Support for our agriculture is more than just about brown cows in green fields

Jun 1, 2022

Food security is something that affects every single one of us. I’m not sure it gets the general focus it deserves, but there is a combination of things that are happening right now that should worry every single one of us. With the forthcoming elections, now is the time to be asking questions and challenging those seeking to govern our island as to how they will support Jersey’s food security and rising costs for the next few years.

Cost of doing business locally

It is becoming too expensive to produce local market vegetables. The closure of Woodside farms in the last few months is a tragic loss to our island and had they received more support and focus, the business might have survived. It is telling that the next two largest food producers (by size) have not stepped in to take up the slack; this points to the difficulty faced by all farmers right now. There is no local provider who looks to be stepping in to grow the crops that Woodside used to produce.

Local growers do have challenges with the increases in minimum wage – increases in the wages farmers pay to their workforce directly affects the cost of producing food, but the price that they are able to charge for their produce has not kept up. Jersey’s farmers compete with farmers from other jurisdictions with lower input costs when making commercial deals with supermarkets and manufacturers. We need to find solutions that allow those working and living on the island to be paid enough to live but also for those involved in the growing of the food on our table to be able to thrive commercially. There are things we can do such as changes to the Social Security system to support our farmers, but whatever we do, we need to do it quickly to prevent more farmers simply closing their gates for the final time.

Input costs that our farmers are having to deal with at the moment are unprecedented; the price of fertiliser has trebled in the last two years and the price of diesel has increased significantly. The price of plastic and freight costs are ever increasing and the cost of new or used spares for farm machinery as well as the cost of transporting them is becoming too much to bear. All of the above will ultimately only do one thing, and that is to increase the cost of the food on our table which is already much higher than some families are able to afford.

Affordability and waste

The divisive debate on GST on food rumbles on. Though at first glance removing GST on food seems to be a quick solution to a growing problem, I’m not so sure. Any cut of GST will obviously have a positive impact to families struggling to afford food, but in my opinion it’s the wrong solution to the problem. We don’t need to be adding complexity to our tax system, we need to be directly supporting those that are in need.

Food waste is also I significant issue for us. Though it would be far preferable that food banks were not required, we should be doing all we can to ensure that we make it easy to ensure that food that would ultimately go to waste finds its way into the hands of those that most need it.

Food worldwide

The situation in Ukraine is also very serious and, notwithstanding the terrible humanitarian crisis and the disastrous situation for those that live in Ukraine, it is having knock on effects around the world. The lack of grain and wheat exports is already having significant repercussions in countries that rely on these Ukrainian grain exports, especially in Africa. So far in Jersey we have only seen price rises and thankfully we are yet to see shortages of specific food types, but perhaps it’s only a matter of time. We know that cooking oil for example is already being rationed but these restrictions are likely to find their way to other foodstuffs

Thinking differently

It is clear that we are living in challenging times. The thinking of yesterday will not help us solve the problems of tomorrow, and tomorrow’s problems I’m going to be significant. We need to ensure we can secure local food production for a long time to come we need to support anyone he wants to grow food locally from the biggest farm to the smallest allotment. Rising input costs are not going to drop any time soon, meaning food prices will increase so as an island, we should be doing everything we can to support local growers and prioritise getting affordable food into the hands of all islanders.

Eliot Lincoln | Party Chair 

First published | JEP 1 June 2022

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