UK food production could plummet in 2009, NFU president Peter Kendall has warned.

The credit squeeze is making a major dent in producers’ confidence in dealing with the high costs of farm inputs like animal feed, fertiliser and diesel, said Mr Kendall.

He expressed particular concern for the dairy industry, where production has fallen to a level which requires an increasing reliance on imports.

“Dairy farmers tell me milk production will fall to perilously low levels this year.

“Many dairy farmers are anxiously waiting to see whether the spring will bring stability or the same pressures that have seen a collapse in prices around the EU,” Mr Kendall said.

“On top of that they are facing costs in excess of £50,000 per farm to install slurry storage to meet EU regulations,” he said.

“Sheep farmers are appalled at the prospect of the hugely complex and, frankly, pointless prospect of electronically tagging every one of their sheep.

“The horticultural sector is being squeezed remorselessly by the retailers who are continuing to use ruthless methods when dealing with suppliers in order to keep their costs down.”

Mr Kendall said that his arable business could also be hit.

“I can see on my own farm how wheat production could tumble. Arable farms will have to contend with the legacy of poor autumn sowing and growing conditions.

“Between 10-15% of land now lies unsown and many crops around the country have failed to grow because of the cool, wet autumn and winter.

“I anticipate that last year’s record harvest may be followed by an equally dramatic fall in production during 2009, turning the UK from a net exporter into a break-even position,” he said.

“As the UK economy enters a full-blown recession, farming, the UK’s largest primary onshore industry, could be one of the bright sparks, helping to deliver segments of the rural economy from the gloom.

“But that simply won’t happen unless farmers get the recognition they deserve from regulators and retailers,” Mr Kendall warned.

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