Tractor spraying wheat crops

Source: Getty

The effects of international supply chain shortages will continue to be felt, even when the war ends and sanctions ease

The first rule of Defra’s Food Resilience Industry Forum is that you do not talk about Defra’s Food Resilience Industry Forum. I have probably already transgressed, even by saying that it finally met last week for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine.

But anything else in this piece about the consequences of that for UK farming and food is based on either my own knowledge or on what is already in the public domain, from growing mainstream media coverage of the inevitable further price shocks for those least able to afford them.

It is no secret that unless current record increases in input costs can be passed through the chain, production may have to be cut back and some businesses forced to close. This will further accelerate the inflationary spiral that has been building over the last two years from the twin effects of Brexit and Covid, including ongoing labour shortages and continuing dislocation of freight and haulage systems.

In addition, business energy costs remain uncapped and employers face national insurance rate rises and higher minimum wage levels – not to mention increases for packaging, road fuels and much else besides.

In its latest report this week, compiled before the crisis in Ukraine, the Efra Select Committee warned that continued government failure to tackle labour shortages alone could permanently shrink the country’s food sector. A recurring theme in the published evidence is that action to date has been ‘too little, too late’. The Committee also expressed frustration at the government’s reluctance to engage with industry and failure to understand the issues.

But it is the shortages in international supply chains – particularly of fertilisers and the grains that make up much of the UN’s food aid programme – that may do wider damage to global economic and political stability, with consequences for us all. Those effects are not going to stop when the war ends or when sanctions ease. At least two seasons of production are likely to be lost – and hunger riots or mass migrations from the poorest developing countries may already be taking place by then.

At the risk of any more rule-breaking on my part, government shows little sign of appreciating the strategic importance of food security for the world as a whole. The PM even told the Liaison Committee last Wednesday that UK food and farming had a “great future” and was benefiting from “colossal, absolutely colossal” export growth.