BY JIM WEBSTER
During first lockdown, behind the scenes, major retailers performed logistical miracles. As a farmer I’m not somebody who is prone to praise them, but in spite of ridiculous levels of panic buying (there are people out there who won’t need to buy toilet paper for another couple of years) the retailers managed to keep the show on the road. During lockdown I got the job of doing the shopping and so experienced it at ‘the sharp end’. I knew a chap who worked in our local small supermarket (one of a major chain) and I asked him how things were going. Apparently the store manager was on the edge of meltdown. Every day his job is to send to the depot a list of stuff they’ve sold so will need replacements for. Every day the depot fulfils the list and sends him stuff.
During that first lockdown, the stuff they sent him was sometimes on his list. He was told to, basically, just sell what he got. But this manic period didn’t last long and I wouldn’t know how many people noticed (other than when the vultures descended on toilet paper or whatever the day’s latest scare shortage was.)
But the food chain is more than just the supermarkets. What else is happening? Well frankly, not as much as I would hope.
I (like most other farmers) got a letter from George Eustice, secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs. He lays out what his department has done. To be fair they’ve delayed the introduction in the regulations on the change of use of urea fertiliser. (Whether anybody who hasn’t already bought it can afford it is a moot point.) Also they have issued ‘Statutory guidance to the Environment Agency’ so that autumn spreading of slurry and other farm yard manures will be permitted under the farming rules for water. Let us not beat about the bush, the farming rules for water were badly drawn up and pen pushers in the department were adopting a remarkably silly interpretation of them which ignored totally the real world. But that is par for the course with bureaucracies. So we have two measures here where government has stepped back from making things gratuitously worse.
The rest of the letter, the vast majority of it, is about environmental schemes. I’ve looked at the schemes, I couldn’t take part in them without reducing food production. It seems that for the environmental lobby industry it’s still full steam ahead with regard making us a major food importer.
On a general note, the steps taken with regard to energy look more positive, so government policy seems to boil down to you having the energy to cook the food you can no longer buy.
And what has the rest of parliament done? Well it’s drowning itself in sanctimonious hypocrisy around cake, beer and curry. I was talking to another chap in the agricultural engineers. Given we just worked through the entire period, we gave up even trying to work out what the rules were because they changed so regularly and were remarkably convoluted and at times silly. (At one point in one village you could drink in one pub on one side of the street because it was in England but the pub on the other side of the street had to stay shut because it was in Wales. Because Covid knows!) Yes, our bureaucracy is that inept.
The problem is, with world food prices rising steadily and energy prices about to go through the roof, grown-ups are pointing out this winter is going to be very difficult in the UK and disastrous for many parts of the world. Yet the muppets in parliament are wasting everybody’s time trying to be more sanctimonious than thou. It would be nice if they grew up and smelled the coffee.
Talking about coffee, interestingly, the two Costa coffee shops in this town both ran out of coffee yesterday. The day before, one of the national sandwich chains couldn’t send their shops in this area the sandwich fillings they normally would so they didn’t have sandwiches. The day before that our supermarket had only one sort of orange. (I know, first world problems here.)
But as I said at the start, our food chain employs excellent logistics people. Is ‘just in time’ becoming ‘just too late?’ Have we suffered three days of random chance or are we starting to see cracks appearing? There are other signs that things are under stress, more than 1,500,000 UK subscribers cancelled their Netflix, Disney+ and Now TV subscriptions in the last three months. This at least has been on the cards for some time. Back in January, KPMG did a survey of consumers. Back then, before things got really sticky, 32% of consumers planned to cut back on their household spending this year. The main savings appear to be:
Apparently, according to the BBC, makeup sales have taken a hit as well. Obviously the pandemic had an impact but there hasn’t been much sign of improvement. Kantar analysed the market and their research shows a 19% fall in make-up sales since 2019.
On the BBC webpage which had the makeup story there was a picture of hungry Afghan children, where there’s no money and the world is too busy with the Ukraine to notice them. This winter will probably see serious hunger in many parts of the world. Pray for good Northern and Southern Hemisphere harvests this year. Because looking at what governments are doing, it’s the only thing that will save people.
Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quad-bikes and dogs) It’s available here.