Farming unions call on food retailers to ‘back British’

Farming unions call on food retailers to ‘back British’

UK farming unions have called on retailers to support industry in response to “challenging and disruptive” weather this spring.

Farming unions called on retailers to promote local suppliers, commit to local sourcing and provide fair supply chains.

In a joint letter on behalf of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), NFU Scotland, NFU Cymru and Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU), the trade bodies looked to major retailers to support the industry.

The unions highlighted that rainfall and a succession of damaging storms have impacted livestock, arable and horticultural sectors and disrupted individual farm businesses the length and breadth of the country. They said that no area of the UK had escaped, with lambing, calving, planting and field work all proving “very difficult” and bringing additional cost to the business.

The letter stated: “These challenges come at a time when many of our members are already struggling to remain viable due to the perfect storm of sustained and spiralling production costs, low market returns and increasing levels of regulation. This latest challenge, whilst not new, is more acute than ever, and is compounding the pressure on our members.

“Farmers and growers continue to bear the lion’s share of the risk within their supply chains, and this is unsustainable. We are in discussions with our respective Governments on further support to assist the industry in navigating these short-term challenges, but we also recognise the important role which retailers have to play in helping the industry to withstand this latest crisis.”

It concluded: “It is no exaggeration to say that the current challenges are some of the most acute the industry has faced in a very long time, and we need your support more than ever to maintain food production across the UK and safeguard our food security.

“Our members will continue to work tirelessly in the face of this latest adversity to maintain their high standards of production and welfare that your customers have now come to expect. We now urge you to support our members’ efforts.”

Steadfast commitment to local sourcing

The unions asked retailers to honour existing sourcing commitments, which they said had been made “with respect to local suppliers”.

It asked them to send a “clear signal of support” to these producers in order to send a “powerful message” and give comfort at a time where “members’ wellbeing is already under severe strain”.

Fair supply chains

Retailers were asked to respond “promptly” to any requests from union members for a review of the terms of their contracts, including price. Unions pointed out that food prices in the UK were “some of the lowest in the world” despite members producing high quality food.

Flexibility on product specification

Calling for understanding of certain specifications, unions pointed out that producing food in “extreme conditions” presented a significant challenge and said that its members would do their “utmost to maintain their exceptionally high standards of production.

They said that in the face of “unprecedented challenges” it was possible that what the UK produces may now not fully conform to the exact specification as previously agreed. Unions urged retailers to show “understanding and flexibility” in these circumstances, and said food would “still be produced to exceptionally high standards of quality and safety.

Rapid payment of suppliers

According to the unions, one of the immediate short-term implications for union members was the pressure on cashflow due to the increasing costs of animal health, feed and labour. They said that ensuring rapid payment to suppliers across the supply chain would be a “significant help” to members to keep their businesses functioning.

Promotion of local suppliers

Unions highlighted that retailer customers already had a “solid commitment” to supporting local suppliers, and said that unions knew from their own research that their commitment “is stronger than ever”. They also asked retailers to continue promotional efforts in support of local suppliers.

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