of this world changing event and that was people became much more appreciative of where their food came from.

For far too long, we have not paid nearly enough attention to the most important energy source we rely on, food.  It’s the only one we cannot do without. As we now move on to the next world crisis, this energy source will become even more under threat.

The war in Ukraine is something that I thought I would never have to see.  What is happening right now is completely incomprehensible, how human beings can treat others like this beggar’s belief. The result of this war is already having an impact on our food security and unless governments and supermarkets wake up pretty soon, we will be looking at food security concerns that we haven’t seen since World War Two.

I am in no mood to panic anyone but we, as food producers, can see already what is going to happen. Agriculture is a long-term industry, we continually plan years ahead whether it’s to do with soil health, crop rotation or livestock improvement it is absolutely essential that we put long term plans in place that enables productive agriculture to feed our country. So, as we now look ahead, we can plainly see that unless we act now and ensure our domestic production systems continue to deliver, we will see real food supply problems in the not-too-distant future.

Energy costs are soaring across all sectors.  Agriculture is no different and when you look at things like the cost of fertiliser which has had a 300% increase, yes 300%, its little wonder farmers are looking to pull back on production.

Add into the mix feed, fuel and labour costs and it’s plain to see why we are seriously concerned, not just for the survival of our primary producers but also for the whole supply chain both upstream and downstream who rely on the critical mass of production to keep their and other businesses in the rural economy afloat.

Right now, our pig sector is just about to implode, without both government intervention and a realistic increase in the end product price, we will no longer enjoy the high-quality high welfare pork product we have demanded from our producers for a long time. The chances are we also won’t be able to continue to import substandard pork from other countries either, the very reason our own producers are going out of business.

The same applies to the egg and poultry industry. If a dozen eggs don’t go up by 40 or 50 pence then our industry will not survive and we will simply import caged eggs from other countries, supermarkets will continue to make large profits for their stakeholders and all the standards we have been proud to shout about will be for nothing.  And it’s all our fault because we don’t value what our producers are producing.

But it’s not just livestock.  We are now crippling our fruit and veg sector.  Not only are we struggling to get enough labour because of a flawed post Brexit immigration policy, but we are also asked to pay even higher wages to migrant workers than we do our domestic workforce.  This cannot happen and must change; we cannot have a two-tier payment system. We already know that, because of this, many fruit and veg growers have already made the decision to cut back on production or in fact stop growing completely. This will again have a huge impact on future supply.

The list goes on.  Grain prices may look good now but that’s really where they should be especially given what drying charges will be this autumn not to mention next year’s fertiliser prices. Cattle and sheep face similar energy cost increases, with the cost of fertiliser alone needed per bale of silage going from around £3 to around £11.  It is likely we will also see a contraction in these sectors.

So, there’s no point in moaning about this, what can we do about it? We are about to have our local council elections; this gives us all a chance to raise the serious issue of food security. We continually get told that we must mitigate against climate change, and we must enhance biodiversity.  I know we must address these issues as they are important.  However, right at this moment in time, the most important thing we must address is food security. Food production must be front and centre of any future decisions made around land use. We will continue to lobby governments on both sides of the border to maximise domestic energy supplies to keep energy costs as low as possible, and we will also continue to push supermarkets to support domestic production, or we will not have a domestic production to support. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the first supermarket who gets the blame for being the cause of food shortages.

I have always looked at any challenge positively as there’s always an answer.  However, this perfect storm (and I don’t use the term lightly) driven by Brexit, Covid and now Ukraine will have repercussions for years to come. We will continue to play our part as food producers, but we simply cannot do that without proper support and prices for the quality we produce.

I urge each and every one of you to raise this issue of food security at the local elections. We are already working with local authorities to promote sourcing local on public procurement and this must be at the core of the Good Food Nation Bill as it continues its journey through Scottish Parliament.

I would also ask you to vote with your feet when it comes to purchasing food to ensure you are supporting Scottish and British products.

That way we might have a chance of not only retaining our own food supply, but by doing so will also maintain the environment we have in Scotland that’s the envy of many across the world.

President Martin Kennedy’s video on food security is available to watch at:

Author: Martin Kennedy

Date Published:

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About The Author

Martin Kennedy

Martin is a tenant farmer in Aberfeldy, Highland Perthshire and farms with his wife Jane and three daughters. They have 600 ewes and 60 cows on the farm rising from 800ft to 2,500ft. Martin served two years as Highland Perthshire Branch chair, before representing East Central region on the LFA committee in 2009. Martin went on to be Vice-Chair before chairing the committee for three years. He was elected Vice-President in 2017 and elected as President in 2021.

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