“Lots of food, lots of problems, no food – one problem”, quoted my mother when we were young, and how lucky we are to be in the former position. Currently, for British farmers, the opposite is true: the over-supply of food resource is causing national pain.
What is increasingly concerning is how our product price is determined by so many factors beyond our control. Our survival may not be related to how efficiently we produce our merchandise.
Since 2013: the pig price has dropped by one-third; the grain price has dropped by 40 per cent; milk price has dropped by one sixth and these are all a reflection of wider agriculture.
Of course, farmers are not unique in this predicament: but why is the price continuing to fall? UK pig meat production has grown over the last two years, mainly through consistent performance progressions. But what is really hurting British meat producers is the amount of imported produce due to comparably low price. There is a huge surplus of pig meat; predominantly to blame is Russia’s ban on EU imports. This has exasperated the strengthening pound, and the already over supplied market. In addition, pig meat sales within the UK have fallen.
There is good news. Eight retailers continue to supply 100 per cent British on fresh pork – for that we thank them. We are lucky enough to be aligned to Sainsbury’s who are aiming towards a cost of production contract and dedicate time, effort and money into improving our performance.
In 2015, Britain managed to increase exports despite the strong pound. In fact, there were £370m worth of pork exports last year around the world – a phenomenal result for a small industry, adding value to the UK’s economy and aiding the carcass balance.
I am a realist and can relate to the general population when they ask, “Why would I pay more for British produce?” Does it matter if farmers go out of business? There are two huge reasons to look out for the British flag on your meat: the importance of self-sufficiency and the invaluable quality guarantee.
Britain is currently 59 per cent self-sufficient. This is predicted to be as low as 45 per cent by 2080. We are already as low as 40 per cent self-sufficient in pork. We are following the opposite trend to what our grandparents achieved after the Second World War. As the global population increases, climate change is becoming more prevalent, global security is increasingly uncertain: our shortfalls are a huge gamble. It is likely that competition for food will increase, markets are becoming more volatile and there is a prevalent risk of countries banning exports. It is vital that we can support ourselves.
British produce is not always the most expensive in the supermarket: but it is the only country that has an independently audited, fully traceable, well monitored scheme. Red Tractor ensures that there are an abundance of quality checks. By buying British, not only can you be sure that your food is well looked after, but also that emissions are monitored, staff are well paid, and that livestock are slaughtered in an equally traceable environment. If our producers go out of business, more will be imported from countries where we have less control over how the meat is reared and less confidence in traceability.
I urge you: for your sake, your local farmer’s sake, and for the sake of our future generations: buy British.
Emily Field is a member of the Future Farmers of Yorkshire group which is supported by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society. It brings together younger farmers, vets and industry supporters. For more details about the group, email email@example.com