As supply chains continue to experience disruption, never has our food security looked more precarious. UK food supply chains are seeing disruption caused by a perfect storm thanks to the impacts of labour shortages, Brexit, climate change, and increasing energy and fertiliser prices. With the continuing fallout of Covid and the war in Ukraine thrown into the mix, can the government’s proposals in its recently published national food strategy genuinely improve resilience in the supply chain?
It’s a question at the centre of a parliamentary inquiry launched in July by the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee in response to the proposals. As the current pressures mount for growers and food businesses against a backdrop of sky-high inflation driven by soaring food prices, it’s undeniably crucial we find a long-term solution to ensure our food security and self-sufficiency.
A report commissioned by the British Growers Association (BGA) revealed the increasing challenges vegetable season growers are facing, with the average rate of inflation for agricultural inputs hitting 28% this spring, driven by huge increases in fuel, energy, labour, and fertiliser. Brassica growers were also reported to be planning to cut production by up to 20%, coupled with the anticipated losses due to the ongoing drought which could leave UK veg supplies in a deficit situation as we move into the autumn and winter. It stated that moreover, possible restrictions on water usage could make an already difficult situation even worse.
This follows the summer warning from countryside charity CPRE that the most productive of remaining farmland is disproportionately at risk from flooding. Some 200,000ha, or 60% of grade 1 land, is categorised as flood zone 3, the highest risk.
“Production challenges are becoming increasingly common due to the weather volatility,” said BGA chief executive Jack Ward. “In recent years vegetable production has had to contend with drought, record rainfall, record amounts of frost and this year temperatures which significantly affect crops growing in the ground.
“The government is not responsible for all the problems facing food supply chains but it is essential it does all it can to help manage these pressures as it implements its new food strategy,” said newly-appointed EFRA chairman Robert Goodwill. “About three-quarters of the types of food we can produce in this country are supplied by our own farmers and growers. We want to start a debate about whether that’s the right level and what that means for how we use our land and the priority we put on food production.”
EFRA is urging growers to have their say by submitting their views or evidence to the inquiry by 30 September. Click here to make a submission.
We’ll leave the last word to Jack Ward, whose rhetoric further strengthens the case for why indoor farming is the solution the government and policy holders must commit to now: “All parts of the supply chain need to work together to create a sustainable supply chain. We face global food security challenges and therefore need a properly funded UK vegetable sector in order to meet the growing demand for this critical element of our national diet.”