Category Archives: Food corporates

The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers: 2003 and 2017

In August 2003 the Farmers Guardian reported that a series of industry-wide meetings, called by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF), were held for a year to discuss the true costs of milk production.

Members of RABDF, with independent research consultancies and dairy farmers, produced a report showing that the cost of milk production is much higher than current estimates state. The true cost of milk production was found to be between 20 and 23p a litre, rather than the 18p currently being paid. Dairy farmers were working an average 70-hour week with only a few days holiday each year and low milk prices have left them earning just £2.90 an hour.

The chairman, Tim Brigstocke, said that problem areas were fixed costs, farm overheads, farmer remuneration, family labour costs, pensions and staff development had not been included in current assessments.

The new guidelines proposed by the RABDF included gross costs such as feed, forage, bedding, and vet’s bills; operational costs like labour (£10 an hour deemed a reasonable figure to factor into the equation, given the level of skills required in dairying), machinery, depreciation, property-related, unpaid family labour and resource costs: rent, quota leasing and finance costs. Mr Brigstocke urged producers to adopt these guidelines to arrive at a realistic picture of how much their businesses were costing them.

A Lancashire dairy farmer contacted this site to voice concern about the very differently focussed RABDF of 2017 and its ‘elitist style’.

RABDF, now described as the ‘the new secretariat to the Trehane Trust’, is advertising its October conference in Birdcage Walk London for ‘leading farmers’ who are to be granted the opportunity to ‘rub shoulders’ with policy makers and supply chain leaders. The conference will be held in conjunction with the Trehane Trust which funds research into all aspects of the dairy supply chain, from production to new product development and consumer trends in the dairy sector – but the crucial subject of farmgate prices is not listed.

One of the invited speakers at this most opulent venue (above) is from Arla – a downward trend-setter, announcing a price reduction for the April payment – the first milk price drop in 2017 by a major UK milk buyer. A further online search will reveal that this company has closed several processing plants making hundreds of workers unemployed, though the net profit of the Arla Group last year was €356 million.

The key findings of Trehane Fellowship recipient Mike Houghton of Andersons will be included. He has been researching future options and opportunities for the sector at home and abroad, using his contacts in Canada and the USA to find out more about their support systems, in particular crop insurance schemes and futures markets and consulting key people within the legal profession and the insurance industry to obtain a different perspective on the topic. 

Tim Brigstocke is now RABDF’s policy director

When this ‘Business and Policy Conference’ has taken place, will he help the RABDF to come down to earth in the interests of the average dairy farmer – arguably an endangered species?

In the interests of food security, will the RABDF present the facts about rising costs but low and fluctuating farmgate prices to the complicit policy makers and supply chain leaders, with whom wealthy farmers are being invited to rub shoulders?

Or will they continue their failed policies as the dairy sector continues to decline and foreign importers take over?

 

 

 

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MEP Molly Scott Cato urges the Co-operative Group to source locally

Could co-operative retailers sell good quality food produced on their former farms (now owned by the Wellcome Trust) as MEP Molly Scott Cato advocated two years before the sale?

With foreboding in 2012, she saw the depressing comments from the Co-operative Group that the Co-operative Farms are a ‘non-core’ part of the business, and that attachment to them is sentimental, as indicating that the current generation of co-operative managers shared a short-sightedness about their role in providing customers with access to a reliable source of ‘good food’.

In 2010, Molly co-wrote a paper called ‘The co-operative path to food security‘. In it, she pointed to the increasing volatility of global food prices as speculators moved their gambling activities from financial products to commodities markets, saying, “It never was enough for me that the food I bought in my local Co-op was ethical and fairly-traded; as a green economist I also wanted it to be as local as possible”.  She continued: 

Supermarkets that sell the same corporate products as the rest have lost all but the merest token of a co-operative identity

“The Co-operative shops have not been as successful in this regard as I would like because of their centralised distribution system, but my own Midcounties Co-op has been building up its Local Harvest offer in recent years and I’m surely not the only customer who looks to see whether the vegetables on the shelves have been grown on the Co-operative Farms”.

Now that is no longer an option, the writer wonders if an agreement could be made with local Wellcome (former Co-op) farms to provide local food in Co-op stores – and offer some organic options for those who want to avoid food with pesticide residues?

