Farmers hit national press with their letters

Farmers and key industry organisations are bombarding the national papers with letters in response to coverage of food price increases and world food shortages.

Here is a selection:

From The Times:

Sir, Just over five years ago, you printed a Thunderer column by Anthony Browne, in which he described farming as “an economically insignificant industry of mass destruction, not just wiping out most of our natural habitat, poisoning the land with pesticides”, but also “ploughing up hedgerows and killing off badgers”. He urged us to give up farming, and let the countryside revert to woodland.

You very kindly printed my letter in reply to Mr Browne, in which I pointed out that I had pinned a copy of his piece to my office wall, ready to be taken down, shredded and added to the muck-heap as soon as the plea arrived for an increase in domestic food production.

I have just enjoyed carrying out this act more than Mr Browne could ever imagine.

Charlie Flindt, Alresford, Hants

Ross Clark is right to draw attention to the sad decline in agricultural production in Britain over the past decade (“Get farmers to farm? How very radical,” April 24) and the need to reverse it if Britain’s food security is to be guaranteed. However, this has had very little to do with the Common Agricultural Policy. The recent reforms to the policy have had no significant impact on levels of production, and rewarding farmers for countryside management makes a lot more sense than distorting markets through ill-conceived production subsidies.

The problems in farming, not just in Britain but around the world, have been caused by years of low prices, and you can be quite sure that farmers will respond to the recent improvement in prices by stepping up production.

What they need from the Government to assist that process is not a return to production subsidies so much as less red tape, a big increase in investment in research and development and some long overdue words of support and encouragement.

Anthony Gibson, NFU Director of Communications, Stoneleigh Park, Warks

From The Daily Telegraph:

SMary Riddell (“Rich and poor will pay for world food crisis”, Comment, April 24) paints a bleak picture of food crises and insecurity across the globe. However, a vital point may well mitigate her gloomy analysis. Higher prices will stimulate a surge in production. This is already being seen across Europe and the Americas, with every spare acre being brought back into production.

The 2008 EU harvest may be up 15 per cent on 2007. What may hold this back is a lack of production – there’s a lack of new farm machinery, waiting lists are now over a year long, fertiliser prices have doubled or trebled because of a lack of worldwide production capacity, and key chemicals are in short supply.

However, if prices stay high, there will be a significant investment worldwide in the infrastructure of production – drainage, roads, buildings, irrigation, fertiliser factories, plant genetics, and so on. This will help keep prices in balance, and will help food producers worldwide.

We must remember that Africa has a massive agricultural sector, and this will expand and prosper too, if their politicians allow it, as prices rise. Though urban dwellers will suffer higher prices in the short term, the rural poor will benefit.

Josh Stratton, Warminster, Wiltshire

In the 1980s, wheat was about £110 per tonne at harvest. Two years ago, and for some years before, it was about £70. Adjusting these figures for inflation shows how cheap wheat has become, which is why farmers have reduced production which, in turn, has led to a world shortage.

The price for this year’s harvest is about £150 – still only half the price in real terms of 30 years ago.

Charles Pickard, Ramsey, Cambridgeshire

It is not true to suggest that biofuels are “one of the main reasons” for the increase in world food prices (“Families’ annual grocery bill rises by £800”, report, April 23).

Some of the steepest price rises – in their impact on food price inflation – have been in wheat and rice. Yet no rice is used for biofuels and less than one per cent of world wheat production has been manufactured for bioethanol in the past year. Overall, only about seven per cent of world grain production is used for biofuels, and most of that is US maize.

The real driver in food price inflation is that agricultural production has failed to keep pace with rapidly rising demand. Decades of under-investment in agricultural development must be reversed – in Britain as well as in the developing world – if the world is to be adequately and affordably fed.

Anthony Gibson, Director of Communications, National Farmers’ Union, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire

Your leading article (“There is a simple way to help the low-paid”, April 23) serves as a timely reminder of what the Government needs to focus upon, and not just in relation to food costs.

I had my heating-oil tank topped up yesterday and paid almost 27 per cent more than I did nine weeks ago for the same oil.

If the Government does not stop hiking tax on fuel then those who rule us are knowingly stoking the flames of inflation and potential social unrest.

Anthony Burnet, Broomfield, East Lothian

Not all food prices have increased.

As a farmer, I sold potatoes in 1976 at between £200 and £300 per tonne. In April last year, I sold at £260 per tonne. Today’s price is £180.

It would be most welcome if a little of the increase were passed back to the farmer.

Alan Quail, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire

Richard Dodd, at the British Retail Consortium, says that retailers have absorbed much of the increase in wheat prices because bread has gone up in price by “only” 15 per cent, whereas the cost of wheat has doubled (report, April 23). Am I now supposed to think of our retailers as benefactors?

Unfortunately, from 30 years’ experience in the food industry (much of it related to finance) I don’t believe the sums add up, and I suggest retailers have actually profited from the increase in wheat prices.

Wheat is trading wholesale at around £200 a tonne, which equates to 0.02p per gram. A typical 800g loaf contains around 600g of wheat, so the actual “wheat cost” of a loaf is around 12p. If the price has doubled over the past year, that means the increase in wheat cost has added 6p to the cost of the loaf on the shelf. I pay around 80p for a large loaf, so a 6p increase in ingredient cost should be around seven per cent.

So if bread has increased by 15 per cent then, somewhere along the line, somebody is making a lot of money.

Dr Keith Ray, Marlow, Buckinghamshire

As farmers, we have watched the price of free-range eggs rise by 83p a dozen in the supermarkets in the past year. The price we get has risen by 16p a dozen – which covers the increase in our feed costs, but not other costs that have risen, such as fuel and labour.

The poultry industry is being squeezed out of existence; British shoppers will ultimately be paying far more for their eggs if farmers are not treated fairly.

Catherine Spencer, Warminster, Wiltshire

Have you written to a paper in recent days? What do you think of the arguments put forward by these correspondents? Share your thoughts on the forums.