Monthly Archives: April 2022

Strengthening the food chain with hypocrisy?

During first lockdown, behind the scenes, major retailers performed logistical miracles. I’m not somebody who is prone to praise them, but in spite of ridiculous levels of panic buying (There are people out there who won’t need to buy toilet paper for another couple of years) the retailers managed to keep the show on the road. During lockdown I got the job of doing the shopping and so experienced it at ‘the sharp end’. I knew a chap who worked in our local small supermarket (one of a major chain) and I asked him how things were going. Apparently the store manager was on the edge of meltdown. Every day his job is to send to the depot a list of stuff they’ve sold so will need replacements for. Every day the depot fulfils the list and sends him stuff.

During that first lockdown, the stuff they sent him was sometimes on his list. He was told to, basically, just sell what he got. But this manic period didn’t last long and I wouldn’t know how many people noticed (other than when the vultures descended on toilet paper or whatever today’s scare was.)

But the food chain is more than just the supermarkets. What else is happening? Well frankly, not as much as I would hope. I (like most other farmers) got a letter from George Eustice, secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs. He lays out what his department has done. To be fair they’ve delayed the introduction in the regulations on the change of use of urea fertiliser. (Whether anybody who hasn’t already bought it can afford it is a moot point.) Also they have issued ‘Statutory guidance to the Environment Agency so that autumn spreading of slurry and other farm yard manures will be permitted under the farming rules for water. Let us not beat about the bush, the farming rules for water were badly drawn up and pen pushers in the department were adopting a remarkably silly interpretation of them which ignored totally the real world. But that is par for the course with bureaucracies. So we have two measures here where government has stepped back from making things gratuitously worse.

The rest of the letter, the vast majority of it, is about environmental schemes. I’ve looked at the schemes, I couldn’t take part in them without reducing food production. It seems that for the environmental lobby industry it’s still full steam ahead with regard making us a major food importer.

On a general note, the steps taken with regard to energy look more positive, so government policy seems to boil down to you having the energy to cook the food you can no longer buy.

As what is the rest of parliament done. Well it’s marinating itself in sanctimonious hypocrisy. The rest of the world may have heard of the scandal called party gate? Boris probably broke lockdown rules. I was talking to another chap in the agricultural engineers. Given we just worked through the entire period, we gave up even trying to work out what the rules were because they changed so regularly and were remarkably convoluted and at times silly. (At one point in one village you could drink in one pub on one side of the street but the pub on the other side of the street had to stay shut because it was in Wales and the first was in England. Because covid knows!) Yes, our bureaucracy is that inept.
Apparently the whole party gate thing is shocking, because Boris mislead parliament. Yet his main attacker, Keir Starmer, campaigned to make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister, telling us what an excellent choice he was. Then when the election was lost, kicked him out of the party for anti-Semitism and various other things. And he has the gall to call anybody else a liar.

But the problem is, with world food prices rising steadily and energy prices about to go through the roof; the grown-ups are pointing out this winter is going to be very difficult in the UK and disastrous for many parts of the world. Yet the muppets in parliament are wasting everybody’s time trying to be more sanctimonious than thou. It would be nice if they grew up and smelled the coffee.

Talking about coffee, interestingly, the two Costa coffee shops in this town both ran out of coffee yesterday. The day before, one of the national sandwich chains couldn’t send their shops in this area the sandwich fillings they normally would so they didn’t have sandwiches. The day before that our supermarket had only one sort of orange. (I know, first world problems here.)
But as I said at the start, our food chain employs excellent logistics people. Is ‘just in time’ becoming ‘just too late?’ Have we had three days of random chance or are we starting to see cracks appearing? There are other signs that things are under stress, More than 1,500,000 UK subscribers cancelled their Netflix, Disney+ and Now TV subscriptions in the last three months. This at least has been on the cards for some time. Back in January, KPMG did a survey of consumers. Back then, before things got really sticky, 32% of consumers plan to cut back on their household spending this year. The main savings appear to be,

“Spending less on eating out was the most common answer (55%) amongst those consumers looking to reduce their 2022 household spending and half aim to spend less on clothing, rising to 59% amongst women polled. This was followed by 49% who said they would cut down on takeaway orders.”

Apparently, according to the BBC, makeup sales have taken a hit as well. Obviously the pandemic had an impact but there hasn’t been much sign of improvement. Kantar analysed the market and their research shows a 19% fall in make-up sales since 2019.

Yes, we’re very much into First World Problems. On the BBC webpage which had the makeup story there was a picture of hungry Afghan children, where there’s no money and the world is too busy with the Ukraine to remember them. This winter will probably see serious hunger in many parts of the world. Pray for good Northern and Southern Hemisphere harvests this year. Because looking at what governments are doing, it’s the only thing that will save people.


There again, never confuse me with somebody who knows what they’re talking about. As an expert.

Available as an ebook from almost everybody

Available on Kindle or as a paperback from Amazon

As a reviewer commented, “Should be mandatory reading for anyone moving to the countryside for the first time. Charmingly accurate and educational. Utterly first class.”

