War in Ukraine: UK Farming and Food Production — [Dame Angela Eagle in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 20th July 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester 9:30 am, 20th July 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the effect of the war in Ukraine on UK farming and food production.

It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Dame Angela, and thank you for your kind guidance on the dress code. I will make do at the moment, but we will see how we go when the heat of debate ratchets up.

For me, the debate had its genesis in discussions with many of the farmers in my constituency, and I start by paying tribute to them for their help with my preparations for today, and also to the National Farmers Union, which has given me so much information. The war, which in many respects came out of nowhere, has piled additional pressures on a sector that was already facing great difficulties. At the outset, however, I want us to turn our thoughts to the brave defenders of their Ukrainian homeland and the colossal humanitarian disaster that they face in Ukraine. I am afraid to say that we now also need to remember the countless victims, it would seem, of war crimes, the evidence for which mounts daily.

The invasion exacerbated existing inflationary and supply chain pressures, which will have lasting consequences for the scale of UK agricultural production. Globally, the conflict will exacerbate the pressure on food supplies in the poorest parts of the world. British farmers are growers, and they are price takers. That means they are exposed and vulnerable to the challenges of rising inflation in times of economic pressure. The cost of producing food in the UK has increased drastically in recent months. The cost of all agricultural inputs is going up, including fuel, feed, packaging, transport, energy and, of course, labour costs.

I pay tribute to all those who work in farming and food production. It is a tough sector to work in, and for people in such vital sectors, conditions have rarely been tougher. Costs are spiralling and profit margins are falling, but they keep going every day. The farmers from Cheshire I spoke to were absolutely clear that they love what they do, and they keep going because agriculture sits at the heart of the Cheshire economy and at the heart of the British economy. They do that to keep the country fed, and if we do not give them help—the help that they need—they will not be able to do it for much longer.

The humanitarian disaster in Ukraine is being felt across the globe. Large parts of the Ukrainian breadbasket are in conflict zones and crops cannot be harvested, or if they can, the grain and the produce cannot be exported, or, as we are seeing, they are being stolen by Russia.

We are seeing the crisis impacting across the world, especially in developing countries. Ukrainian grain feeds 400 million people. The UK is also affected. Brexit has not helped, with large reductions in the labour supply, but I was astonished to hear that last year an incredible 60% of the seasonal agricultural workforce came from Ukraine.