Why farmers are calling for an end to centralised supply chains

08 November 2021, 07:08 AM
  • A survey of farmers has revealed that the vast majority want to supply farm shops and other independent retailers rather than supermarkets
Why farmers are calling for an end to centralised supply chains

Farmers in England and Wales want the industry to move away from centralised supply chains, a recent report found. The Beyond the Farmgate report by Sustain revealed the results of a survey of 500 farmers, which found that only 5% want to sell to supermarkets, while 80% would like to sell to independent retailers or other local markets like food hubs, box schemes or via their own retail space.

The farmers said selling to localised supply chains would offer fairer prices, help them support climate and nature objectives, and offer greater business resilience. “As the current supply chain problems reveal, we can see the current just in time, hugely centralised and sadly too often abusive food systems are no longer fit for purpose and clearly farmers want change,” said Vicki Hird, head of sustainable farming at Sustain

Selling to localised systems would also allow for better appreciation of the area’s produce and producers. Vicki cites one farmer who said in response to the survey: “We would like to see all our produce being sold to local consumers who would be able to better appreciate its provenance and character as a result of seeing the system in operation on some of their favourite countryside walks and wildlife sites.”

“We need investment, planning and wider advice and support to get a whole new shorter, better and more responsive supply chain and the related infrastructure,” Vicki said. “This should ensure farmers and growers can survive, thrive and make the changes to agroecological food production we desperately need.”

‘We have a moral obligation to act’

Transitioning to localised supply chains would certainly help the farming industry with its 2040 net zero goal. The Government is also targeting emissions reduction through a recently launched a £17.5m fund to support farmers with projects that boost productivity and sustainability, such as low-emission machinery, artificial intelligence and climate-resilient crops.

Ahead of COP26, NFU president Minette Batters has called for more support to help farmers reduce their emissions. “What we now need is a portfolio of policies to support widespread action, whether it’s upgrading rural infrastructure to boost productivity, the further development of farm-level greenhouse gas calculators or investment in methods to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere,” she said. 

“It’s also vital that the government’s agenda works in harmony with its domestic and trade policies. Reducing our impact on the climate should not mean reducing our capacity to feed the country with high-quality, affordable home-grown food – food we know the British public want to see more of on shop shelves,” she said.

A recent report by the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) found that while more than nine in 10 farmers are concerned about the effects of climate change on their business, three quarters do not think the industry is currently equipped to deal with climate and nature loss. Nearly all respondents (98%) said they want farming to do more to address climate change and biodiversity loss.

The NFFN is calling for greater ambition from the Government in elevating the key role farming plays in delivery for net zero and calls for greater action across farm holdings to prevent irreversible outcomes if the trajectory of climate change continues. “We know that farming is contributing to ecological disruption. And the science is clear – we have 10 years to avoid the worst effects of the climate emergency. Simple solutions can have the greatest impacts in preparing farming for what’s to come,” said Martin Lines, chair of the NFFN. “We have a moral obligation to act on this after decades of intensification have contributed to the challenges we face. It’s not just farmers, it’s everyone. What are we waiting for?”

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