As farmers demand government support, food supply chains are under growing pressure from climate change, policy, crime and economics

A new light was shone on UK’s food security and supply chain resilience – or the lack thereof – this week as dozens of farmers parked their tractors in Parliament Square wielding placards stating quite simply: ‘No Farmers, No Food, No Future’.

British farmers are understandably disgruntled: their jobs are on the line – as is the UK’s ability to access healthy and nutritious food, amid an array of threats to both domestic and global supply chains.

So what exactly are the biggest long-term risks for food & drink supply chains? And what is being done about them? An IGD report last week identified the 10 greatest threats.

Climate change

Global warming and its effects on agriculture present one of – if not the – biggest threats to the UK’s food supply chains, both now and for generations to come.

Extreme weather events disrupting growing patterns for British farmers, such as droughts, heatwaves and floods, are set to worsen in coming years, affecting yields and increasing the risk from pests and disease.

The result will be greater price volatility, with climate change already responsible for one third of food price inflation in the UK last year. The consequences of extreme weather events on global production could lead to a 20% increase in food prices globally by 2050, IGD’s report warns.

And while the UK will not necessarily and directly feel the worst of global warming, it relies on food imports for about 40% of its food, particularly from at-risk countries like Spain and Morocco.

flooded field crops

Water stress

Water stress is also set to worsen due to climate change, with water quality in the UK already at alarmingly low levels – only 14% of UK rivers are thought to be in good ecological health, in part due to the impact of agriculture, the IGD report notes. Meanwhile, summer rainfall is expected to decrease by around 15% by the 2050s in England.

Agricultural challenges

The UK is also seeing huge post-Brexit changes to land use legislation due to the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, which will be implemented by 2027 and delinks support payments from food production – meaning some land will be taken out of production and used for rewilding or tree planting via sustainable farming incentives.

Many have argued this could lead to lower levels of self-sufficiency and even higher dependence on imports than may have been produced under looser environmental and welfare standards. But with the UK self-sufficient in just over 50% of vegetables and only 16% of fruit, any reduction in its productive agricultural capacity will “adversely affect self-sufficiency and have a detrimental impact on availability”, IGD warns.

This is why, argues shadow Defra minister Daniel Zeichner, government needs a horticulture strategy.

“We have seen a succession of growers in fresh produce all bemoaning that as it stands it is not worth [it] to continue to produce”, he said at a Westminster food policy forum last week. “We need to look at why as a country we are not producing more fruits and vegetables.”

Zeichner thinks “we can do more” to ensure supply chain resilience and long-term availability whilst helping the agrisector transition to net zero. But it is unlikely the country will get more robust food policies until after the election this year, IGD’s report author Matt Stoughton-Harris notes.

Biodiversity loss

Loss of crucial species like pollinators, in part caused by global deforestation driven by modern agriculture, could have significant long-term consequences on soil health and food production.

A key goal of the ELM scheme is to protect soil health and rewild. Businesses too have set up sustainability goals linked to preserving biodiversity, such as the Soy Manifesto and the Plastics Pact.

soil health farming


Britain’s supply chains are further under threat from pests and diseases impacting crops and livestock – seen by the rise in avian flu, as well as growing cases of African swine fever in Europe.

In a post-Brexit world, the risks are greater as the UK lost access to the EU’s monitoring systems while new import measures are set to bring chaos to the borders, according to Dover Port Health Authority and several trade bodies.


Geopolitics and its effects on trading routes pose a huge risk to UK supply chains – the knock-on effects on availability and prices of imported goods were seen after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, massively inflating energy, fertiliser and ultimately food prices.

Supply chain vulnerability “may encourage some countries to leverage the power in the globalised food system to achieve their goals, including reducing exports”, IGD experts warn.


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Chronic labour shortages across all areas of food systems, from farming to logistics and manufacturing – which rapidly intensified in the post-Brexit landscape – also pose a threat to long-term food security. Fruit & veg picking jobs rely on the Seasonal Worker visa scheme, which has proven a challenge since Brexit, leading to tonnes of good produce rotting in fields during vital harvesting seasons.

Experts warn the government’s decision to up the skilled visa minimum salary from next month will also cut a lifeline of vital staff particularly in manufacturing and hospitality, with as many as 90% of jobs falling short of the new £38,700 salary threshold.

At the same time, the UK’s ageing population “will worsen labour shortages in the years ahead”, IGD analysts noted.

About 40% of farmers are now over the age of 60, and the sector has struggled to attract young talent.

Industry and government will have to focus on “changing perceptions” to help build a young talent pipeline, investing in automation, increasing pay and bettering working conditions, IGD’s report says, while reforming the Apprenticeship Levy to make it more personalised and easily accessible could help alleviate shortages in the short-term, Stoughton-Harris noted.

Farm worker GettyImages-713771401


Intense competition across the UK food system has historically managed to keep grocery prices affordable for shoppers. However, the resultant pressure on profit margins is driving increasingly low levels of investment.

Manufacturing is “stalling” as profitability struggles, recent Food & Drink Federation figures showed. Investment across food and drink manufacturing was down 33.2% in the year to Q3 2023, compared with the same period in 2019.

The same goes for farming, where automation relies on access to capital but high interest rates and increasingly variable crop yields may deter banks and other investors from lending.

“Future challenges like automation and climate change require significant investment. It is hard to find evidence this is happening”, IGD’s report says.

There is also growing tension between suppliers and supermarkets over how profitability and risk have been shared through the supply chain, following a period of soaring inflation and record profits for the grocers vs plummeting returns for many producers.

The major mults have been summoned to give evidence to the Commons Efra Committee’s ongoing Fairness in the Food Supply Chain inquiry on 30 April.


Some parts of the supply chain still lack transparent data relating to business performance and broader impacts.

This “undermines progress” in addressing risks and minimising environmental impacts, IGD notes. This is set to change in the years ahead as investors demand greater reporting and the UK and EU’s anti-deforestation due diligence laws loom.


With automation and technology development also comes a greater risk of cybersecurity crime, the group warns. Food businesses have already been the target of cyberattacks, and it’s unlikely this threat will abate in a more unstable world where the rise of AI is making companies more vulnerable.

The various challenges are interconnected and complex. There is no one-size-fits-all-solution, says Stoughton-Harris.

It shows the need for “a robust food policy”, says University of London Professor of food policy Tim Lang, who calls for a food security and resilience act.

“We have fragmented food policies” currently, he says, but they need to be “joined up.”