As we await the UK Government’s decree on managing the country’s finances, we know one thing for sure because it’s evident in the supermarket, the forecourt and just about every other place where we part with our hard-earned cash.
Unless you are fortunate to be in the high earners’ club, we are all ‘feeling the pinch’, to use a good old British understatement. Most of us are facing scary increases in living costs, energy, rent and mortgages which will undoubtedly add pressure to the household Christmas budget.
No section of the population is immune from the impact of inflation and thoughts especially go to the homeless, unemployed, those living below the poverty line, over-stretched doctors and nurses, teachers, and just about everyone else I can think of.
Farming is not a special case. But it’s the industry I know best. The industry I feel very much part of, which has given me a fulfilling career and I admit a relatively comfortable living for over 30 years. So, I hope you will forgive me if I explain why I will be backing British farmers this Christmas.
I usually eat three meals a day (occasionally more but please don’t tell the Practice Nurse who monitors my blood pressure!). Sometimes meat, sometimes plant-based, sometimes both. Whilst processors, hauliers, food retailers all have a vital role to play in getting that food from field to my plate, it’s a farmer who decides to produce it, care for it, and harvest it.
There are no laws or requirements that state that farmers have to produce my food. No edicts that require at least a proportion of the land in this country to be turned over to filling my belly. We rely on farmers and growers across the land to make that decision, partly in the hope that they will make a small profit in doing so, and partly because that’s what they have always done – and their mothers and fathers before them. It’s what farmers do, produce food for the nation.
And I for one hope very much they keep doing it.
But like everyone else, they face increased costs – both from a business and household perspective. Producing a breakfast egg, or the wheat for a loaf of bread, or the meat for our Sunday roast (if we are lucky enough!), has increased significantly. Of course, we all know this, because we all face the same increases in our shopping trolley. The problem is, the increase at the checkout is not finding its way on to farm, because the supermarkets are also having to deal with inflationary challenges. Farmers are at the start of the food supply chain, often operating as individual producers – their power versus the retail giants is limited.
At the same time, a new post-Brexit agricultural dawn is emerging as we leave behind the EU Common Agricultural Policy, with increased emphasis (understandably) on the environment, climate change, biodiversity and what is termed delivering ‘public goods’. Whilst there are undoubtedly benefits to establishing re-wilding, trees, hedgerows, carbon sinks and making room for nature, I worry that in the modern world of binary, simple solutions to complex problems, that we may forget to also make room for food.
Selfish I know, but I need my three meals a day.
‘Fret not’ I hear from some – we’ll import it! Well, of course we do import some of our food requirements and it’s right to maintain good trading links with our global partners. But the shocking events in Ukraine should remind us how fragile these supply lines can be.
We have the right soils and climate to produce food right here, and we do it to the highest standards of quality and welfare.
So keeping my daily calorie intake ‘home produced’ is important to me. But there are other reasons why I’m backing British farming.
In addition to my three meals a day, I take at least three walks a day on rights of way across land cared for and maintained by farmers. Three walks you ask? Well, I have an energetic Labrador, but it also does wonders for my physical and mental health.
Farmers produce some of the renewable energy that helps to heat my house and if something needs lopping or unblocking in the village, it will be a farmer who does it for us, because (whilst fewer in number these days), farming people are a vital pillar of our local rural community.
So, whilst remembering that many people are going to find it tough over the winter, I hope you will forgive me if I say a special ‘thank you’ to all those involved in farming and food production this Christmas.
Whatever the weather, you will be out there ensuring that I get a Christmas lunch and a full belly every day of the year. For this I am truly grateful.
Just don’t tell the Practice Nurse!
Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2023.
Mark is a staff member at The Farming Community Network. FCN is a charity and voluntary organisation that works to improve the health and wellbeing of people in agriculture and support those who are experiencing difficulties.
Christmas is a special time – a time for family, friends and community and a time to recharge. For some it can also be a difficult time and FCN is here for you. Our helpline (03000 111 999) will be open throughout Christmas and New Year. You can chat to a friendly volunteer, who understands farming, from 7am to 11pm every day of the year.