David Butler© Hugh Nutt

A trip to a major retailer’s annual farming conference proved illuminating. With unprecedented competition from the discounters, mainstream retailers are raising the bar to stay competitive.

Food “integrity” is the latest buzzword and, unsurprisingly, retailers want to micromanage their supply chain to protect their brand.

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There is also a growing awareness the food system needs to integrate better with national health policy. The UK was recently proclaimed to be the “fat man of Europe” with more than 63% of adults now classed as overweight adding extra burden on the NHS.

Environmental issues were also topical with pesticide usage, soil health and plastic waste under scrutiny.
UK agriculture will need to stay ahead on all these issues.

Oversupply problems

This time of year I enjoy a few days off the farm invited as a guest on local shoots. I value these days enormously and it’s a great way to catch up with friends and judge their crops.

Demand for shooting is at an all-time high and unsurprisingly the produce from these days has increased. Game dealers are reporting serious oversupply problems and are struggling to handle the numbers of birds being shot.

This is not sustainable and solutions are needed. Supermarkets will sell gamebirds mainstream as soon as there is consistency and lead shot is extracted but a co-ordinated approach is also required to explore new markets both at local level and across the world.

The industry must support third-party organisations such as the Country Food Trust to run schemes either supplying food banks or perhaps even pet food manufacturers.

Benefits can’t be lost

On the supply side of the equation we need to be sure the popularity of shooting isn’t leaving the sport overly numbers obsessed.

If farms overstock the net environmental benefits of shoots could be lost as indigenous species are put under pressure; wildlife conservation should always remain a primary driver.

A discussion is overdue to agree sensible voluntary protocols for total numbers released for individual farms and shoot managers should have the courage to steer customers towards more reasonable bags.

Game shooting is a valuable stimulant to the rural economy and with more than a million shooters in the UK an important part of rural culture, but if these trends continue it won’t be “bird over” but “game over”.


David Butler farms just south of Marlborough in Wiltshire in partnership with his parents. He also runs a contracting company and farms about 870ha of combinable crops alongside a herd of 280 dairy cows.