Meurig Ryamond, NFU

Meurig Raymond

The mistrust, uneven power and lack of commitment are all long held issues within the British supply chain including for the NFU’s farmers and grower members. So it was good to hear Tesco make a number of commitments to British agriculture at the NFU annual conference back in 2013 that offered some kind of long-term assurances.

However, progress has not been as swift as we would have liked, which is why this week - at its agm - I will be asking Tesco exactly where we stand. Today, our industry is struggling to manage and plan for the future within an increasingly volatile environment. Given the new structure and management at Tesco, the NFU and its members want to know: do the aspirations to shorten supply chains, bring meat sourcing closer to home and develop equitable partnerships with its producers still stand? How far Tesco has come with those commitments made two years ago?

While Tesco has a developed group for liquid milk and has made some changes across its supply chain, including moving to 100% fresh British chicken, there are still areas where it could go further. Ultimately, farmers on the ground have seen little shift in the structure and operation of supply chain alluded to by Tesco following the horsemeat scandal.

There have been many challenges within the livestock sector in recent months and farmers have been struggling with low farmgate prices for new season lamb. We want Tesco to support farmers to deliver quality products for its customers. Particularly within the lamb sector, it is crucial that Tesco is clear, if it wants to buy British lamb, when it wants to buy British lamb it and what products. Without this information our members lack confidence and become even more vulnerable to a volatile market.

During the restructure and reset of Tesco, Dave Lewis has a fantastic opportunity to choose to support British farmers and ensure supply chains are transparent and fair, while still providing a quality, good value product for the consumer. The NFU would urge Tesco to use its scale and influence to support farmers to become more efficient, embrace technology and reduce volatility throughout the supply chain.

Customers’ expectations are that Tesco will deal with suppliers and farmers in a fair and equitable way. Tesco has confessed there have been instances where historically there have been a “number of possible breaches” of the Groceries Supply Code of Practice. This makes it even more important that Tesco considers how its trading relationships can impact the whole supply chain.

Scale means that Tesco is the largest customer of British farming, but I want it to re-establish itself as an industry leader in other ways. I want Tesco to reaffirm its commitments to British agriculture; I want it to set out its ambitions for its farming supply base for the coming years; and I want Tesco to work with my industry to build genuine trust and partnership.

Meurig Raymond is president of the National Farmers’ Union