THE cost-of-living crisis has turned the nation’s focus to the cost of food, but those tasked with producing it are bearing the brunt of agricultural inflation costs which make general inflation costs pale in comparison.

Alarm bells were sounded when it was announced last month that inflation had hit a 40-year-high of 9.1%, but less widely reported was the fact that farmers around the country were being hit by agricultural inflation or ‘agflation’ costs of an eye-watering 25.3%.

The triple whammy of rising fuel, fertiliser and (animal) feed costs are crippling business across the country – exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and with soaring input costs looking set to continue for the rest of the year, the future of farming and food production is being called in to question.

Fertiliser costs have trebled for many farmers who have been forced to fork out as much as £900 per tonne, up from £250 per tonne in 2021. Some were lucky to have bought ahead of the price hike, but stores will soon run dry, with many already looking ahead to next year’s harvest with grave trepidation.

As farmers worked long into the night, making the most of this weekend’s dry window for cutting grass for silage, their efforts were marred by the knowledge that this year’s cut would be crucial to keeping costs down in the winter.

Their focus is already on the end of the year and whether they will have enough silage to supplement the rising animal feed bill during the harsher months, where many animals will need to be kept indoors.

With no end in sight to rising input costs, farmers are being forced to make difficult decisions, such as culling cattle in a bid to reduce their herd size, knowing this will mean fewer mouths to feed and less costs to bear in the winter months.

The lack of government intervention is galling, and serves only to substantiate rumours that civil servants are plotting for a reduction in the Scottish cattle herd as part of a wider climate action plan.

A recent survey undertaken by the National Farming Union for Scotland (NFUS) to get a better picture of the impact soaring costs were having on members, found that 92% had altered production plans; 38% were cutting down cattle and sheep numbers and for those growing potatoes, soft fruit and vegetables, 29% were scaling back.

A third of arable farmers are cutting back on growing crops for food. Some growing wheat for bread are switching to growing wheat for animal feed instead, as higher volumes of nitrogen fertiliser are needed for the former.

Farmers know that they either use less fertiliser which will result in smaller yields, or they switch to crops which are less reliant, to reduce the risk and protect their margins. Both decisions will have significant ramifications for our food and drink sector and in the long-term could have severe consequences for national food security.

Consumers are well and truly feeling the pinch in their weekly shops as farmers can’t absorb all of the costs and, naturally, food prices have risen as a result. But although the farmgate price has increased, input costs have wiped out any profits to be made.

The uncertainty facing the sector over future costs is only being compounded by the uncertainty over future agricultural policy and subsidy support, which has yet to be revealed by the Scottish Government.

There is currently £637 million locked into Scottish agriculture until 2024 – £620m of which comes directly from the UK Treasury. The Scottish Government has already revealed its intention to phase out direct support to farmers in 2025 to 50% of current levels, with future payments increasingly tied to delivering on biodiversity and net-zero outcomes.

Worrying figures collated by NFUS found that for all farm types in Scotland, if direct support were to be removed, only 37% of farm businesses would turn a profit. An even bleaker outlook was projected for sheep businesses farming on poor grazing land, with only 7% expected to turn a profit without direct support.

These figures don’t even consider the impact that rapidly rising input costs are having on the industry, which should send a wakeup call that future support payments are critical for Scottish agriculture to remain viable, let alone profitable.

If we look to our counterparts south of the border, it is a bleaker tale yet, with direct support to be phased away entirely by 2027, ignoring the role of farming in producing food for the nation, to make room for a glorified agricultural environment scheme.

Both the UK and Scottish Governments would do well to keep an eye on the recent farmer protests which have been erupting in Europe, in response to increasing government limitations on farmers.

Farmers took to the streets in the Netherlands to air their frustrations with an announcement that farmers would have to reduce the amount of nitrous oxide and ammonia their livestock produce by 40% by 2030.

Proposals would also see farms in areas close to nature-sensitive sites having to reduce emissions by as much as 75-95%, which would make it almost untenable for most farms to continue, even those who farm organically.

The Dutch farming union has predicted that as many as 30% of farmers could be out of business by 2030 if these measures go ahead.

German, Italian, Spanish and Polish farmers have taken to the streets in a show of solidarity, but also in fear of similar anti-farming policies being implemented EU-wide.

One of the primary responsibilities of any government is to provide safe and affordable food for its people and they would do well to heed the warnings from Sri Lanka, where people are starving and mass protests have now erupted following months of food and fuel shortages.

Our leaders preach about the importance of protecting domestic food supply, yet they don’t value the role our own farmers have to play in fulfilling that duty, happy to accept a future food system propped up largely by imports, as we turn our own productive lands in to wildflower meadows for butterflies.

Policymakers need to turn their attention to food production and open their eyes to the impact that agflation is having on a sector practically on its knees.

One radical policy could just be the final straw to break the camel’s back on our national food security.


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