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Government and supermarkets must waken up to food security risk

Governments and supermarkets need to waken up quick or they will be held responsible for the biggest food inflation rises in generations writes NFU Scotland President Martin Kennedy.

The horrendous situation in Ukraine is deteriorating every day. What these people are going through is utterly incomprehensible and makes our concerns look trivial.

However, the ramifications of this war will have long lasting impacts on our ability to produce food.

The cost of production linked to fertiliser, fuel, energy and animal feed prices continue to rocket For last week’s figures click here at a rate that is challenging to track.  While we use trusted sources for our figures, we know that feed wheat and feed barley prices are already being quoted at £335 and £310 per tonne, respectively.

Food inflation is deemed to be something the Government and the country is trying to avoid, but unless there is a significant rise in retail prices that recognises that unprecedented cost of production increase, farmers will scale back on production; our fragile food security position will be further undermined, and food inflation will be even greater long term.

Right now, we have Government Ministers telling us that we don’t need fertiliser, there’s enough manure and slurry to compensate for the loss of artificial fertiliser. That statement shows a real lack of understanding of what is happening on the ground. Farmers will not produce food without seeing a return, for far too long we have been taken for granted and been rewarded poorly for our fantastic efforts to feed the country with high quality food.

Some believe that cereal growers can cope with high input costs because of the high prices. They are unaware of the hard facts around the extent to which fuel and fertiliser costs diminish that return, and given where energy costs are going, can anyone taken a guess as to what drying charges are going to be this autumn?

From a livestock perspective, my own costs for fertiliser alone have risen from £3.00 per bale of silage to £11.00 per bale.  When you add in fuel and plastic wrap, it looks like the only way forward is to reduce numbers.

Multiply that across the country, add in difficulties for some sectors sourcing labour, and the effect on the essential critical mass of Scottish farm output will be devastating. Any reduction in production will have a serious impact on the viability of the Scottish food processing sector which is also under pressure with greater energy costs and labour challenges.

The world has changed beyond belief in a very short space of time – the reasons driving that change are tragic - and food security must now be our number one priority. Climate change and biodiversity must continue to be addressed through future policy change but right now we must have a reality check and focus on what is the most important energy source of all, food.

It shocks me that so many, including the UK Government and retailers, cannot see what is coming down the track.  We, as farmers and crofters, are well used to making business decisions early, sometimes years in advance because we understand the long-term consequences of not being prepared. That early decision making must come now from government and retailers.  We must have a supply chain that works fairly across all sectors.  

Indications are that some supermarkets are now responding on milk prices to be paid to their suppliers in April and May.  That recognition of increased costs must quickly roll out to all sectors – meat, dairy, poultry, veg, soft fruit and the rest.

Our input cost monitor demonstrates the volatility in variable costs and the potential impact across all products.  It provides the opportunity for all parts of the supply chain to recognise the crisis and identify how to share that burden, so that the primary producer does not just bear it.

This would ensure farmers and crofters will continue to produce food rather than scale back production and the economic and social consequences of potential food shortages that would lead to.  We must future-proof our supply chains and be able to feed ourselves.

We have time but not a lot of it.  Let’s act now and focus on what’s important.

A realistic return for our products to underpin production and to ensure we keep food inflation as low as practicably possible. 

Author: Martin Kennedy

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Jane Johnson

756 days ago

Thank you for highlighting these vital issues and the crisis we have already arrived at , sadly I believe your wise words will fall on deaf ears. We farm in the northern isles and have already embarked on a process of stock reduction, however we have looked at this the price of fertilisers and supers at £400 a ton is our break off point. It is likely to be some time before we see affordable fertiliser again for marginal operations such as ours. However the answers are there should governments choose to pick them up, the very worthwhile effort you are putting in is much appreciated .
Bob Carruth 755 days ago
Hello Jane. Thank you for your comment. I will share with our team.
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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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