“The public is too used to cheap food” as the government launches a new strategy

A Lincolnshire farmer says the public has become too used to cheap food as the government launches a new strategy to support UK farming. Andrew Ward manages a 1,600-acre site in Leadenham, just off the A17, and grows crops including wheat, barley, beans and rapeseed.

He says that with the costs faced by farmers continuing to rise, including the price of red diesel doubling in a year, there needs to be greater public recognition of the challenges within the agriculture industry. It comes on the heels of the launch of the government’s new food strategy which aims to boost UK production of many staples.

In particular, the strategy says the amount of cucumbers and tomatoes grown in the UK could “expand significantly” with the construction of vertical farms and large multi-acre greenhouses. The government says that for the food the UK can produce, it currently produces around 75% of what it consumes.

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The new food strategy says this has been broadly stable over the past 20 years and aims to keep it at a similar level in the future. It is also committed to maintaining high food standards in the UK, no matter where it is produced.

Minette Batters, the Presidents of the National Farmers Union (NFU), responded to the strategy saying: “We know the public wants to eat more local British food and farmers are ready to play their part in producing high quality produce and climate -friendly food, while protecting and enhancing our environment Now we need to see this strategy become a clear delivery and investment to capitalize on the benefits that food and agriculture bring to the country, such as our leading standards in the world of animal welfare, protection and food safety”.

But Andrew Ward said: “Government has a very good habit of saying things and then not doing them, so I think we should wait and see what action comes out of this before we all start jumping for joy. We also need to see a change of attitude because it seems so easy right now to blame farmers for everything from a strange smell in the air to flooding.

“There needs to be a greater understanding of the fact that we’re actually keeping people alive. But the public has become very used to getting cheap food at the expense of farmers. When our costs go up as fast as they do, it’s not It’s okay that we should subsidize household bills.

Rapeseed unloading at Andrew Ward's farm.
Rapeseed unloading at Andrew’s farm.

The strategy contains a key objective of ensuring that by 2030, wages will have increased in all areas of the agri-food industry. But as well as maintaining and, in some cases, increasing UK food production in the coming years, Andrew Ward says he should focus on fixing short-term problems.

An additional 10,000 visas will be released under the temporary worker scheme to help with labor shortages, of which 2,000 will go to the poultry sector. But Andrew Ward says such action is not enough.

He said: “That number must be more like 30,000. We have had thousands of pigs burned in the last six months due to shortages in our slaughterhouses and people are struggling to get their crops out of the ground because of that. There is no government should focus on making sure we’re bringing the food we’re already producing to market before we talk about increasing it.”

The government says it will support an upcoming review of the list of occupations with shortages, while commissioning an independent review “to assess and ensure the quantity and quality of the food sector workforce”. Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “The food industry is larger than the automotive and aerospace industries combined and offers opportunities for employment, learning and investment in research and development.

Boris Johnson on a visit to a farm for the publication of the food strategy.
Boris Johnson on a visit to a farm for the publication of the food strategy.

“The strategy we are defining today will increase the focus on food sector skills and available roles and career paths. In particular, we will look to boost our horticultural industry and secure the expertise needed to develop the sector here in the UK.”

Minette Batters added: “The National Food Strategy represents a clear milestone in which the government recognizes the importance of domestic food production, maintains our productive capacity and grows more food in this country, particularly at a time when the war in Ukraine has focused attention on the importance and fragility of our global food security.

“Food production will always be central to a nation’s resilience and I am pleased that the government has recognized this. Domestic food production and environmental stewardship go hand in hand and we are proud that British farmers have the ambition to achieve net zero by 2040, while maintaining our current levels of food production.”


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