 

 

 

 

Progressive Protectionism, Colin Hines – summary relating to food security

colin2-book-coverLocalised and secure labour intensive production would return a sense of hope for the future and economic security for the majority.

Decentralised infrastructure projects would focus on a decades long, multi skilled programme of energy refits of millions of dwellings, a shift to localised renewable energy and food production and building efficient local transport and flood defence systems.

In a sustainable system, would not each country aim to produce its own staple food? Surpluses and exotics could be exported, speculation in food by unproductive middlemen would be outlawed and vitally important food producers encouraged at every turn.

At present the UK can only feed around 60% of its population of 65 million, let alone the 8 million more projected in the next 15 years. In 2014 the UK supplied just over half (54%) of its food supply. The EU was by far the next largest supplier at 27%. It is clear that we depend on Europe to keep ourselves fed. The distribution of UK imports from Europe has changed relatively little over the last 15 years.

The UK’s food vulnerability could worsen for a number of reasons. The global availability of the food supplies that the UK at present imports could be dramatically reduced, due to rapidly rising global demand, particularly from Asia; or increased domestic demand from food exporting countries; or if we are unable to afford whatever the global prices might become.

These threats can be reduced, but are unlikely to be totally avoidable, even were the UK to increase enormously its present levels of food production, significantly cut food wastage and dramatically change its eating habits, eating far less meat.

Pressures on the UK’s food security are here to stay. As a big importer of food we can’t escape the threats posed by its future price and availability, caused by the increasing global population and rising affluence of sections of the world. As a food trading nation, Britain relies on food imports to feed itself and adequate exports of food and other goods and services to pay for these.

If exports reduced, reliance on global borrowing or tax increases would increase to cover the gap. This assumes that there will be adequate surplus food on the global market to meet our import needs.

food-miles-to-britain

Click for clearer picture – source: http://www.coolgeography.co.uk/A-level/AQA/Year%2012/Food%20supply/Changes%20in%20food%20supply/Food%20Miles%20Britain.png

The highest proportion of food and drink waste in the food chain occurred in households with 7 million tonnes being thrown away in the UK in 2012. Manufacturing contributed the second largest proportion of waste, at 26% (3.9 million tonnes), followed by hospitality with 6% (0.92 million tonnes).

A 2007 study ‘Can Britain feed itself?’ by Simon Fairlie estimated that it could, but that the dietary changes would be significant including far less meat consumption, feeding livestock upon food wastes and residues; returning human sewage to productive land; dispersal of animals on mixed farms and smallholdings, local slaughter and food distribution; managing animals to ensure optimum recuperation of manure; and selecting and managing livestock, especially dairy cows, to be nitrogen providers.

Colin adds that in the absence of supplies of imported rock phosphate, phosphorus rather than nitrogen might become the main constraint upon crop yields, in which case we would have to ensure rigorous recycling of animal manures, human sewage and slaughterhouse wastes. These measures demand more human labour, and more even dispersal of both livestock and humans around the country.

elm-farm

In a paper on the subject, Lawrence Woodward of the Organic Research Centre (Elm Farm, above) says:

“What are the technical problems involved in (feeding the world) organically? There are no really significant ones in the developed world. Of course there is room for improvement – for example weed control techniques could be better, progress can still be made on certain disease problems such as finding more blight resistant potato varieties – but there are no technical obstacles that would prevent organic farming producing enough food in the developed world. Just as long as it is not expected to maintain the chicken at 36p per pound type of diet.

“The obstacles to organic farming are economic and are governed by policy. Where this is sympathetic as in Germany and Denmark, a significantly large switch from conventional to organic production can occur without major difficulty.

“In resource poor countries organic farming, with its emphasis on biological Nitrogen supply, on maintenance and enhancement of organic matter, and on soil and water protection, is arguably the most appropriate farming system and the most sensible approach to feeding people”.

