Severe weather proved the fragility of food chains – and the value of farmers
The recent severe weather brought a timely reminder of both the vital importance of food security and the “public goods” provided by farmers, says KIT PAPWORTH of north Norfolk farming contractors LF Papworth Ltd.
The primary function of farmers is to produce good, safe and nutritious food in a sustainable way – and nothing could bring this into sharper focus than the recent snow.
Last week saw many selfless acts by farmers and others while the “Beast from the East” ravaged our national infrastructure. Farmers did trips to supermarkets and pharmacies, cleared roads to old people’s homes and hospitals, pulled cars and lorries from snowdrifts and repaired water pipes while continuing to feed their livestock.
Despite good weather forecasting and plenty of planning the weather still seemed, once again, to take us by surprise.
One of the consequences of the bad weather was empty supermarket shelves. Supplies of chicken, milk and bread ran out in several parts of the country including many supermarkets in Norfolk.
If fuel and food are not delivered to our towns and cities every day, then we simply do not hold sufficient in stock to cope. Society has evolved to the point where few of us keep any stock of food at home, fewer produce food for themselves and many people shop every day.
In the last week local shops and suppliers have seen a surge in customers; I do hope that people continue to support those businesses in the future.
These difficulties and the recent debacle at fast food outlet KFC should remind us how important our own food security is, particularly in the context of Brexit.
The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy has been wasteful and damaging but it did achieve its primary aim of food security in the wake of two wars in Europe.
Amidst all of the talk by the current government of “public money for public good”, and “enhancing the environment”, politicians, farmers and consumers should not forget that the primary function of farmers is to produce good, safe and nutritious food in a sustainable way.
Our food self-sufficiency has been in decline since the 1980s, with the country producing just 60pc of its own food in 2016. Last year, the government produced its own paper on food sustainability.
Speaking on the issue, the head of the food and drink federation said: “Food is at the heart of national security. If you can’t feed a country, you haven’t got a country.”
There has been a considerable amount of “public good” handed out by farmers recently, very few expected anything other than a thank you.
Policy-makers may need to be reminded of that in the heady days of summer. Empty shelves may be a more common sight if, in the laudable rush to improve our environment, we turn our farmers into park keepers.
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