NFU president warns of tough times ahead

THE president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has warned of serious challenges in maintaining growth and success throughout this year.

Peter Kendall said there were difficulties in particular facing the horticultural sector which has seen rising costs and downward price pressure from major supermarkets.

The Government has listened to the messages from the NFU about productive, efficient and sustainable farming having a vital role to play in building food security and kick-starting economic growth.

But increasing the contribution from farms to the nation’s food supply at a time when economic conditions are set to turn “hostile” is a huge challenge.

He said: “Look at the experience of the horticultural sector over the past year or so.

“Profitability has fallen dramatically, input costs have soared, excessive retail promotions are depressing farm gate prices and production has been volatile following last year’s severe winter and dry summers.

“It is little short of a national scandal that we are only 60% self-sufficient in vegetable production, and the trade deficit is widening all the time.

“The sector is being driven to its limits and is evidently not coping with the strain.

“It’s clear that a critical point will soon be reached, where, if nothing changes, we will simply see a greater proportion of the UK horticulture sector given up to imported produce.”

To lessen the impact he said there needed to be more balanced supply chain contractual arrangements which factor in costs and having an adjudicator to back up the Grocery Supply Code of Practice as well as a policy framework helping all sectors of farming ride out the market storm.

He added: “The reform proposals we have been presented with so far will actually make it more difficult for farmers to do what they should be doing, which is to produce more and impact less.”

“I remain as optimistic as ever about the longer-term prospects for farming.

“But even though the trend may be upwards, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be significant turbulence along the way.