As a schoolboy I always remember being told that the Ukraine was the bread basket of Europe. Even so, I did not appreciate, until the conflict in the Ukraine that nearly one third of the world’s wheat is grown either in the Ukraine or in Russia. Already we are seeing dramatic hikes in grain prices. We are also seeing surges in price for items such as sunflower oil and also in fertilizer prices as a result of the war.
I should have thought this brought home the need to be as self-sufficient in food as we possibly can. It is a lesson that we should know from our recent history. I was also surprised to learn that we were so dependent on imports for our food prior to the Second World War. We imported 70% of our food and our domestic agriculture was also in the doldrums. We were hence acutely vulnerable to starvation when the Second World War started. Food could no longer be imported from Europe and we had to rely on the convoy system to get supplies from North America. One of the great success stories of the war was the dig for victory campaign, the brainchild of Professor John Raeburn, which enabled us to use every inch of spare land to produce food. Allied to this was the improved efficiency and technology in the main stream agricultural industry. This all played a major part in winning the war.
I have always believed that farmers should be able to produce as much food as possible and it seems a nonsense to me that we have this current system where farmers are paid to take land out of productivity. I had thought that what is now happening in Ukraine might make the Government re-think on their food security strategy. It would not immediately appear so. George Eustice, the Minister of Agriculture, was happy to confirm on Farming Today that the Government would continue with their policy of phasing out the Basic Payment and replacing it with the various environmental land management scheme modules.
The consequence for us may be higher food and utility prices. For countries like Egypt, Morocco and Algeria, who rely on Black Sea grain, the consequences might be that much more serious.
I hope the Government come to their senses and recalibrate their policies.
Posted by: Paul Short
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