The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is putting the UK’s food supplies at risk, a farming boss has warned.
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union, said the latest international developments are adding to an already tough situation for Britain’s farmers, created by post-Brexit trade deals, changes to agricultural policies, labour shortages and price hikes.
Batters said a “perfect storm” is looming for the UK, as 30 per cent of global wheat exports come from the two Eastern European countries.
Eastern Europe conflict ‘adds to Brexit-related issues for UK farmers’
Meanwhile, Russia has recently imposed a two-month block on fertiliser chemicals exports, meaning the UK is facing costs more than double to produce its own wheat. The move adds to Britain’s ban on Belarusian potash, and important fertiliser chemical which, together with Russia’s exports, accounts for 38 per cent of the world’s supply.
“I cannot understand why you would not treat food security as importantly as defence,” Batters told The Independent.
She said: “The quickest way to create a serious issue [for a country] is if you have food shortages.”
She added the post-Brexit situation was already threatening to put UK farmers out of business, but the international conflict is only adding to the many implications of Britain’s exit from the EU.
“Last year I paid under £300 a tonne for nitrogen fertiliser; this year it’s over £700 a tonne. [Russia and Ukraine] know exactly how much the world is reliant on them for natural gas and fertiliser.
“Agriculture seems to be the pawn in trade deals. So I think it is a perfect storm.”
Government push for cut in UK farming
A Defra spokesperson said the government the government is following a “test and trial” strategy in supporting UK farming.
“We continue to champion food production, but some land-use change is inevitable if we are to restore 300,000 hectares of land to nature. However, this is only a relatively small proportion of more than 9 million hectares of farmland in England,” the spokesperson added.
Earlier this month, a conservation charity said UK farmers must cut their meat and dairy production by a third over the next decade if climate crisis targets are to be achieved.
A report by WWF revealed Britain’s pork and poultry production must be reduced and, with it, the environmentally-damaging imported feed they eat. This, together with a drastic reduction in people’s meat consumption would achieve not only lower greenhouse gas emissions and better environment and wildlife, but also better health.
“If we are serious about tackling the twin threats of climate change and nature loss, farming and land use can’t be an afterthought,” Tanya Steele, WWF chief executive, told The Guardian, suggesting it is not just farmers who have to pull their weight in tackling the climate collapse.