UK farmers skeptical as Minister urges them to ‘stay on the ground’ on fair prices

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Farmers need to ‘hold on’ in the face of price inflation and ensure that the rising costs they face are reflected in the prices supermarkets pay them for their produce, the UK Environment Secretary demanded. to Food and Rural Affairs.

George Eustice told the Oxford Agriculture Online Conference on Thursday that rising input costs should lead to increased incomes for farmers, but rising farm gate prices don’t necessarily have to lead to inflation food for consumers.

“We need the producers to stand firm and take a tough enough stance with retailers to ensure that the money they receive reflects the costs of their production,” he told the conference.

He said food prices were rising due to international pressures, as the price of agricultural products internationally was linked to energy prices, which rose sharply as economies recovered from the shock of coronavirus. But he said farmers who get more for their produce don’t need to affect consumers.

“You can have reasonably modest increases in producer prices and a significant impact on farm profitability, which do not lead to major changes in consumer inflation,” he said.

Farm leaders reacted with skepticism. Producers wield little power against the powerful UK supermarkets, a handful of which control the vast majority of the food retail market. The problem of farmers whose margins are shattered by supermarkets and threatened with losing contracts for speaking out has been one of the greatest sources of distress for farmers for more than two decades.

Martin Lines, UK chairman of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, said: “It is very difficult for individual farmers to resist price pressures from retailers who have all the bargaining power. Government has a role to play in giving farmers more power in the supply chain so that they are fairly rewarded for food produced to high environmental standards. The government should step in to ensure that contracts between buyers and sellers are fair.

George Dunn, Managing Director of the Tenant Farmers Association, said: “There is a significant imbalance within the supply chain, with retailers and foodservice operators able to wield significant power within the supply chain. . Over the years there have been warnings about the sustainability of the “cheap food culture” to which we have become accustomed and it now appears that we are witnessing the fulfillment of these past prophecies of doom. However, retailers and food service providers can afford to avert disaster by letting their prices rise. “

Labor accused the government of letting farmers down. Jim McMahon, the shadow environment secretary, said: ‘Not only is the government neglecting its duty to support UK farmers, leaving them exposed to undercutting through inadequate trade deals, but ministers now seem to wash their hands completely of this responsibility. Our rural businesses deserve better and it is no wonder that many feel utterly disappointed by the Conservatives’ failures.

The government’s earlier efforts to shift the balance of power, by installing a “grocery code arbiter”, have had limited impact. Jo Lewis, policy director at the Soil Association, said an overhaul of UK food systems was needed: “Eustice is right that farmers need to get a much fairer share of the value of food than they are. ‘They do produce it, but his suggestion that the solution is that they “stay tough” with retailers seems far-fetched.

“Farmers will continue to run out of electricity as they are forced to provide staples in a globalized market for ultra-processed foods. They need government infrastructure and skills to help them access shorter, fairer supply chains and they need government to put real food back into baskets by tackling the unhealthy takeover of ultra-processed foods with a national reduction target.

She said the government’s response to the National Food Strategy – which Eustice has promised for this spring – will be a key test.

Eustice also took a strong stance on the potential for price increases caused by a shortage of migrant workers, saying “employers don’t need to look for cheap labor” from the EU. “There is no reason why the price of daffodils should not reach £ 1.10,” he said, referring to warnings from Cornish growers that they cannot harvest their flowers, at the devastating price for their business.

Eustice encouraged farmers by announcing 30% higher payments for environmental management programs, which reward them for taking basic steps to protect the environment, and many cautiously welcomed his proposals for “management” contracts. environmental protection ”which will come into effect in 2024, with payments to farmers for a wider range of measures, from soil maintenance and tree planting, and provision of habitat for wildlife, to management of flood plains and waterways.

However, government plans to support rewilding through 10-15 large-scale pilot projects of 500-5000 hectares have been criticized. Jyoti Fernandes, policy coordinator at the Landworkers’ Alliance, representing farm workers, said: Flock to the wealthiest in society, while access to land will become increasingly difficult for new entrants to the Agriculture.

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