THE end of harvest is often a time of celebration, as long, often sleepless nights draw to a close and farmers allow themselves a moment to reflect on that year’s hard graft. But any sense of pride has been marred by the events and pressures of the past gruelling months, which are increasingly taking their toll.

For some, the cost of producing livestock or growing crops is no longer an option, their businesses unable to shoulder another year of crippling production costs.

Food prices may be rising on the supermarket shelf, with dairy products such as cheese, butter and milk reaching close to 30% increases and bread and cereals up by an annual 12.4%, but no profit is to be made at the farm gate, as energy, fuel and fertiliser costs threaten the bottom line.

Harvest may be safely gathered for the year, but farmers are already rethinking their planting plans for this winter and spring, as well as reducing their head of livestock – loath to bear their feeding costs through the winter – and slowly but surely, pressure builds on the future of food production in the UK.

Many hard lessons were learnt during the Covid-19 pandemic and protecting our domestic food supply was certainly one of them; if empty shelves are to be avoided in the future, it would be wise for new PM Liz Truss to take into account the importance of food security as she prepares for her emergency budget.

It is only right that a fiscal support package should be made to struggling families, some of whom face the painful decision between putting food on the table and heating their homes, but to get on top of food inflation, which reached 12.8% in August, support must also be offered to those small and medium businesses which are instrumental to keeping the wheels turning on the nation’s food economy.

Small businesses cannot be expected to ‘absorb’ energy costs of between 200% and 500%, but in the absence of an energy price cap, even as a temporary measure, the financial burden is leading to the closure of businesses across the country.

Speaking with the managing director of one of Scotland’s largest cooperative machinery rings, Ringlink, it became clear that farming as we know it cannot continue, unless action is taken imminently to support the sector.

Graham Bruce explained that if there is no announcement from the Prime Minister regarding a price cap for businesses, that his members would have to rethink how they operate and what they produce, pointing out that certain food products are more energy intensive, such as rearing poultry and pigs and refrigeration needed for cold stores.

Ringlink has over 3000 members which they supply with machinery, labour, utilities, and commodities and 900 of those members are awaiting an energy renewal this October when the price is set to rise to even more alarming levels.

One of his members, a potato grower who requires high levels of energy to keep his produce cool in a temperature-controlled store, year-round, is facing an increased bill of £700,000, up from £140,000.

Another smaller grower is looking at an energy bill of a quarter of a million pounds, a surge from £40,000.

These businesses are now rethinking planting potatoes next spring, and they are not alone, meaning Scotland’s infamous tattie crop could hang in the balance if steps aren’t taken to offset some of these costs.

Scotland’s pig sector has already faced a painful two years of well documented labour shortages and a resultant backlog of pigs on farms, which has meant higher feed bills and mounting financial pressures. The cost of energy has now added to a sector already on its knees. Graham reported that the cost of electricity per pig would usually be around £2.50 per head, but was estimated to rise to £20, which for some of his members, would be the final straw.

“Our members don’t know how they are going to cope,” he said. “The uncertainty is having a huge impact on mental wellbeing, and some have already had no choice but to close up shop or shut down parts of their business that they have taken great pride in investing in, building them up over the years.”

A lifetime of work, devotion to the land and its fruits, allowed to wilt and die, all whilst our governments fail to act.

A UK Government that purports to support those families who are struggling the most but has been too consumed with a toxic leadership contest to prioritise tackling soaring food costs and protecting the future of the nation’s food supply and the many businesses that underpin it.

Here in Scotland, a further blow was delivered to struggling farm businesses last week as the Scottish Government revealed the next steps in its Agricultural Bill, launching yet another consultation process. Instead of taking the opportunity to grasp the unfolding food security crisis by two hands, by unveiling details on how it intends to support farm output, it instead played straight into the hands of the green lobby.

Of course, the farming sector has a duty to play its part in tackling the burgeoning climate crisis, but that should not be in spite of its principal duty, to provide affordable and healthy food for the nation. Have the stories of families struggling to put food on the table not driven home the importance of protecting food production at all costs?

Farmers have been waiting for answers from the Scottish Government, desperate to plan ahead, to know what support there will be down the road, but once more, they are left wanting, with little detail and further uncertainty to add to the crippling costs plaguing their businesses.

Allowing food inflation to continue at current levels is not an option. Importing food to fill the gap which would be left by a shortage in domestic production cannot be an option and would be a national embarrassment for a country regularly promoting its award-winning local produce and ever eager to declare itself a climate leader. But the reality is that a national food crisis is coming down the track and the time is now for both the UK and Scottish Governments to act.