(Colin continues) I am a huge fan of most of the work of Global Justice Now. Their proposals are that foreign aid should be used to build up decent welfare states, sustainable public transport systems, environmentally friendly energy access for all. It should also support small-scale farmers producing healthy food primarily for themselves and local communities, and to help cooperatives and small business to produce for local and regional markets.[77]

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture would be changed under the World Localisation Organisation (WLO):

wto-and-poor

The vision expressed by the WTO agreement is of an integrated global agricultural economy requires that agricultural commodities be transported long distances, and be processed and packaged to survive the journey. When account is taken of all energy inputs, global food production and trade probably consume more fossil fuel than any other industrial sector. Thus international agricultural trade policies are likely to substantially increase greenhouse gas emissions and make climate objectives much harder to achieve.

Under the WLO all countries would be encouraged to reach maximum self-sufficiency in food. They would only export and import for the end goal of helping move towards maximum sustainable local production, whilst fostering rural regeneration. Trade in food which cannot be grown domestically should be obtained where feasible from neighbouring countries. Long-distance trade should be limited to food not available in the region. Those countries providing food exports should use the funds to increase their own level of food security and in a way that benefits rural communities.

Colin Hines:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colin_Hines   

http://progressiveprotectionism.com/wordpress/

 

 

 

 

 

Organic farming: better for the climate, soil conservation, biodiversity and food security

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joanna-blythmanThis news will be of particular interest to those who have read about animal factory-farming methods (see the work of Tracy Worcester) and those who were earlier stunned by the exposure of systemic pesticides in ‘Roots of Evil’ (The Guardian 29.4.95) by Joanna Blythman(left) – often described as Britain’s leading investigative food journalist.

In 2016, Scheherazade Daneshkhu, Consumer Industries Editor for the Financial Times, reported that home deliveries of organic vegetables have almost returned to pre-recession levels – £2.1bn in 2008.There has also been a higher demand for organic jam, tea, oils, organic cotton clothes and beauty products.

soil-aShe cited the Soil Association’s 2016 Market Report, free to members, which recorded that sales of organic products rose last year by 4.9% to £1.95bn in the UK – the third year of consecutive growth for the UK organic sector, now worth £1.95bn. Sales of non-organic food dropped by 0.9%.

An increase in the numbers of independent suppliers has helped the sector to establish firm roots

80% of organic sales were made in supermarkets a decade ago and that proportion has fallen to 70% as organic products have benefited from the broader retail trend towards more local and online shopping. Ocado’s organic sales jumped by 19% as the online retailer expanded its organic range by a quarter. Discounters Aldi and Lidl are also gaining share of the market with small but growing ranges.

orc-header-2017The Organic Research Centre is the UK’s leading independent research centre for the development of organic food production and land management solutions to climate change, soil and biodiversity conservation and food security.

Its detailed financial report on organic farming in England and Wales for 2014/15, published two months later also showed organic farm profits increasing, with organic dairy farming outperforming conventional dairy farming in England and Wales.

orc-graphThis research was undertaken for the Welsh Government, a partner in Organic Centre Wales. It highlighted that the organic dairy industry is now generating higher profits during that period than conventional farms despite producing lower yields.

This was due to reduced costs on items such as fertiliser and machinery together with the premium price for organic milk.

Professor Nic Lampkin from the Organic Research Centre, one of the co-authors of the report said:

organic-food-text“Organic farms are far more engaged in production methods that are better for the environment. Restricted pesticide inputs, and more diverse crop rotations contribute to greater diversity and to natural weed, pest and disease control. These are all seen as important reasons for the financial support given to the organic sector . . .

“We have been monitoring the performance and profitability of the organic sector in England and Wales for the past 20 years the analysis of 2014/15 data showed that organic farms achieved higher or similar profitability to comparable conventional farms, and on organic LFA (less favoured area) cattle & sheep farms profitability was statistically higher than conventional farms. At the enterprise level, organic dairying net margins were above the conventional level, whilst for beef and sheep enterprises, organic margins were ahead of the conventional sector. Cropping enterprises also showed a positive position for most organic activities, and therefore it can be concluded that with the addition of support payments, organic farms are performing at a similar or better level than comparable conventional farms”.

However, the Soil Association report points out that despite the third consecutive year of organic sales growth, the amount of land under organic cultivation has continued to fall. There are 548,700 hectares of farmed organic land, down 5% since 2013, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The amount of land in conversion to organic is also in decline but the size of the average organic farm has increased, in line with trends in the sector.

