Richard Bramley, an NFU environment forum member, discusses the challenges of balancing the need for climate friendly products and a competitive market.
It doesn’t take long for a conversation about food production to come around to money, especially when it’s at a World Bank conference on climate resilient supply chains.
And that’s exactly what happened when we heard from OLAM, a grower and supplier of coffee, cashew, rice and cotton, which has developed a ‘climate-friendly’ cocoa. Unfortunately, it costs more to produce but the market couldn’t – or wouldn’t – bear the cost.
We have similar issues here in the UK. The food industry is looking for ‘climate friendly’ raw materials to demonstrate that it is ‘doing the right thing’ and that it is addressing supply chain risk. However, when it comes to rewarding ‘good practice’ it all seems to get a bit foggy in procurement departments. Price rules the day and we farmers know that first hand.
For my own part, I was able to tell the conference about my long-term investment in energy and water efficiency, my steady march on precision technology, my commitment to improving the soil (using cover cropping) and biodiversity while maintaining output.
But despite all this effort, the prospects for 2016 are: no milling wheat contract for the second year running, considerably poorer malting barley contract, sugar beet – well, you know the story, and for potatoes, only time will tell.
I’m already trying to cope with the effects of extreme weather. Since 2000 I have experienced seven large flooding episodes. My father saw four major floods, while my grandfather experienced only one. Fred, a farmer from Ohio attending the conference, told me that despite being envious of my wheat yields, he wouldn’t have swapped farms because he couldn’t believe that I have to bear all the risk of such events.
In America, you see, farmers have access to insurance that helps them manage the risks of modern agriculture
Unfortunately, if climate change projections are even close to being correct, then farmers from all over the world are not going to be in a position to manage those risks all on their own. So, that begs the question - what is the supply chain’s role in ensuring that such risks are shared equitably?
Sadly, after nine hours, twenty-three presentations and some good examples of better supply chain relationships, I was still left with the question - who is going to pay? Somebody has to and I hope the answer is not that we all will.