The Farmers’ Union says the UK risks sleepwalking into a food supply crisis for the food and drink industry

British farmers warn that the government risks a “sleepwalking” into a food supply crisis unless it urgently provides support to those struggling with the high cost of the “three things”: fuel, feed and fertiliser.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) said egg shortages could spread to other food products, as UK fruit, vegetable, meat and dairy growers are under pressure from rising energy and animal feed costs, along with the challenge of finding enough staff.

Energy-intensive crops, including tomatoes, cucumbers and pears, are on track to achieve the lowest yields since records began in 1985, the National Farmers Union said, as producers abandon farming in the face of rising costs.

“huge issues for pigs, poultry meat, eggs and fresh produce,” Minette Butters, president of the National Farmers Union, told reporters, warning that more reliance on food imports could lead to increased price inflation.

The local horticultural sector is “shrinking,” she said, while dairy prices are expected to fall below the cost of production and beef farmers decide whether to reduce their herds.

Farmers have faced rising costs since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the National Farmers Union said, with fertilizer prices tripling since 2019, on top of a sixfold increase in wholesale gas prices. The National Farmers Union said the UK has lost around 7,000 farming businesses since 2019.

Butters called for more fairness and transparency in the food supply chain to help farmers: “It’s about the cost of production, it’s about sharing that cost evenly through the supply chain. Right now, I’ve borne all the costs, all the risks are with the primary producer.”

The National Farmers Union said £60m of food was wasted on farms this year as a result of a labor shortage, with ripe fruit and vegetables left to rot, and is calling on the government to allow an extra 15,000 seasonal workers to come in from overseas to help pick the crops. .

Currently, 40,000 six-month visas are available each year, the vast majority of which are for horticulture. Among these permits, 2,000 are earmarked for hiring the poultry sector during the pre-Christmas peak period.

“Under the current circumstances a lot [growers] “It is unfortunate that it has fallen out of favor and out of the industry,” said Julian Marks, managing director of West Sussex-based Barfoots.

“There is still confusion about whether we will have enough seasonal labor for 2023, and that for the crops we have allocated land, seeds, fertilizers and other inputs, we have spent that money,” he said.

The National Farmers Federation press conference came after the Minister of Agriculture, Mark Spencer, met with representatives from the egg sector, including producers, packers and retailers, to discuss the challenges facing the industry.

The NFU is calling for an investigation into whether “extraordinary market conditions” should have been declared after disruption to egg production, exacerbated by the worst-ever bird flu outbreak in the UK.

Such a move would allow the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to provide support to egg producers in financial difficulty.

A government spokesperson said that the UK’s food chain was “very resilient” and that food security depended on “supply from a variety of sources: strong domestic production as well as imports through stable trade routes”.

The spokesperson said the government is in regular contact with the food and agricultural industries and that it has continued to “take all necessary steps to ensure that people across the country have access to the food they need”.

Victoria Shervington Jones

Egg producer and packer

Victoria Shervington-Jones says chicken feed costs have risen 43%. Image: NFU

Victoria Shervington-Jones, an egg producer and packer from South Wales, has 40,000 chickens, and a further 32,000 on contract, which she packs and delivers.

The reason for the shortage of eggs is the high costs in the industry, not the avian flu. Bird flu obviously exacerbates the problem, but that’s not why there are no eggs on the shelves.

“We’ve seen chicken feed costs go up 43% – which is terrifying – diesel for our vans, packaging is up, energy is absolutely horrendous.”

Michael Bailey

Former turkey farmer

It’s a “very strange” festive season for turkey farmer Michael Bailey, after he and his brother David closed the doors to their father’s poultry business for good in August.

The run-up to Christmas 2021 has been stressful for the Bailey family as the brothers grapple with rising costs, the threat of bird flu, and struggles to find seasonal workers to handle the birds.

After the war in Ukraine brought huge increases in energy costs and other bills, the Cheshire-based brothers decided the risk of raising turkeys again this Christmas was too great.

“I’ve worked on this farm my whole life and built my turkey and chicken business and processing unit,” said Billy, 63, whose father Jim started selling turkeys at Christmas in 1952.

“We didn’t do it lightly but when everything was going the wrong way with stakes rising, sales dropping and family issues coming to the fore, we had to think ‘what do we do?'” “.

Neither of Michael or David’s children want to take over the business, so they auction off their equipment, help all 47 employees find new jobs, and finish clearing the site.

“I’m not alone in this,” Bailey said. “A number of cultivators have had enough and are giving up.”

“There will be another tranche that ends this Christmas, and some of the producers are fairly big. They’ve made significant adjustments to reduce the risk, but they said we’re not going to do it again.”

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