Blog: Cheshire County Chairman Richard Blackburn

Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions have been tough for a multitude of reasons but in general, guidelines have been adhered to, leading to a reassuring drop in positive cases and thankfully also deaths.NFU Cheshire Deputy County Chairman Richard Blackburn_41852

Being unable to visit friends and family at home, in the pub or coffee shop, playing sport or indeed paying our respects at funerals was necessary but denied us the very essence of what we all live for, and unfortunately often take for granted.

Phone calls, social media sites, Skype and Zoom meetings are great to keep in touch but no replacement for normal life. Let’s hope it returns as soon as safely possible.

However, being in lockdown does leave you plenty of time to look at all aspects of our own businesses and what the impact of control measures to stop the pandemic have resulted in. Personally, the financial implications have been challenging, as the service industry closed its doors, the milk, meat and potatoes destined for that market were left without a home, sending prices into free fall.

Some food processors, and I include my milk buyer in this, have behaved responsibly in these unprecedented times. Sadly, others have exploited the many weaknesses in our supply contracts and simply passed their losses down the supply chain.

Telling farmers to dump milk or paying 1ppl for it, back dating and delaying payments or refusing to honour potato contracts are happening at present, and will in the future, unless we can unite and find a resolution.

As always, in times of poor returns the talk of forming producer organisations comes to the fore. Then, as always, the price improves, and it all goes away. Yet does it improve to sustainable levels? Has it ever reached sustainable levels? Surely the number of people leaving the industry says not.

What I believe our industry needs is a new government backed ombudsman or adjudicator to oversee fairness throughout the supply chain. It needs to be an ombudsman that can cover the areas in which the Grocery Code Adjudicator’s remit doesn’t operate.

Other essentials such as gas and water have them, why not food? This would not only benefit the farmers but also consumers and yes, processors by providing a sustainable chain throughout, although to succeed a greater openness would be needed.

Let’s rid ourselves of headline price reporting and only deal with what is paid to farmers, removing misleading information that appears in the press that takes no account of A & B pricing, aligned and non-aligned and pricing differences due to location. Money received divided by litres produced equals milk price, why don’t they use it?

Also, as protection of our food standards is being dismissed by our government, we need to push for clearer labelling with more emphasis and size requirements for the Red Tractor logo and disclosure of country of origin in the list of ingredients for certain products, such as cheese in pizzas.

Reliance on our population wanting to Buy British might be our only chance, let’s help them do it.

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