Tag Archives: food security

The world changed and nobody realised.

There is a saying, ‘To deny is to confirm.’ The minute a body puts out press releases saying that it had never considered a policy change, everybody assumes that policy is about to be changed and they’re just waiting for a good day to bury bad news before they tell us.

The problem is, that thanks to the Ukrainian War, an awful lot of people are suffering. Look on the bright side, at least we’re only spending money, not blood.

From March onwards I’ve been pointing out that there is a looming risk of food shortages. Suddenly, large parts of the world we bought food from are no longer reliable, secure, and in some cases, they’re not even friendly.

 Now if I’ve spotted this, I’m sure that there are other people who have also read the writing on the wall, and I have no doubt that even in Defra, their words have been heard.
When we left the EU, this was seen as an opportunity by both government and the environmental lobby groups to move money from farm support to putting money into environmental schemes. I’ve taken part in some of the trials and frankly the only way I could take advantage of the vast majority of them was by cutting production. Which is fine if you lot out there don’t mind going hungry. So when you read the Defra blog

(Search for “Government reiterates commitment to environmental protections”)

It starts with a ‘government spokesman’ making a strong statement, “Claims we intend to go back on our commitment to the environment are simply not right.”

It then goes on to say, “We’re not scrapping the schemes. In light of the pressures farmers are facing as a result of the current global economic situation, including spikes in input costs, it’s only right that we look at how best to deliver the schemes to see where and how improvements can be made. Boosting food production and strengthening resilience and sustainability come alongside, not instead of, protecting and enhancing our natural environment, and later this year we will set out more details of plans on how we will increase food security while strengthening the resilience and role of farmers as stewards of the British countryside.”

‘To deny is to confirm.’ I cannot claim to have read everything Defra has produced on these schemes but starting by talking about boosting food production and stressing the importance of increasing food security strikes me as new.

Now the fighting is going to start. All sorts of people working for various environmental lobby groups are going to pile in on this demanding that there be no U turns in government policy. The fighting will be bitter.

The public are starting to cut back on their spending, so money paid to environmental charities (indeed all charities) is going to fall. If government puts less in as well, the money available to pay the salaries of the laptop classes involved in the environment will diminish. These people, like everybody else, have mortgages to pay.

And mortgages are another issue. The minute Putin started squeezing the gas pipelines, prices were guaranteed to go up, and equally inevitably, interest rates were going to rise. A lot of people are going to be very squeezed, very squeezed indeed, as the increase in mortgage payments makes itself felt. The problem is that whilst it’s possible for government to put some sort of cap on how much you pay for gas (which provides some protection for those urban and suburban dwellers who have access to gas but damn all for those in rural areas who don’t) capping interest rates is tricky. All that would do is see the pound spiral down so quickly we’d be looking at parity with the Turkish lira.

But it’s not just people who have been hit. A lot of companies have been borrowing money at ridiculously low rates of interest and not so much investing it as splurging it on vanity projects. Some of these projects are unravelling. Apple has apparently decided to produce six million fewer of the new iPhone14. After all, how many people actually need a new iPhone?

Other ventures have also taken a kicking. In July 2021, the share price of Beyond Meat was $150 a share. Currently it’s trading at $14.63. At the same time, during the pandemic, people in the UK increased their consumption of real meat and apparently the amount of fresh meat sold retail is 12% higher than it was three years ago. To look abroad, to quote https://www.restaurantbusinessonline.com/food/mcdonalds-ends-its-plant-based-test-us-now-what

“McDonald’s has ended its expanded test of its meatless McPlant burger in the U.S., the company confirmed on Thursday, without a clear indication of whether the plant-based product will make a national debut.

The company’s confirmation followed continued speculation from Wall Street analysts indicating that the product underperformed those tests. An analyst with J.P. Morgan this week said that the product was pulled in many stores and low sales were cited as the primary reason.”

The problem is we had a lot of jobs which were only viable at very low interest rates because these jobs produce no return on the money spent on wages. The money for their wages comes from those employees who do actually produce something that earns the company money. As interest rates go up, the companies are going to still need those who earn the money, but frankly, I doubt they will be able to afford to keep the others. When you were paying 2% on the company overdraught you could probably afford to take on another three diversity coordinators to pad our your HR department and give you bragging rights at the next conference you were asked to address. When you’re paying 7% not only will the company not be able to afford the HR it has, it certainly won’t be able to afford to send somebody to a conference that isn’t production related and it may not be able to afford you.

In farming we’ve become steadily more efficient, if you look at

You’ll see this graph showing fertiliser use and how it drops off.

I suspect 2022 will see another large fall. In farming we’ve got to stay on our toes and stay efficient. We have to cherish the land we’ve got that can produce a crop. After all, would you like to try and plough this?

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know? Speak to the experts

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
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-09-30/your-tomatoes-may-cost-more-as-gas-prices-hit-dutch-greenhouses

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.”

https://www.euronews.com/green/2022/03/31/cucumber-crisis-surging-energy-prices-leave-british-greenhouses-empty

“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.