Energy crisis and labour shortage put UK food security at risk, farmers warn

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Britain’s food security is threatened by rising energy and labor costs, farmers have warned, as pressure mounts on ministers to find an immediate solution to the deepening crisis facing British businesses and households.

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The National Farmers Union said British farms were in “an even more precarious position” than in the early days of the pandemic, when a third of the food industry was forced to close overnight.

“We now have a very real risk of exporting parts of our agricultural industry overseas and reducing the ability of UK agriculture to feed the country,” said NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw.


The warning came as Quasi Quarteng, the business secretary, submitted a bid to the Treasury for emergency aid for energy-intensive industries.

Farming is not considered included in the package even though it faces huge cost pressures. The cost of producing a pint of milk has risen 20 percent this year as farmers grapple with rising wages due to rising energy prices and labor shortages.

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Some tomato and cucumber growers have already stopped production because they cannot afford to heat greenhouses, while potato farmers are struggling to absorb the huge increase in the cost of cold storage, the NFU said.

Bulk gas prices hit record levels last week and remain well above pre-pandemic levels, with analysts predicting they will not return to normalcy for several months. The cost of fertilizers, another major outlay for farmers, has also increased as a result of higher gas and electricity costs.

The energy crisis adds to a number of problems facing British food suppliers and comes after shoppers experienced weeks of hiatus on supermarket shelves partly due to a lack of lorry drivers. Retailers recommend stocking homes early to avoid disappointment over Christmas.

NFU’s Tom Bradshaw said supermarkets would soon need to raise their prices and pay more to suppliers or British farmers would start going out of business.

“We have to accept these costs that need to go up in the supply chain if we want to have an agriculture industry for the future.

“With climate change and political instability around the world there has never been a more important time to focus on self-reliance, but there is a risk that farmers are not being taken seriously.”

Mr Bradshaw said farmers are currently in “very intensive” conversations with major retailers about the need for price increases.

“Supermarkets are trying to deliver what they think is in the best interest of the consumer in terms of lowering prices, but there comes a point where you have to realize that these inflationary pressures are so real and so dramatic that the costs have to rise. the supply chain.

“Supermarkets will be doing everything they can to try and keep a lid on prices, but ultimately I think we’re at a point where we’ve got a perfect storm. Prices have to increase.”

Tomato grower Phil Pearson said things were worse than at any time since his grandfather founded the family business in 1948.

“We have already decided that we will not plant 10 per cent of our land next year,” he said. “We can’t afford to heat our glass houses and we don’t know if we’ll have labor.”

His company, APS, has already been forced to throw away the produce because there are no lorry drivers to transport it.

He added: “There will be a shortage of tomatoes at Christmas. UK consumers will have a substandard product, imported from overseas, that has less flavor.”

Mr Pearson said tomatoes produced in the UK can be allowed to ripen on the vine instead of ripening when they are still orange and then developing their red colour.

While indoor vegetable growers are suffering the most from rising energy prices, all sectors of the agricultural industry have been hit by rising costs. Pig farmers have warned that they will have to kill 120,000 animals for not having enough butchers.

Mr Bradshaw said pig farmers are facing an “absolutely sad” situation. “This is unforgivable. We desperately need a solution from the government to avert a full-blown crisis.”

Meat processors said they were also being squeezed.

“We cannot absorb these costs through an already tight margin,” said Anna Profit of the British Meat Processors Association. “A dam may hold up to a point, but at some point it will burst.”

“If supermarkets source more meat from overseas they can cut some labor costs but UK food security will suffer. This would hollow out the industry and affect British agriculture. “

The warning came as the government agreed a deal with CO2 producers to raise the price of the gas, which is critical for the packaging of meat and other fresh produce.

The trade secretary, Quasi Quarteng, hailed the agreement with US firm CF Industries, which supplies 60 per cent of the UK’s CO2.

The company stopped production at its plant last month because higher gas prices meant it was no longer profitable.

“Today’s agreement means that critical industries can count on CO2 supplies in the coming months without taxpayer support,” said Mr. Quarteng.

However, food industry sources described the deal as “opaque”, adding that it was struck between CF Industries and the government without input or investigation from businesses that were willing to pay the new, higher price. Will be forced

A source said: “They can give their price but we haven’t been told anything. We don’t know what the price is yet, we haven’t been told how it’s calculated, we don’t know CF Industries margin What model is used, or how the price will fluctuate.

“We assume that some sort of equation has been used and we want to know what it is.”

The British Poultry Council welcomed the announcement, saying: “We await further information from the Government on the deal and look forward to working with them upon hearing further details.”

A government spokesman said: NS…


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