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Producing enough home-grown food is an essential component of our national security

1 dgc 4 march

The Telegraph reported that in March more than 1,000 farmers travelled to London to urge the Government to do more to help Britain’s struggling farmers. Coachloads of protesters arrived in Westminster to take part in a march organised by campaign group Farmers for Action. The organisation says it wants the Prime Minister, David Cameron, to recognise that there is “a major problem” in one of Britain’s oldest industries.

“We can produce the best food you can buy. But we have to be able to make a profit.  Currently that is not the case”.

David Handley, a dairy farmer in Monmouth South Wales who organised the protest, said: “We keep getting soundbites from ministers, saying they’re listening and have a 25-year strategy plan. But the majority of farmers here today want to know how they will get through the next 12 months. Falling prices across the industry are making production unsustainable. People cannot take this any longer”.

1 dgc head 2See the video, fronted by BBC Midlands Today news correspondent David Gregory-Kumar (left).

Low wholesale prices for goods including milk and cereal have caused income to plummet for many farmers across the UK. Growing competition from global markets and increasingly fierce supermarket price wars have intensified the problems.

In The Times, David Handley (Farmers for Action, below right) stressed that all sectors of the farming industry are under severe financial pressure and many are not even covering their costs of production and that this cannot be allowed to continue:

“The government shows no appetite to sort this out, merely issuing the occasional soundbite. When an industry gets in such a crisis we feel our government should lead from the front. We are not looking for handouts, but we need some answers.

david handley 5 (2)“Do they want us to work in a free market, which is not operating a level playing field and the weakest producers keep going to the wall? Or do they really want British farmers to feed British people and also sell our products on the global stage – which would boost the productivity of our industry and also increase funds to the Treasury?

“If the answer is that we are to work in a free market, with no protection whatsoever from importation of products which do not meet our standards, then Mr Cameron has a moral obligation to tell the industry that this  is the path he wishes to take and therefore farmers will be able to make a decision about their futures.

“If the answer is that he wants British farmers to feed British people, then he has to answer a number of questions:

  • Is he going to provide a level playing field?
  • Is he going to give all the tools necessary to play on the global stage?

If the answers are yes to the above then he has an obligation to step forward with a strategy that clearly tells British farmers it will be profitable for them”.

In a comment on this article, Phillip Cozens summarised:

The government presides over a situation in which last year we imported 70% of the food consumed in the UK. This is utter madness, strategically, environmentally, economically. Support for indigenous food production, with the realistic potential to be self sufficient, if the need arises, should again be a national priority. This is probably more important for our security than having a nuclear deterrent.

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‘Smoke and mirrors’: the true picture for British farming prospects distorted as electioneering intensifies

As ministers trumpet the great export potential of British produce, official records are hard to come by. The link to the November Commons EFRA debate does not open and the publication link [below] also does not respond:

handley efraIs this because the true picture  doesn’t sit well with electioneering?

The outlook is bleak for British farmers who don’t have the largest holdings, and who produce perishable foods which can’t be stored until prices rise.

However, thanks to the farming press and correspondence from a dairy farmer, some information is available – and significant.

It is reported that the dairy sector is in a desperate state. MPs have been told that farmers are being paid less for milk than the cost of production. Over four hundred milk producers quit the business in 2014, compared with 200 in 2013.

ffa efra videoGiving evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee – 25/11/14 – the chairman of Farmers For Action, David Handley, said:

“The situation is getting so serious that in the last nine weeks we’ve passed three individual dairy producers on to the Samaritans because they were in such a desperate state and the full impact isn’t yet being seen.”

A link to the video on FFA’s website has been received; to open this go to http://www.farmersforaction.org/8.html

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association, whose critique of government’s Groceries Code Adjudication process is well worth reading, commented: “This is a horrendous time… We are losing family farming. We have valleys which have had 20 dairy farmers where we have none any more.”

The committee heard that the supply chain needed to be subject to greater scrutiny.

food supply chain diagram

Mr Handley said that the money between the processor and retailer needed to be tracked: “We need to have some honesty and transparency. There is far too much smoke and mirrors. Unless we get proof that global markets are affecting the domestic price then we will continue to blockade”.

george dunn2Is the idea that the prices of milk in the supermarket would rise a ploy to antagonise the public?

Mr Dunn [right] explains: “The question we have been asking is, ‘Where does the money go?’ We might not need to have a higher price, just that we need a fairer share of the market.”

Mr Handley disputed claims that the price cuts were down to global markets, saying: “We find it very suspicious when we are being told that it is [due to] oversupply when 85% of our milk never leaves these shores.”