In recent weeks, we have all been moved by the incredible courage of President Zelensky along with the extraordinary bravery of the Ukrainian army, and, above all, by the fortitude and resilience of the Ukrainian people. Despite the many harrowing events emerging from this conflict, we have also seen the morale-boosting sight of Ukrainian farmers towing away Russian tanks with their tractors, just one of the many symbols of Ukraine’s extraordinary resistance in the face of Russian aggression.
Ukrainian farmers are also demonstrating this resistance in another way. Despite everything, they remain determined to get this year’s crops in the ground, particularly in Western Ukraine. This is good news for the whole world: Ukraine, often nicknamed the breadbasket of Europe, is a significant global producer of many agricultural commodities such as wheat and sunflower oil.
The invasion of Ukraine has caused some turbulence in international commodity markets. Agricultural commodity prices have always been strongly correlated to the price of energy, and farmers are facing increased input costs – particularly fertiliser, fuel and feed.
I have already set out measures to support farmers and growers in England ahead of the coming growing season, including introducing a new Sustainable Farming Incentive that will support farmers in improving the health and fertility of their soil, which is essential for sustainable food production. They are not a silver bullet, but they will help. The turbulence on the market has brought into focus, once again, the importance of a resilient global supply chain.
Here in the UK, we have a high degree of food security. We are largely self-sufficient in wheat production, growing 88 per cent of all the wheat that we need here. We are 86 per cent self-sufficient in beef, fully self-sufficient in liquid milk and produce more lamb than we consume. We are close to 100 per cent self-sufficient in poultry, eggs, carrots and swedes.
Our self-sufficiency remains high compared to historical levels. It was running at just 30 per cent in the late 19th century and little more than 40 per cent before the Second World War. If you look at the foods we can produce, then our production to supply ratio today remains healthy at over 75 per cent and has been stable since the turn of the century.
Recent events, and the impact of the Covid pandemic, are a reminder that domestic food production matters.
That is why we will be putting food security at the heart of our food strategy white paper.
The UK food industry is bigger than the automotive and aerospace industries combined, as well as being more evenly dispersed across the country. Food manufacturers create jobs, offer apprenticeships and invest in communities throughout the UK – supported by local producers who provide them with high-quality fruit, veg and meat.
It’s crucial that we do everything we can to support this sector, which is why our new farming schemes in England are helping farmers to improve their profitability and output. That’s why we’ve just increased the Farming Investment Fund from £17 million to more than £48 million supporting thousands of farmers with grants to invest in new equipment which will boost their productivity.
These new schemes are all about supporting the choices that individual farmers take for their own holdings. They move us on from the old subsidy schemes under the Common Agricultural Policy which did nothing to improve food production or food security.
Thanks to the support that this government is providing, we have every reason to be confident in our ability to produce good quality produce that is enjoyed at home and abroad, and meets our needs whatever the challenges ahead.
George Eustice is the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs