There is the growing realisation that the cost of the ‘cheap’ food enjoyed by the public for years means many British farming and growing businesses are now at crisis point, with the worst to come. But there are still too few who are willing to put their hand up and admit this.
Rising inflation, fuel, fertiliser, energy, and labour costs have created a perfect storm. Many growers have walked away from perfectly good crops that they simply can’t afford to pick this year. Shocking at a time when the use of food banks across the UK is also at an all-time high.
It would be easy to just blame ‘the supermarkets’ and they are certainly not helping, as they are so narrowly focused on price wars. But the blame needs to be shared.
We need to blame ourselves, the consumers who don’t always demand or buy British and who want ever cheaper food. We need to blame the government for failing to prioritise food security for many years and for using farming and horticulture as a bargaining chip in new trade deals. We need to blame food producers and the procurement teams with huge buying powers who don’t request or buy British or direct from farmers and growers. It has been easy to let those who represent the farming and horticulture industries and individual sectors speak on their behalf, but these messages are clearly struggling to hit home. And we need to blame the media, for their under-reporting of the facts and factors which has led to this current food crisis and for pushing the politically focused agendas which they think their audiences want to hear. In other words, I think we’ve all taken our eye off the ball and there is a massive crisis to face, with support needed by all.
Many of you may have seen the recent LinkedIn post by Kent fruit grower David Riccini whose illustration on food price inflation and specifically apples highlights why this autumn, some beautiful orchards of the best quality British top fruit has been left unpicked.
David explains based on data from his own farm records, :
In 1973 before supermarkets were widespread, the retail price of apples was 28p/kg, of which the grower received 19p after off farm costs such as storage, grading, packaging. The cost of sale was 9p/kg. The grower received around 68% of the sale value at a time when the average UK salary was £40 per week.
49 years later in 2022 and the price of apples is £2.70/kg of which the grower receives back just 29p after storage, grading, packing, transport, commission etc. The cost of sale is £2.41/kg. The grower receives just 10.7% of the sale value. The business needs an additional 11p/kg to be sustainable but there is nothing left to trim to recover any further costs.
In short the margins of the intermediary contractors and the final retailer means 89% of what the consumer is paying is not for the product as picked.
A look at the conclusions shared by other growers and industry leaders this autumn is universally that British supermarkets are not paying British farmers and growers what they need to survive and they are not prioritising supporting them. Supermarkets need to support them to ensure their survival. For example, foreign top fruit is currently flooding British supermarket shelves at a time when there is new season, best quality, and a large range of different varieties on offer from our own growers.
Yes there is a cost of living crisis, yes inflation is at a near 50 year high and interest rates a 40 year high and yes we face an environmental crisis, but there will be larger and longer term issues affecting future generations if we don’t support British farmers and growers now.
In the last week alone the former head of MI5 The Baroness Manningham-Buller has said UK food production is ‘integral to national security’. Nigel Jenney, head of the Fresh Produce Consortium has also said this week that ‘safeguarding the UK’s fresh produce and horticultural sectors must be a government priority.’
This is a real call to action for all of us, we must act now to help the industry and we need to make sure we tell others why it is important to do the same. And write to your MP to ask them to support British farming and growers, write to the boss of your local supermarket and ask them to do more to support British growers and where you can, buy local and buy direct, so that as much of the retail price as possible goes back to those that work hard all year round to feed us.
If you are a farmer or grower and would like us to share details of how the public can buy direct from you, please get in touch.