Farmers battle with balance between profit, production and environment as concerns grow over African Swine Flu

The battle for farmers to balance production and profit over taking care of the environment, compounded by a reduced workforce, are key areas that need to be addressed to ensure farm businesses can thrive into the future.

It follows a series of events over recent months that have led to desperate times for farmers across all genres as prices to consumers have been raised, costs of fuel and feed to power farms have gone up meaning many businesses are operating at a loss.

The Future Farmers of Yorkshire, backed by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, hosted a panel meeting at the Great Yorkshire Show discussing how the UK’s own markets could become more sustainable and profitable as grains and products that are imported rose drastically in price.

Last month, the Government published its Food Strategy White Paper which aims to have a more prosperous agricultural food and seafood sector with a secure food supply that provides jobs; a sustainable and affordable food system that provides access to products supporting healthier and home-grown diets and export opportunities.

The Future Farmers of Yorkshire, backed by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, hosted a panel meeting at the Great Yorkshire Show discussing how the UK’s own markets could become more sustainable and profitable as grains and products that are imported rose drastically in price.

Tom Bradshaw, NFU Deputy President, said it was ridiculous there was a tree-planting strategy before a food strategy.

He said: “How do we maintain and protect capacity? The challenge we are facing is infrastructure pressure within businesses. The new question is whether they have somebody to milk the cows. The ability to produce the food is a big enough challenge in itself.

“Three weeks ago we saw the Government White Paper on Food Strategy. We have fought for five years to get them to recognise the importance of food security.

“It is a tragedy it requires a war in Europe to bring this to the forefront.”

Many farm businesses, he added, that had relied on overseas workers were struggling to recruit and retain due to a combination of factors from Brexit, to the pandemic to the war between Russia and the Ukraine.

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Mr Bradshaw said: “Unless we get immigration policy fit for farming, we are always going to struggle to produce what we need. We have got less than four per cent unemployment so it is fanciful to say we will recruit from the domestic market.

“The Food Strategy gives us hope that the Government will take this seriously. It is not about environmental damage or food production. When food and environment stand on a level playing field, we will really have the ability to up capacity.”

However, Leeds-based farmer Alastair Trickett argued farmers had enough to worry about at the moment without taking on a national food crisis.

He said: “Why should farmers care about food security rather than business security? I can see having a healthy environment enables you to have a resilient business model but we have enough to care about without taking the burden of food security.”

It was also raised at the debate that the crisis in the pig farming sector continues as fears rise over the arrival of African Swine Flu in the UK.

Cases have been confirmed in Europe and the UK’s reliance on imported produce, such as meat, means it is a possibility the disease, which is contagious and in most cases deadly, will land in the UK.

Pig farmer, Tom Lister, called for supermarkets to use their status to influence Defra controls on imports. He said: “If the pricing does not wipe it all out before Christmas and African Swine Flu does come in, there won’t be a pig sector left. The pressure needs to come from supermarkets for the right policies.”