Rich Clothier

With the spring flush still two months away, just how much more can the price of milk fall? They say “a market improves when the last man loses hope”, but many farmers have already lost hope. For the first time since 1984 (before milk quotas were introduced) we could see farmers pouring milk down the drain in coming months. 

Events in grocery retail have been proving every bit as challenging, with the top five still struggling, along with a number of small retailers, due to deep structural issues of their own. And that’s before we consider the massive long-term challenges surrounding climate change, and the impending energy crisis, highlighted by this week’s coverage about the Hinckley nuclear power station. 

In these uncertain times we need the Brexit referendum, its uncertainty and acrimony, as little as we need a nuclear power station using new, expensive, unreliable technology.

Brexit is proving deeply divisive. And it has further exposed the chronic lack of leadership and vision apparent in UK food and farming policy for some time. Two weeks ago the BRC chose to abstain. Last week, the FDF followed suit, despite the vast majority wanting to lobby against Brexit. Clearly, members of these trade bodies don’t want to express any opinion, even if it’s their own, for fear of upsetting people.

But as our fantastic industry sits on the fence, rather than championing renewables and protecting strong trading bonds, there is a real danger the UK will sleepwalk into not so splendid isolation. So credit to those farmers who’ve chosen to take a stand. Great leaders in our past didn’t pander to opinion polls. Churchill said: “There is no such thing as public opinion, just published opinion.” A Churchillian willingness to speak up and speak out is equally necessary here and now.

Food & drink desperately needs a manifesto to protect its interests and minimise risk. Allowing ourselves to be turned into an island state, with no working people to support our burgeoning retirees and a climate too harsh to put food on the population’s plates, would be a massive failure of nerve and leadership.