FOOD INFLATION hit the headlines this week and it behoves us not to feel a certain smugness that this had been predicted by this column some months ago. But in the here and now, politicians have suddenly woken up (as apart to just being ‘woke’!) to the fact that this inflation cannot be solved by the simple fix of importing cheaper goods, foods and bum wipes from abroad. It is going to take a lot more than that to wipe the slate clean.

But for food inflation, there surely is an easy fix? It would not be the most difficult thing in the world – as the means to control it is already there – to use rebated fuel legislation to slash fuel costs for primary producers to zero. This would very quickly reduce costs of production for almost every sector of agriculture and thus ease the pressure on food inflation.

The fact is that a 200hp tractor, working hard, can get through 350-400 litres per day, while a forage harvester can hit 1000 litres-plus per day. At current prices (taking a round figure of 120p per litre) that’s £420 for the tractor and £1200 for the forager – set against what it was last year, that’s double what it was. It is, therefore, easy to see why fuel alone is playing a huge factor in food inflation.

If duty were to be removed altogether from red diesel, then the savings would be about 12p per litre compared to non-rebated diesel. Not much, but enough to make a difference.

We can only surmise that, so far this year, it has been an easy ride for many farmers and that the weather has been (mostly) kind to them.The big ‘what if’ will come a knocking if, in the run up to harvest, we hit a spell of poor weather. On back of the fag packet calculations (as many will not doubt have done) if there are no drying costs and grain/OSR yields look, as they do now, to be fairly decent, then there is hope – but wet weather will push a hefty surcharge onto growing costs and it matters little if you have gas or diesel burners.

This price squeeze also brings into focus something which had been largely discounted ­— at least by middle of the road farmers – and that is the much vaunted ‘cost of ownership’ figures that are sometimes touted by tractor/combine/forager manufacturers. The fraction of those costs that are attributable to fuel has now risen considerably and it is predicted that there will be more than a few looking at the ‘litres per hour’ for work done stats in the glossy brochures!

It also brings into sharp focus alternatives to fossil fuels for prime movers on farms. The big dilemma is: Will this be at the expense of tractor drivers in favour of robots, to reduce costs; or will it be alternative fuels such as methane and hydrogen that will hold sway.

The only certainty is, that ‘inflation’ will be a catalyst for change and at the rate of fuel increases, it will be sooner rather than later.