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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:42 am on 20th July 2022.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 9:42 am, 20th July 2022

As so often, the hon. Lady makes a very sensible and helpful point. I wholeheartedly agree, not because she says it, but because I can see the practical issues for food banks in my constituency. The week before last we had a collection at the Tesco store in Ards, where people were incredibly generous. That helps the food banks to sustain their coffers, cupboards and shelves, but they tell me they see incredible pressures they have never seen before—and there have been some difficult times over the past while.

The Farmers Guide also points out:

“the market changing on a day-to-day basis—making business planning for the future extremely difficult…Livestock farmers buying in feed will have been hit by the wheat price increases from around £220/tonne to nearly £300/tonne, while fertiliser prices have reacted very strongly, rising from £200-300/tonne a year ago to around £1,000/tonne.”

That is something that farmers tell me. That is an increase of almost 400%, which is astronomical and leads to concerns about availability.

I spoke to a neighbour last Sunday on my walk at about 7 o’clock in the morning, which is always a nice time. I passed him in the lane and asked how he was getting on. He told me he does not put as much fertiliser on the ground because it is too costly. The only way to compensate is to cut back and use less fertiliser. He told me they had been fortunate this year. The first cut was not a good one, but the second cut was equal to last year, because of the weather, which has been incredibly warm, but there have been showers of rain as well. Less fertiliser is a godsend in a way; it means that the second cut of silage, and probably the third, will be good with less fertiliser. Maybe the soil had lots of fertiliser in it; I guess that might be part of the reason.

The main thing is that there is an incredible problem for farmers, who are in a precarious state at present. One local man said,

“The price we get has risen.”

That is the beef price, which is good at the minute. Lamb prices are not too bad, either. The hon. Member for City of Chester referred to poultry and eggs. Egg prices are under pressure; they are not matching the outgoings and are not sustainable. There is an onus on supermarkets to give a better price to egg producers. I am fortunate that I start every day with two eggs. Dame Angela, you are probably of the generation who remembers

“Go to work on an egg.”

I go to work on two eggs every morning, and would do that during the day, as well. I say that because of the importance of the egg sector. I thank the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that.

That local man said,

“The price has risen but the money in our pocket has not.”

One of the greatest farm economists, Mark Berrisford-Smith of HSBC, has suggested that we are now in a position reminiscent of 1973, with the OPEC crisis and the Yom Kippur war. In 1975, we saw up to 25% inflation resulting from our inability to deal with the quadrupling oil prices. There was some encouragement in the press yesterday—if it is correct—that the price of filling a car may fall by £10. I hope that is right, and the cost keeps on reducing. We need that help.

Our farmers are facing long-term problems, and now is not the time to pull back on support. Indeed, it is the time to step it up. We need to sustain and help our farmers at this present time. Our farmers are not able to fill the breach from Ukraine and Russia—it is impossible; the gap is too large—but we need to look at how to help them. To be able to fill the gap, they need support. We need to be raising new generations of farmers who are trained in the old ways and who also want to push for the new ways that enhance production and the environmental protections, providing the best of both worlds. I am a great believer in the need for farmers to protect the land and have environmental schemes in place. I know the Minister is as well. There is a balancing job to do between the two. There is land that perhaps should be in farming, and there are some concerns about some projects by some of the bigger charities, for instance the National Trust, who want to set land aside and not use it for farming. I do not want to be critical, but I make that point. That is sometimes not the right way to do it.

The impact of the Ukraine and Russia war has been large and it will continue. This House, this Minister, our Government and ourselves as MPs on behalf of our constituents must play our part in the short term, as well as the long term.