Farmers are currently facing new CAP regulations regarding what they can grow and how they should grow it, with a heavy leaning towards the protection of the environment rather than food production.
Last week hundreds of farmers blockaded Morrisons depot in Bridgwater and the Muller Wiseman processing plant, and further action is planned by desperate farmers this week. Dairy farmers are dealing with the price of milk being slashed from 34p/litre to 25p/litre by processors and retailers. This despite the vast majority of the British public reportedly willing to pay more for milk to support struggling dairy farmers.
Cattle farmers have seen live weight beef prices drop 25per cent since last year, and arable farmers have watched in dismay as wheat prices went into free fall to £107 per ton, compared to £160 last year and £220 in 2012.
It would be useful to have a crystal ball to predict just where farm commodity prices are heading. Does the world require more food to feed the escalating population as Mr Hogan and others predict? Is it unreasonable for farmers expect to receive at the very least the cost of production, to enable them to earn a living wage and invest in their businesses?
It is true that world events including the Russian trade embargo and the slump in global dairy commodities and oversupply of wheat, effects basic commodity prices. Some ‘experts’ suggest prices have yet to reach rock bottom.
Should dairy farmers reduce cow numbers, and arable farmers put land into setaside, and sit it out? Or do they battle on hoping things will improve risking bankruptcy and losing their farms, many of which have been in the same family for generations.
What is sure is that the public should understand the true value of food. Instead of slashing the price of milk, butter, cheese, bread and meat, retailers should be selling the story of food production to the public. Food should be appreciated as a valuable commodity which is worth paying for. We need to promote a better understanding about how it has journeyed from field to plate.
There is a story which is worryingly as significant today as it was some ten years ago. A local farmer, now sadly deceased, regularly invited groups of city school children to his farm in West Sussex. He was showing a group of kids an assortment of livestock in a barn when they were distracted by a hen squawking noisily as she laid an egg in a hay wrack just beside them. Far from being delighted to have witnessed this natural occurrence, one young fellow exclaimed in disgust “gawd, that’s the last time I eat one of them, my mum told me eggs are made in the supermarket”!
Sadly despite the efforts of farmers and farming organisations up and down the country to educate the public, this young man’s understanding of how and where his staple food is produced is not unique, and I suspect his mum would have been equally surprised.
Many farmers share a view that some food retailers also have little idea as to how produce conveniently arrives at distribution depots! Things have improved but the message is not being passed onto the public that farmers work twelve months of the year through wind, rain, sun, flood, drought, disease and the occasional hurricane, to put food on our plates.
UK farmers still face irritating and unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy despite pledges from the government that they would be slashed. We also cope with increasing demands for accountability and farm assured quality, a challenge we willingly embrace because we are confident that we have always adopted best practise. It is in our interest to do so.
Our patience is being sorely tested when it is apparent that imports from unaccountable sources continue to undercut British produce. Retailers claim that the public demand cheap food. Rubbish! The public want value, they want local and of course they want to know the food they buy is safe, and is what it says on the label.
Food security is vital. However, if prices continue to fall farmers will stop farming, diversify, sell land to developers or cover their fields in solar panels or wind farms, and food production will drop dramatically. Then as demand rises as we are assured it will to feed the growing population, to whom shall we turn?
The world is in turmoil with wars, disease, extreme weather conditions, floods and soil erosion. British food security must not be compromised by ignorance or complacency. Action is needed now to ensure British farmers can continue to produce vital food, and maintain and protect our glorious countryside.
Carola Godman Irvine