Getting farmers a bigger slice

THERE was a time when good bread was only eaten by the rich. The wealthy ate the “upper crust” and the poor were left with the burnt and almost inedible base of the loaf.

Move to today and many people simply discard the crusts from preference, contributing to the huge amounts of wasted food that is thrown out every day. In such a world of plenty, how many people know or even care what proportion of the price of a loaf reaches the farmer who has produced the raw material for bread making? Over the last 50 years the amount the farmer gets has been steadily decreasing until it is now barely 10% of the cost of a loaf. A few decades ago the figure would have been three times as high.

The United Nations have set a target to double food production by 2050. It would be natural to assume that with such a growth in demand, the value of wheat would sky rocket. Yet the opposite seems to be happening. Farmers have had to produce much more for much less. They get 10%. Who gets the other 90%? The retailer and the processor.

It is not just bread that shows how the link between the basic producer and the consumer has been broken. In the UK we seem to have lost sight of the importance of local food production. As we eat more and seek an all year round supply we focus on importing food from around the globe. We seem not to care about how or where our food is produced. Gone are the days when asparagus, for example, was consumed for a short season in the early summer. Look at the vegetable racks in the big four supermarkets and you will find Peruvian asparagus, flown in from the other side of the world. It is produced on land in the Ica Valley in a totally unsustainable manner. There, in one of the driest areas of the world, where the crop requires continuous irrigation, the water table has dropped by 8 metres. Not good, and as we continue to import such food, our self sufficiency in food has fallen by 10% in the last 15 years. Unless we change our habits, the amount of imported food will outstrip what we produce ourselves.

So what can we do to address these alarming and somewhat depressing statistics? The major supermarkets must take responsibility and influence consumer trends in ways that have other objectives rather than just the bottom line profit figure for shareholders.

Farmers are custodians of their land and take a very long term view to manage their farms environmentally. They deliver so much more than just food, they provide the landscape we all love to see. Food retailers should view the UK producer as a precious asset and whenever possible should source from the UK, support a more seasonal approach and give farmers greater security. Our growing dependency on imported food is at best na�ve and at worst dangerous. One day the major retailers may find themselves held to ransom by foreign producers.

Local food, easily accessible to the consumer must be encouraged. It is heartening to see farm shops thriving. Food producers can deliver their products direct to these stores and hopefully achieve better margins. The products in farm shops will reflect seasonal availability or will be traditionally preserved or frozen so as to be available out of season.

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Tastes of Anglia are at the fore front of the campaign for East Anglian Food. We supply Farm shops and retail outlets across the six counties of the Eastern region. We help influence the supermarkets to source locally and to clearly display the county of origin. Our 300 members range from small processors of jams and chutneys to large suppliers of drink, oils and processed meat. All Tastes of Anglia members subscribe to the same ethos, local is best, and they are dedicated to achieving this claim. A visit to your local farm shop will help reconnect you as a consumer with the East Anglian farmers that produce your food. The eating experience should pleasantly surprise you.