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  • Writer's pictureMeyrick Consulting

Should we put our money where our mouths are?

It would be safe to say that very many of us care about animal welfare and the state of the planet

We watch environmental activists with sadness and nod our heads in encouragement. We sign online petitions and bemoan the state of affairs on social media. But do these good intentions translate to our shopping baskets? Are we still driven by price alone while ignoring the long-term consequences?

The British are keen to see high agricultural and welfare standards

We don’t like to see sows rearing piglets in crates barely large enough to lie down in but when we look at the prices of UK bacon, we sometimes choose the imports. We fail to follow through with our moral standpoint and make the conscious decision to support British farming regardless of cheap imports that may flood our shelves when we finally leave Europe.

This week the Agricultural Bill returns to the House of Commons

This is after the House of Lords supported amendments made by the government earlier in 2020. This means that any future imports will have to conform to the UK’s domestic standards. Hopefully this will keep chlorinated chicken on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s something the NFU has been very vocal about. Farmers, animal and environmental welfare organisations have written a joint letter demanding that food standards should be removed from any trade talks. It will be interesting to see what happens when the chips are down.

The second amendment wants the new Trade and Agriculture Commission to have sharper teeth so it can scrutinise any trade deals we might create in the future

Surely this has to be good news for farmers and for the population at large. Yes, it may mean higher prices but as we are all being encouraged to consume less then maybe paying more attention to what we do buy might be an ideal compromise and help our health too.

These changes will further impact so much of what farmers are able to do

For example, back in 2012 more agricultural chemicals were banned in the shape of neonicotinoid seed dressings which were linked to a fall in bee numbers and other pollinators. Every decision we make has a knock on effect and creating a fine balance takes skill and innovation. As a consequence of this ban, farmers are struggling to grow oil seed rape successfully. Once upon a time our fields were a mass of yellow, but acreage planted has plummeted. Those farmers who continue to grow rape seed are finding their crops decimated by thriving flea beetle numbers with disastrous economic effects. As a consequence, rape seed oil processing suffers. The solution? To import rape seeds from Turkey, eastern Europe and other countries where they are still using neonicotinoids.

One farmer, Joe Stanley tweeted:

Due to the #neonic ban, I’m now forced to spray insecticide on my OSR in an attempt to save the £13,000 I’ve invested so far. That’s extra pesticide/diesel/water. I presume that was the intention of the keyboard eco-warriors who got this vital PPP banned?

Spraying pyrethroids is more damaging as it’s a broad spectrum foliar chemical and as production is being damaged, we are importing lower welfare alternatives in something that has been dubbed ‘mad house economics.’

That’s the bad news but could companion cropping so beloved of allotment holders be a solution? Soil management is another option alongside more effective crop rotation.

One farmer from Wiltshire, Martin Smart has turned to a new precision drill. This allowed him to sow directly earlier when the soil is more moisture retentive. This drilling appears to have an impact on flea beetle activity. Alongside a starter fertiliser results look encouraging.

The Internet of Things and A.I. may well be the solution by monitoring crops to within an inch of their life

What it does show is that British farmers are extraordinarily resourceful and are really up against it right now. Therefore, it is important for consumers to read the labels and make informed decisions. Perhaps we can waste less by buying smaller amounts, while also paying a premium price so we treat food with the respect it deserves.

It is obvious that consumer patterns and food production are experiencing a massive shift in these extraordinarily challenging times. What is also clear is that we need to stop clucking in sympathy and get out there and make choices that will impact on the UK Food and Drink Industry. It's time to put our money where are mouths are isn't it?


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