I’ve worked a lot with lorry drivers over the years. Normally we get the good ones, as the other sort don’t make it down the lanes. But at the moment there’s a shortage. Yet I can remember Bob Bojduniak of Farm Brief mentioning to me over twenty years ago that the various agricultural supply companies were telling him then that they struggled to get drivers.
One problem is that apparently the average is 55 (so still younger than farmers) and more have retired recently. Indeed men of that age can be particularly vulnerable to heart and similar issues, and if you get put on medication, you lose your licence.
It has to be said that covid hit the number of drivers. The number passing their test fell from 40,000 to 15,000 a year. Hopefully that is something that can be easily remedied.
But what about the cost of the test? The problem is the cost of training. It’s probably going to cost between two and three thousand pounds, which is a lot of money to put out there for somebody who’s not on good money and already has a family to support.
But here we run into another issue. If you’ve just splashed out two grand (and meant your family doesn’t get a holiday this year) the pressure on you to pass increases. But even if you do pass, what’s the money like?
According to Tomasz Oryński, a truck driver and journalist based in Scotland, “In 2010, the median HGV driver in the UK earned 51% more per hour than the median supermarket cashier. By 2020, the premium was only 27%… Why would I want to be a truck driver, with all the responsibility, the long, unpredictable hours, if I can go to Aldi and earn £11.30 an hour stacking shelves?”
A number of years a lorry driver I know saw an advert to drive with Eddie Stobart. They had a good image, the drivers all got a uniform. But when this chap applied for the job and they told him the salary, somewhat to their surprise he turned them down. He was on better money just hauling stone in a quarry and delivering it to sites in the area.
The major retailers have negotiated tight contracts with their suppliers. Part of the cost the supplier has to meet is getting their product to the retailer. So obviously driver wages are among the things that have been driven steadily down as the retailers drive costs out of the system. It’s something we’ve seen in farming where some crops are now only viable if you can get gangs of cheap labour to harvest them. The retailers know what the public are willing to pay. (They’ve to the data thanks to loyalty cards and similar. Consumers can protest away as much as they want, the computer tells the retailer what consumers do, as opposed to what they say they do.)
This leads to two more issues. The first, the simple one, is how to get more drivers. The second is more difficult, how to get more money into the supply chain, for farmers, drivers and all the others being squeezed.
The driver issue is not as difficult as people seem to think. A lad I know joined the army. In the first six weeks he did his basic training and passed out as a soldier. Then he had six weeks driving and the army put him through a lot of tests. He ended up qualified for everything but petrol tankers.
Rather than trying to get young people into universities where they’ll end up paying through the nose for a qualification that just leaves them in debt, the government could put some of them through their HGV.
Whilst I recognise the additional advantages of a degree in character formation etc, I would humbly suggest that working as an HGV driver could probably match it with lived experience. It would certainly open the eyes of young people and give them an unparalleled insight into the way the world really works.
Indeed I’d suggest that for a budding poet or novelist it would be a far more useful training that a literature or creative writing qualification. It’s the sort of live where if you keep your eyes open, the stories just keep crawling out. Not only that, but the time spent on your own gives plenty of time for contemplating verse forms.
The other issue is getting money back into the supply chain. Here the problem is bigger. People are used to spending less on food and it means their disposable income goes further. Increase the cost of food then people will have less money to spend on other stuff. Other sectors of the economy will take a hit.
On top of that, we’re probably going into a more expensive time. It’s becoming obvious that achieving net zero isn’t going to be cheap and consumers (whether as consumers or tax payers) are the only people who can fund it. The need to pay more for transport, heating, clothing (as we lose the cheap stuff from the China) and similar is going to hit people in the pocket. Government isn’t going to want food prices going up at the same time.
Also diets are going to change. No surprise there, they’ve always changed. But now there are other drivers. Propaganda about Brazilian beef cattle isn’t going to be the main cause. Climate change and legislation are going to drive it. Take rape oil. Oil Seed Rape is now a far more difficult crop to grow because of the ban on various insecticides.
According to December 2020 Farming Statistics – final crop areas, yields, livestock populations and agricultural workforce at 1 June 2020 United Kingdom
“The oilseed rape harvest has shown a decrease of 41% to just over 1.0 million tonnes in 2020. This was caused by a decrease of 28% in the planted area and a decrease in total oilseed rape yield of 17%, from 3.3 tonnes per hectare in 2019 to 2.7 tonnes per hectare in 2020. This is below the five year average.”
Similarly the AHDB published this comment.
“What are the prospects for European new crop oilseed rape?
Harvest 2020 was not a good year for oilseed rape in the UK and across Europe. Unfavourable weather, the increasing bans of plant protection products and the flea beetle all contributed to a crop that struggled across the continent.
The plant is now becoming a risky and expensive option for many farmers to grow and for this reason, many growers are choosing to move away from growing OSR.
Domestically, according to AHDB’s Early Bird Survey, we are facing the third consecutive year of decline in OSR area. Area planted for harvest 2021 is forecast to be a further 18% lower than the harvest 2020.”
Yet whilst our vegetable oil production falls, people are still using vegetable oil. But it’s not as if there is a world surplus they can tap into. Again, from the AHDB.
“Malaysian palm oil stocks have been forecast lower again due to strong Chinese demand. The La Niña weather event has caused heavy rains in key palm oil producing regions which is likely to keep global supplies tight.
Given that the environmentally conscious aren’t going to use soya oil (damage to rainforest) palm oil (again damage to rainforest), have to cope with reducing quantities of rape oil, it could well be that people will have to switch to cooking with beef dripping produced from grass fed British Cattle.
There again, what do I know? Talk to an expert
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