National crops board chairman Matt Culley has a message for members about the NFU's work to help farmers as they continue to provide essential foods for the public during the COVID-19 pandemic:
I may be new to the role of board chairman, but I think it’s safe to say that none of us have experienced anything like what the country, and the world, is going though at the moment. With many people panic buying and storing more food at home, there is a lot of pressure on farmers to keep supermarket shelves full and the country fed at such a difficult time.
For the arable sector it is important that we keep the supply chain moving. Core food items like bread and flour are flying off the shelves and we need to work with every part of the supply chain to ensure as seamless a transition as possible from farm to fork.
And there will be disruptions – the first major one being the closure of the food service sector. When it comes to products like flour, the increase in retail demand has shielded farmers from much of the impact of this closure, and the industry is working hard to adjust to this different demand. However, farmers growing malting barley are very concerned by the closure of pubs, and while the maltsters are still running as normal, the NFU is carefully monitoring the situation.
We are also seeing the virus starting to cause staffing issues. At the moment this is relatively low, but as losing the availability of just one or two workers can have a big impact at this time of year and going into the summer, we are asking members to take precautions to mitigate the risk.
The NFU has been working with AHDB and other industry bodies to deliver guidance that is aligned across the cereals industry, and it is great to see the whole supply chain moving in the same direction to ensure the public has access to essential foods during this crisis. We are also working collaboratively across sectors within the NFU as the situation continuously and rapidly develops, and we have daily national board chair conference calls to ensure visibility across the whole of British agriculture.
It has been a tough year already for the arable sector with the severe weather massively disrupting spring drilling –at a time when we are already under considerable pressure because of Brexit uncertainty – but over the next few months we must do all we can to support our country, and in turn they will support us.
Myself, the board and the NFU crops team will be working tirelessly to get us through this as best we can. In the meantime look after yourselves and your families, and remember you have the whole farming community there to support you.