More reassuringly, the Organic Research Centre report adds that although numbers fell during the recession, organic farming in England and Wales has stabilised, with fewer farmers withdrawing from the sector and new converters coming on board. 

‘Organic Farm Incomes in England and Wales 2014/15’ can be downloaded here: 2014/2015, PDF 2.04mb – no paywall.

For the full ORC article please click here.

 

 

 

A sustainable food system: Rosie Boycott, chair of the London Food Board and adviser to the Mayor of London

Rosie Boycott describes a sustainable system as “One that could guarantee that everyone on the planet has reliable physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food and that meets their dietary needs for an active and healthy life”.

On the challenge of delivering food security . . .

  • Agribusinesses tell us they have the answers: more efficiency, more technology, even greater yields, modified crops.
  • In contrast, the agro-ecological movement argues that only their approach can deliver the necessary calories and nutrition for the world’s population, while also nourishing ecosystems and the people who live within them.

rosie-boycottShe continues: “The focus of policy is too often just on tonnages and calories. We have enough calorific output to feed the world but there is too little attention is given to the problems such as food quality, distribution, impact of production on the wider environment, and waste”.

“We do not currently have a problem of scarcity: more than 50% of all the world’s grain goes to feed animals, who in turn feed us, rather than feeding humans directly. This is a grossly inefficient use of resources: cattle, for instance, can require 15kg of crops for every 1kg of meat. The scale at which we are farming animals means that animal agriculture accounts for 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the transportation sector.

“We should not be blind to role science can play in ameliorating such impacts. In the near future, is possible that animal products including meat could be grown in laboratories, via cellular agriculture, a scientific step that could undermine industrial-scale animal farming and its myriad threats to food security. This model system would require 90% less land and produce 75% less greenhouse gases than current meat production — and not require the use of antibiotics.

“Would such advances be desirable? Personally, I would welcome a world without millions of animals kept on dusty feed lots in Arizona, eking out short, miserable lives between birth and the abattoir”.

Then comes the crunch: the corporations are not going away

Ms Boycott notes that such market structures are considered by some as necessary to drive the provision of cheap food for everyone, but they have removed us from a connection with real food. According to the Food Foundation, typical British children get about two-thirds of their calories from ultra-processed foods. Our food system shapes consumer demand rather than vice versa, and supply chains are so opaque that it is easy for ‘adulterants such as horse meat’ to find their way in. She adds:

“The world will always have huge players in the food sector whose goal is to make a profit. Our food world is dominated by a few big names, which enable us to enjoy food from the other side of the world and bread that lasts for weeks. But such apparent consumer gains that flow from commercial endeavour have wider costs”:

  • the quest for gains in yield demands we use more chemicals each year, with adverse effects on the nutritional content of food and the health of the land. Meanwhile,
  • food-related illness is on the rise and,
  • while hunger persists in parts of the world, over 30% of food grown is wasted.

Rosie says that with market power comes responsibility but gives no direct advice on how to address that corporate power and lack of responsibility

There is massive consolidation of the food industry – in the UK the “Big Five” supermarkets have a 70% market share. We are moving towards yet greater homogenisation of diets as western fast-food takes over the world: we generate 75% of all the world’s food from12 plants and five animal species, but as she notes, “we need diversity of production and supply chains to withstand shocks — political, economic and climatic — as well as unwelcome effects on health”.

She advocates ‘restoring balance’

“To restore balance, we need to give organic, smaller-scale and diverse farming a proper role within the food system, through subsidies which support high quality of produce and recognise positive environmental impacts. We need to steer the world away from our over-reliance on certain foods such as meat.

“Mixed farming, an essentially old practice, can thrive given sufficient backing. Denmark, for example, has the world’s highest share of organic produce, coexisting with intensive, and unpleasant, animal production. In 2014, France introduced a law to shorten supply chains, making clear that seasonal produce and organic are vital for health and security. Some governments are finally recognising that ecologically minded farming has an essential role in delivering food security and that it can live alongside modified industrial systems”.

Rosie Boycott ends, “Our current food system continues to be disastrous for the planet’s health. In the UK, soil depletion means that East Anglia now has an estimated 40 harvests left, while farm land is losing 1-3cm of topsoil a year . . . Let us do more. Unless we want a future where almost everything we eat is grown in a Petri dish, we have to act now”.

