Farming leaders warn ministers of 'deepening food supply chain crisis'

Minette Batters is president of the National Farmers' Union 

Minette Batters is president of the National Farmers' Union - Credit: Sonya Duncan

A coalition of food and farming groups has warned the government must fix a "deepening supply chain crisis" in order to safeguard the UK's food security.

A summit meeting was held with ministers at the end of a year which had seen pigs culled on East Anglian farms due to a lack of abattoir butchers, a shortage of seasonal workers that threatened fruit and veg being left unpicked in fields and a shortage of lorry drivers.

As a result, there has been a limited choice of some products on supermarket shelves and a rise in imports.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU), one of many food production and retail bodies at the meeting, called for action to solve labour shortages and maintain Britain's self sufficiency in food production at a minimum of 60pc.

NFU president Minette Batters said: "Government has tried to paper over the cracks with short-term fixes, but if we want to avoid this crisis continuing, long-term solutions are urgently needed to ensure a resilient supply chain that enables us to continue supplying everyone at home with fantastic produce, as well as leading on the global stage."

Among those at the meeting were Norfolk farmer and NFU East Anglia regional board chairman Tony Bambridge.

Norfolk potato grower Tony Bambridge is managing director of B and C Farming at Marsham. Picture: DE

Norfolk farmer and NFU East Anglia regional board chairman Tony Bambridge - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019

He said the worker shortage, combined with rising fertiliser, fuel, energy and labour costs, presented a "significant challenge to the security of the UK’s production systems, which will probably see a reduction in our self-sufficiency levels".

“It’s the farmer, the primary producer, who is having to shoulder the brunt of the challenges of producing food in a sector that is experiencing labour shortages across all parts of the industry,” he said.

Most Read

“From cabbages to pigs and poultry, dairy to potatoes and cereals, everyone is experiencing labour shortages.

"These shortages may not be on farm, they may be in a processing plant, but the backlog, and the challenge of coping with that backlog, is staying on the farm.”

Dr Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association, said: "The UK pig sector is still in meltdown as worker shortages continue to impact our ability to process the number of pigs we already have on farms.

"The entire food supply chain and government must pull together and resolve the backlog now or we will have no independent pig producers left."

A government spokesperson insisted it had acted quickly to tackle the challenges to supply chains which it blamed on "global pressures" including the pandemic and an international shortage of HGV drivers.

"This year we expanded the agricultural Seasonal Workers Pilot to 30,000 visas for workers from across the globe to come to the UK for up to six months, in addition to a range of other actions taken by government to ease supply chain pressures across UK sectors," they said.