Lincolnshire farmer says public are too used to cheap food as government launches new strategy

A Lincolnshire farmer says that the public have become too accustomed to cheap food as the government launches a new strategy to support UK agriculture. Andrew Ward runs a 1,600 acre site in Leadenham, just off the A17, growing 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 a greater recognition from the public about the challenges within the agricultural industry. It comes following the launch of the government’s new food strategy which aims to boost the UK-based production of many staple products.

In particular, the strategy says that the number of cucumbers and tomatoes grown in the UK could “expand significantly” with the building of vertical farms and large, multi-acre glasshouses. The government says that for the foods that the UK is able to produce, it currently produces around 75% of what it consumes.

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

Minette Batters, the presidents of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), responded to the strategy by saying: “We know the public want to be eating more local, British food and farmers are ready to play their part in producing high quality and climate-friendly food, all while protecting and enhancing our environment. We now need to see this strategy develop into clear delivery and investment to capitalise on the benefits food and farming delivers for the country, such as our world-leading standards of animal welfare, environmental protection and food safety.”

But Andrew Ward said: “The government has a very good habit of saying things and then not doing them so I think we should wait and see what action actually comes from this before we all start jumping up and down with joy. We also need to see a change in attitude because it seems very easy at the moment to blame farmers for everything from a funny smell in the air to flooding.

“There needs to be more of an understanding of the fact that we are actually keeping people alive. But the public has become very used to getting cheap food at the expense of farmers. When our costs are going up as quickly as they are, it’s not right that we should be subsidising household bills.”



Rapeseed being unloaded at Andrew Ward's farm.
Rapeseed being unloaded at Andrew’s farm.

The strategy does contain a key aim of ensuring that by 2030, pay will have risen in every area of the agri-food industry. But as well as maintaining and in some cases growing UK food production over the coming years, Andrew Ward says that there should be a focus on fixing short-term problems.

An additional 10,000 visas will be released under the seasonal worker scheme to help with labour shortages, with 2,000 of these being carved out for the poultry sector. But Andrew Ward says that such action doesn’t go far enough.

He said: “That number needs to be more like 30,000. We’ve had thousands of pigs burnt over the last six months because of shortages in our abattoirs and people are struggling to get their crops out of the ground because of it. There does need to be a focus from the government on making sure we’re getting the food we’re already producing out into the market before we talk about increasing it.”

The government says that it will be supporting an upcoming review of the shortage occupation list, whilst also commissioning an independent review “to assess and ensure the quantity and quality of the food sector workforce.” The Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said: “The food industry is bigger than the automotive and aerospace industries combined, offering employment opportunities, apprenticeships and investment in research and development.



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

“The strategy we are setting out today will increase the focus on skills in the food sector, and the roles and career pathways available. In particular, we will seek to boost our horticulture industry and ensure the expertise needed to develop the sector here in the UK.”

Minette Batters added: “The National Food Strategy represents a clear milestone with the government recognising the importance of domestic food production, maintaining our productive capacity and growing 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 core to a nation’s resilience and I’m pleased the government has recognised this. Domestic food production and environmental delivery go hand-in-hand and we are proud that British farmers have an ambition to reach net zero by 2040, while still maintaining our current levels of food production.”

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