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Food prices set to rise - but what next for Britain's farmers?

After Tesco's chief executive Philip Clarke warned that food prices will almost certainly carry on rising, we ask what this means for farmers in Britain.

The rising cost of living is hardly a well-kept secret, and even if you don't read the news it's likely you'll have noticed the difference when paying for the weekly shopping in recent years.

Unfortunately any hope that this trend may reverse was dashed last week, with Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke revealing that food prices will most likely continue to go in one direction: up.

With demand for traditionally Western products said to be intensifying in certain areas of the East - not to mention the price of oil piling pressure on businesses as they attempt to balance their operational costs - the fear is that consumers will increasingly carry their share of the burden.

When these factors are taken in the context of the rapid global population growth that is forecast for the coming years, Mr Clarke's prediction appears to be a relatively sound one - but what does this mean for local farmers in Britain?

No place like home

Much has been made of the extent to which the UK has come to rely on foreign imports. Nearly half the food we consume already comes from abroad, and the government has been attempting to switch the focus back to domestic produce for some time now.

A recent poll revealed that 81% of people believe it is important to buy British products wherever possible - and consumers would be prepared to pay more for their food if they knew the extra was going to farmers rather than supermarkets

The idea is that through becoming more self-sustainable the nation will enjoy long-term benefits, and farmers in particular would receive a boost from having a bigger share of the market.

And as a recent poll conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Prince's Countryside Fund revealed, 81% of people believe it is important to buy British products wherever possible in order to support the UK's farmers.

With the study also showing that consumers would be prepared to pay more for their food if they knew the extra was going to farmers rather than supermarkets, the appetite to help the industry clearly exists.

Meeting the challenge

Yet beyond prices, the National Farmers' Union (NFU) chief economist Phil Bicknell has explained that the real challenge lies in minimising costs - as well as maximising what farmers receive for their products.

And considering people's apparent desire to give Britain's farmers the backing they need, much of the country's agricultural success could now hinge on the readiness of government to provide the industry with a fresh stimulus.

Promising signs were evident on Monday (July 22nd), when the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) unveiled the Agricultural Technologies Strategy - a plan which includes £160 million of investment for the development of new technologies and innovative products. The government also pledged to develop strategic partnerships within the sector and help to develop skills wherever necessary.

Defra minister for science Lord De Mauley said that the move has been made to ensure the necessary framework is in place to cater for the increasing demand for food that will come with population growth, adding that the authorities are "investing in technologies that will enable British farmers to meet these challenges".

Love local

With the farming sector looking set to receive a welcome boost, it's important that the impetus is not lost - something that campaigns such as National Countryside Week aim to avoid.

By drawing people's attention to rural preservation and the value of local produce, the hope is that awareness continues to grow - after all, it's the consumer population who will ultimately determine how extensively the UK relies on domestically farmed goods in the future.

Image credit: Charles Smith