Farmers outline their struggle to make ends meet

Simon Mead
Simon Mead

Local farmers and a brewer talked to an interested audiences about the challenges they faced.

About 60 people gathered in All Saints Church on Wednesday, October 18, to hear three local farmers and the local brewer talk about the tough financial challenges they faced as well as their huge practical commitment to the environment and supporting the local economy.

The UK presently produces 62 per cent of its food and has some of the highest animal welfare and environmental standards, yet farmers are really struggling to make ends meet due to low prices for their produce.

Fiona Peck explained that the price they got from the Milk Marketing Board was below the cost of producing the milk so they could no longer afford to have a milking herd.

Both Fiona, of Pecks Farm near Egginton, and Simon Mead, who sells his rapeseed oil on the Leighton farmers’ market and at Yirrell’s in Linslade, had to diversify as the income from traditional farming did not make ends meet

Kevin, of Morgan Pell Farms, highlighted the difference between the increasingly low prices paid to farmers for their produce and the profits made in the food industry, and said: “Let’s take the humble potato. The farmer at the moment gets between £100 and £130 per tonne. When you buy crisps, even at a multipack price of 10p for 25g, that is £10,000 per tonne! Who is making a significant profit out of the food you eat?”

With the challenges of Brexit, Kevin highlighted that other countries had less restrictions and lower standards than the UK and that UK farmers needed a level playing field.

He argued it should be a right to have safe food and clean water, but it all comes at a cost and that high UK standards are not necessarily the cheapest forms of production.

He added the UK can import cheaper food in terms of pounds and pence but at what cost. Very often this is from areas of the world where locals can be hungry, they are already short of clean water and their wages are way below Western levels. Is it morally and ethically right to produce our food in these parts of the world. He asked ‘is it right to produce our food in areas capable of supporting rain forest?’

Simon Mead is a fifth generation farmer with 770 acres near Marsworth, with four acres of wildflower meadows as well as buffer strips, a traditional orchard, 200 Aberdeen Angus, 95 ewes and oilseed rape.

He explained that unless you are a very large farmer, you need to diversify. The challenges of pests and weather can mean that whole crops are lost.

He started a farm shop, including a bakery, which sells the farm’s produce and which now employs 30 people. He also produces his own Chiltern Cold pressed rapeseed oil from his own crop.

He feeds the residue to his cattle and sheep, saving waste, and sells the meat in his farm shop.

Kevin has beef cattle and sheep on the family farm near Bedford and has been selling on farmers’ markets for 18 years.

The way he farms is closely integrated with protecting the environment. The soil in Bedfordshire is much more suited to grass rather than other crops, and without grazing or management, the land would be scrub. He farms with large hedges and small fields of 10-25 acres.

Re-using materials, saving money and preventing waste is key to the farm. The winter sheds were built from second- hand electric poles with roofs made from second-hand corrugated iron; solar panels on the roof supply the freezers; rain water is collected to provide drinking water for the stock; all the fertiliser is created on the farm; antibiotics are only used when clinically necessary and trees are planted to screen the farm buildings and create habitat. Datis Gol, the founder of Bucks Star Brewery, based in Milton Keynes, puts a huge store on ecological credentials using only organic malt for the beer with no added sugars, and using solar panels for power.

He only uses Growlers, which are glass bottles that are sterilised and reused instead of disposable containers to save on energy and waste.

He said: “Re-using is far better for the planet than recycling, which is better than throwing away, because you only have to clean the growler for it to be re-used, instead of having to use energy to smash up the glass or cans and turn them into bottles and cans again.”

Nick Rau, from National Friends of the Earth, stressed the organisation had always supported local farmers’ markets and is committed to supporting UK farmers and helping share best practice.