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We must not lose a generation of small producers




The Bank of England has already indicated that inflation could hit 13% by the end of the year. But, according to a BBC News report, the investment bank Citi Bank say it could rise to as high as 18% and the Resolution Foundation believe that based on the current price cap predictions and the latest data on the rate prices are rising at, inflation could reach 18.3%.


Whilst it is the forecast increases in the costs of energy that are the most alarming, we have all noticed a big hike in the price of food across the board too. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) the biggest increases have been in the price of bread and cereals, milk cheese and eggs, along with significant rises in cost of meat and vegetables. These too will create additional pressure on household budgets across the UK and the rest of the world and there is no easy and quick way to halt further rises.


The costs of inputs on farms across the country have already been widely reported; feed, fuel, fertiliser and a range of other costs have risen even more steeply than the Consumer Price Index figure. According to farm business consultants Promar International, ‘agflation’ is currently estimated at 23.5%.


The effects of inflation and the forecast recession will be widespread in 2023, with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) warning of a ‘lost generation’ of small businesses as the impact of rocketing costs take hold. In a recent article in The Guardian, Tina McKenzie, the policy and advocacy chair at the FSB is quoted as saying “Without help we are facing a generation of lost businesses, jobs and potential”. The FBS has called for urgent measures to shield businesses from the worst effects.


Unfortunately, I am already having to remove some small producers from our Produce & Provide website map and take down their Producer Profiles, because they are no longer able to make ends meet. Their dreams and their hardwork has been undone in a matter of months.


Although food prices are rising rapidly, the returns to farmers are failing to keep pace with the costs of producing food on farms. Running a mixed farming business myself, I all too aware of the increasing costs of running machinery to harvest and plant crops, the cost of feed for our cattle and sheep, seed to plan this autumn, vet bills and a whole range of inputs on which we depend. In addition, the economic pressures on our staff will mean they need to earn more money to pay their bills.


Farmers are already looking long at hard at ways in which they can improve business performance, source cheaper inputs and cut back on capital expenditure. But for some, this will be a storm they just cannot weather. I am particularly concerned about small producers and new entrants who have borrowed money to launch new ventures, as interest rates start to rise. They do not have the reserves to see them through, or assets they can cash in to pay off debts.


Many of the amazing, small farms I have discovered over the past couple of years, whilst setting up Produce & Provide, are run by people who have made a life-changing decision to leave the security of paid jobs and dedicate their lives to producing (and providing) high quality food. Other young farmers have returned to family farms with new ideas, to breathe new life into businesses that have been beaten down by a food supply chain that has robbed them of recognition and reward that is rightfully theirs.


Just as it seemed we were turning a corner, beginning to demonstrate that small and local can deliver what people need and that the production of high quality food goes hand in hand with nature, there is now a real risk of losing everything in a very short space of time.


I don’t want to see a lost generation of farmers in the UK, or anywhere else in the world. We must keep them afloat, keep the fires burning in their hearts that drive them to do what they do. If we don’t, we risk losing not just one generation, but many more to come. Furthermore we will witness an acceleration of global food production into the hands of an increasingly industrial and corporate regime that has already done so much damage.


Even before the costs of producing food on farms started spiralling out of control, climate change, new international trade deals, the removal of farm subsidies and an increasing disconnect between farmers and consumers, have been conspiring to create an exodus from the industry. If we ditch good quality food, produced the way we want it to be produced, in favour of cheap imports of inferior quality food produced to lower standards, we will be sadly lamenting lost farming generations in 5 to 10 years from now.


I know it’s tough for so many people right now and when we, or our children, get hungry, we will be driven to buy whatever we can to give us the calories we need. But if our farmers don’t survive, we will lose so much.


Many are rightly concerned that out food security is already under threat. The government’s UK Food Security Report published in December 2021 states that we are only 60% self-sufficient in producing the food we eat in the UK. That figure is now set to fall even further, as pressure builds on farmers to cut inputs, reduce pressure on the environment, safeguard water supplies and cut emissions. Meanwhile, there is increasing competition for land that has historically produced food, from those seeking to rewild vast areas and plant trees.


There has to be some means to maintain a sense of balance and help us to hold onto our vision of better food and farming for the future, if we are to avoid those are committed to delivering it from being sucked up into the vortex of the current economic whirlwind that is wreaking havoc upon them.


At the end of the day, all you can do is support them. Please don’t let this new generation of amazing British farmers become a casualty of these times. Visit them, talk to them, let them know you truly value what they do and, when you can, buy something from them.


Thank you.

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