NFU Scotland says low food prices put producers at risk

If food had risen at the same inflationary rate as house prices over the last 40 years, then a four-pint carton of milk would cost £10.45, a roast chicken would be £51.18, a loaf of white bread would be £4.36 and a leg of lamb would set the customer back £53.18.

NFU Scotland vice-president Martin Kennedy says food has been taken for granted for too long. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

And while in 1974 farmers could buy a new Ford 5000 tractor for around £2,300, which 30 tonnes of barley would easily cover, in the current market 600 tonnes of barley wouldn’t even look at the price of an equivalent tractor.

These were just some of the figures put together by NFU Scotland vice-president Martin Kennedy to back up his claim that in the UK – and across much of Europe – food has been taken for granted for too long. Writing on the union’s blog he warned that this attitude threatened the very future of the farming industry.

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Stating that farming and crofting had a positive future if the decision-makers showed the political will to listen to the industry and help producers receive either much more for their goods or continued support, he argued that if this was not the case, the lack of political will would not be the only problem.

He said: “Farmers and crofters will lose the will to do the job they are good at because of such little return, severely endangering food security and our precious environment.”

Kennedy said that this would mean the country would have to rely on imports: “The result of this would be that we have no food security and no ability to feed our own country. Instead we would become totally reliant on others selling to us and the standards that others set for their food production.”

He stated that Scotland’s food and drink sector was currently worth more than £14 billion to the Scottish economy, and is aiming to reach £30bn by 2030.

“And that’s all very well – but unless we can see a bit more recognition for what farmers are doing for the economy and the environment, then these ambitious targets will only be a pipe dream,” said Kennedy.

He said the union’s recently launched Change document outlined a new agricultural policy for Scotland post-Brexit.

“This document has the potential to create the correct environment for this industry to prosper, and to also create the correct environment to allow the next generation to get involved and take the industry forward by being even more innovative and efficient.”

He said it covered “pretty much everything” that was required to get the industry on the right track – and the proposals would be fleshed out and tweaked by feedback from meetings around the country.

“It is absolutely vital that those in the position of making decisions over the next two years listen to the people who understand what happens on the ground as these decisions will ultimately shape the future of agriculture and the rural economy.”

Food and farming sectors need clarity on overseas workers

With a 17 per cent reduction in the available workforce this year, there could be a significant shortage of people to work in Britain’s food and farming sectors if the government fails to address growing concerns over access to workers.

Claiming that an immigration policy should be created to offer British farms flexible solutions for recruiting both seasonal and permanent overseas workers, the English NFU said it was crucial the issue was addressed now to secure a reliable workforce pre- and post-Brexit.

President Meurig Raymond said: “A solution, such as a suite of visa or permit schemes, is urgently needed to avoid losing a critical number of workers that could jeopardise future harvests and food production.”

He said that recruiting overseas workers was not something which could be done instantly – and businesses had to plan at least nine months in advance.

“The supply of seasonal workers for the 2018 and 2019 seasons is already in danger and government must, as a priority, establish a system to enable sufficient recruitment of seasonal labour before the UK leaves the EU.”

A report drawn up by the organisation showed there were also serious concerns about the industry’s ability to maintain an adequate number of permanent workers.