We are an asset

IT SEEMS 'supply management' does pay off – even if it has been forced by events outwith agriculture's control.

It now looks very much like some of the major retailers – unlike Government – have woken up to the fact that their supply chain for basic food is at breaking point and are now waving pound notes in front of producers to keep production in tune with their needs.

This past week we've seen a near record deadweight price for beef; Morrisons have agreed to pay 30p per kg more for pigmeat; and Tesco is adding a whopping 6p+ per litre onto its contracted milk price from May. Meanwhile, wheat and oilseeds are at record levels on the commodity trading markets

While that's all good news ... it's not enough. Milk production is already forecast to drop by as much as 6% this summer because of the cost and difficulty of getting fertiliser; and pig producers have seen their feed costs at least double. Add in labour issues and the budget-breaking cost of fuel, and it means that costs of production are spiralling way above anything we have seen since inflation was in double digits in the 1970s.

Costs will be well more than that now and in fact some are 100% more than they were a year ago. That is unsustainable and so it’s down to Government to help fix it. So, what did George Eustice MP, from Defra HQ, offer this week? – he’ll ‘allow’ farmers to continue to use urea as a fertiliser rather than ban its use and other ministers are telling farmers they need not apply artificial fertilisers, just make more use of muck and slurry.

You honestly couldn’t make up the naivety and hypocrisy of those statements. Here we have Government(s) policy aimed at reducing livestock on farms to ‘help meet climate change commitments’ while at the same time asking the industry to make more use of one of its very valuable by-products.

The fact of the matter is, this country is facing real-time food shortages that will only be overcome by long-term commitments in support both from government and a hugely more interactive relationships with the retail trade. The first commitment needed is to make sure that it is worthwhile putting in the hard labour in producing foodstuffs in the first place.

Some supermarkets had embarked on tracking prices paid at the farm gate by using cost of production indicators. That's all very well when inflation is stable, inputs are manageable and the weather kind, but it's a different matter altogether when you might as well do fag packet budgets given that costs are changing on a daily basis.

It's now a given that there is no such thing as cheap food. Production of the staples of human existence require hard work, investment in time and money, and an ability to cope with everything the weather can throw at us. They key word is 'investment' and you can't do that on 'two fags and a balloon' which is what retailers would pay if they got away with it (and in the past they have).

This is a watershed for agriculture. It's time to put a marker down and instead of being collectively vilified for everything from animal cruelty to killing the planet. It's time for the industry to be valued, supported and for retailers to put up, or shut up ... shop!