Just how screwed are we?

We’ve been short of good news recently. The world has been looking distinctly grim. Not only that but we’re going into unknown territory. I think that there was a general feeling that when Putin invaded the Ukraine, the war might last a week, and then after making a few token gestures of disapproval, we’d go back to business as usual.

The problem is that the Ukrainians didn’t roll conveniently over. They fought back and the dead civilians in Bucha, bodies lying in the street, in shallow graves, or in cellars, have explained exactly why the Ukrainians were so keen to fight. I saw it pointed out in a paper recently that a lot of Ukrainians, some still in the armed forces, served in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They know what happens when it’s felt that a civilian population needs to be taught a sharp lesson. They were determined that it wasn’t going to happen to their people, their families.

So now what? A month ago, I could have imagined that the gas taps would be fully on and trade links would be resumed. Politicians with insincere smiles would have kissed and made up. But now things are different. Even if the politicians want to kiss and make up (and too be fair to most of them, they realise that that time has long past) there are already war crimes investigations starting. Already evidence is being gathered, witnesses are being interviewed. Will this just be brushed away with a wave of the hand? It will be difficult to have the investigation under UN auspices because the Russians can just veto it, but there are other bodies who can ensure that cases come to trial.

Even if the Russians pulled out completely, tomorrow, Bucha and so many other places have left their scars on the psyche, on prime time TV. The electorate is not going to unsee this even if our political masters wanted to ignore it. The gas doesn’t burn properly, contaminated with innocent blood.

So the problem is that from now on, whilst the current regime is in power in Russia, the sanctions will continue. Already various people are biting the bullet. The Germans are obviously assuming the situation is not going to improve, they’re already planning the rationing of gas for next winter. The opposition in this country suggest that we ought to be doing the same. It’s a valid position to take up.

So where does that leave farmers and consumers in the UK. There is talk that milk will have to increase by 50% in the shops. It will, either it’ll increase because nobody can afford to produce it, and you have scarcity; or it’ll increase in an attempt to ensure production stays up. It’s the same with the Glass House industry.

As early as last September, the price of gas was hitting the Dutch industry

In the UK a few days ago it was reported that in “Southeast England, vast glasshouses stand empty, the soaring cost of energy preventing their owner from using heat to grow cucumbers for the British market.

Elsewhere in the country growers have also failed to plant peppers, aubergines and tomatoes.”

“While last year it cost about 25 pence to produce a cucumber in Britain, that has now doubled and is set to hit 70 pence when higher energy prices fully kick in, trade body British Growers says. Regular sized cucumbers were selling for as little as 43 pence at Britain’s biggest supermarket chains on Tuesday.”

Remember industrial users have not had their gas price capped, last year producers paid 40-50 pence a therm for natural gas. Last week it was £2.25 a therm, having briefly hit a record £8 in the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.

Obviously some of these greenhouses will probably plant something when the warmer weather comes, but forget out of season vegetables. They’re going to be expensive.

With regard to the staples it’s estimated that the price of bread could go up by 20%, pasta by 50%, potatoes by 30% and beer by 15%.

The problem is that this comes on top of an increase in the price of domestic gas and fuels such as petrol and diesel. People are inevitably feel the pinch as summer turns into winter. There again we’re not as badly off as those in North Africa and the Middle East who depended on Ukrainian grain and similar. As the price goes up we will see a lot of genuine hunger around the world. Not just a few less unseasonal veg on the supermarket shelves.

But how bad could it get here? If we have fuel rationing, if factories have to close because they cannot use gas on three days and cannot afford to use the gas on the other four, what is going to happen to jobs. People will already have been laid off from the glass house industry.

We have a lot of people in this country on the edge of hunger as it is. When I googled for a picture of men queuing for a soup kitchen, I wanted the one at the top of the page. But all the pictures I initially got were from the UK. We already have a ‘flourishing’ soup kitchen sector.

In one way we’re lucky. The churches and other voluntary groups have built up a pretty solid foodbank and soup kitchen sector. We’re well provided. We’ve got a good solid foundation on which to build.

But in another way we’re unlucky. Government, with our agreement, poured an unimaginable amount of money into dealing with covid. They weren’t alone, a lot of other governments did it. But it does mean that the government is going into the crisis pretty much on its uppers. Also if unemployment grows and interest rates increase, governments will get less tax income, and have to pay back more on the money it borrowed.

What is going to happen? God alone knows. Personally I suspect it’s going to be a good and bad time to be an environmental campaigner. Good in that there is a very major push to renewables and nuclear. Bad, it that if you start lecturing people about cutting back, you’d be wise to do it from a safe distance, that way they’ll only laugh in your face.

One big issue could be social unrest. If we have a bureaucratic class who are still ‘working from home’ and agitating for inflation linked salaries, I can see people losing patience with them. There is only so long people are willing to sit on hold with a repeated message telling you that ‘because staff are working from home you might hear unaccustomed noises in the background.’
But at least, working from home in a nice suburb, you’ll not have to pass the queue for the soup kitchens.