Read her article here.

 

What does Brexit mean for Britain’s food?

A “decades-old failure to invest in food skills and equitable infrastructure for sustainable development” exposed

In Farming UK, Tim Lang, professor of Food Policy at City University’s Centre for Food Policy – a Lancashire hill farmer before becoming an academic and establishing himself as a leading expert on food issues – has said that leaving the EU will expose a “decades-old failure to invest in food skills and equitable infrastructure for sustainable development.”

Stephen Devlin, an economist with the New Economics Foundation, says, “Now more than ever, with enormous economic and political uncertainties in the air, we need to consciously plan the future of the essential food and farming sector.

“Do we want a sector that is increasingly automated and concentrated, or do we want more diverse growing patterns and more farming jobs?”

A just-in-time food system that could easily be dislocated 

Professor Lang told Farming UK that, in the 1980s, the United Kingdom was 82% self-sufficient in food. This had fallen to 61%. The country was running a food trade gap and the fall in the value of sterling since the EU referendum had made imports more expensive.

Over the last 30 to 40 years a food revolution had resulted in a longer food chain and longer storage. Tesco had adopted its just-in-time system from Toyota. At any one time under this just-in-time system there were just three to five days of food supplies in the UK. “It is highly dislocatable,” said Professor Lang.

He said the UK food system was one in which the farmer made very little from the total money generated. All the money is made elsewhere

Lang said food traders ruled the modern food economy and millions of food contracts depended on cross continental supply chains. The food system was heavily tied into Europe. To sever this would be a task “awesome and unprecedented in complexity.”

In an article currently inaccessible on NEF’s website, Stephen Devlin presents a chart showing net EU food imports.

CHART

food-graph-imports

He adds: “It’s crucial that we don’t just blindly increase production in general to produce more of the commodities that we are already exporting, like cereals and milk. Instead we need to produce a more diverse range of produce more in line with what we actually eat – like more fruit and vegetables. In fact, a more diverse farming system may also have environmental benefits”.

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Article reference via search engine:soursce-food

 

 

 

 

Agriculture can reboot the economy: advice from India and Northern Ireland

More precisely: “Contrary to the dominant economic thinking, agriculture alone has the potential to reboot the economy”

devinder-utube-6In a recent article in The Wire an editorially and financially independent site, relying principally on contributions from readers and concerned citizens “who have no interest other than to sustain a space for quality journalism”, Devinder Sharma denounces the practice of outsourcing food production to other countries, and opening up the country to cheaper imports, destroying food self-sufficiency.

Energy desk reports that British taxpayers are paying more than £400,000 a year to subsidise the Newmarket farm of Khalid Abdullah al Saud, a billionaire Saudi prince who breeds racehorses, while successive governments have greedily and stupidly continued to undervalue and short-change agriculture – the most important sector in nourishing and maintaining life.

British and Indian governments encourage the import-export sector in which middlemen, who shuffle paper or figures on a screen, profit from lowering import duty and – as Sharma puts it – ‘opening the floodgates to cheaper imports’ ostensibly justified in the name of ‘taming food inflation’ but really increasing the profits of the establishment peer group.

Another sector is indicted by a Lancashire dairy farmer

She believes that supermarkets – powerful lobbyists and valued party funders – are driving out production of staple British food and compromising food security, adding, “The greedy giants are also putting at risk the livelihoods of hard working British farmers, their families and their communities. Large businesses are gradually asset-stripping everything of value from our communities to make profits which are then invested abroad in places like China and Thailand”.

Shamefully unjust and unwise: in both countries many farmers are paid below production costs for their produce

WT planning

We read that William Taylor and other leaders of Northern Ireland’s farming organisations have been actively lobbying politicians from all parties and none, seeking support for legislation on farmgate prices which would ensure farmers in NI a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked across the staples.

The Indian government has offered assurances to farmers in Mozambique and in Brazil that it will procure whatever is produced at a good price. Many will ask why the same assurance cannot be given to British and Indian farmers?

William and Devinder both firmly believe that – contrary to the dominant economic thinking – agriculture alone has the potential to reboot the economy. Outsourcing food production, paying prices below production costs and opening up to cheaper imports will place both countries in a vulnerable position.