I hate wasps

Duncan Rawson, EFFP Partner

I hate wasps. When I was a little kid, I vividly remember running my hand down the rail of steps leading down to the beach at Rottingdean, near Brighton and receiving the full prick of a very grumpy wasp between the fingers of my left hand.  A trauma which to this day has resulted in a reluctance to hold onto bannisters of any kind.

I could regale you with plenty more stories such as this… but then this week, a thought was planted… when was the last time I was stung?  Not recently, that’s for sure.  I am halfway through Oliver Milman’s new book, The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World, a beautifully written horror story which chronicles the precipitous decline of insects. A decline caused by an assortment of reasons, including pesticides, habitat destruction, and climate change.

As Milman sets out: without insects, our very existence will become bland, colourless, and miserable, if indeed we can survive at all. Unless we want a diet that consists of just wheat and rice, which don’t rely on insect pollination, then we need to start taking the environments that our food is produced in much more seriously.

The environment is no longer just a brand exercise for food companies; being seen to do the right thing to protect or even enhance their brand credentials and sell more products. It is increasingly becoming a security of supply issue. Will the raw components of our food stuffs actually be available at an affordable price?

This isn’t the only time the subject of ‘availability’ has raised its head this week.  For months, we have witnessed an ongoing surge in the price of nitrogen fertilisers, driven by increases in energy costs.  But in recent weeks this has taken on a new dynamic.  The situation in Ukraine has resulted in a massive upswing in energy prices and consequently in nitrogen prices. More worryingly, concerns are now being raised about whether nitrogen will actually be available to farmers.

Beyond the farm gate, this issue has not had any tangible impact yet.  Most of the fertiliser required for the 2022 crop is sitting in the shed waiting to be applied.  But come the autumn when farmers are starting to plant the 2023 crop, difficult decisions will have to be made.  With nitrogen prices north of £800/tonne, as opposed to £280/tonne 12 months ago and concerns over availability, we could see a mammoth downturn in plantings and global shortages. Social unrest will follow.

Currently, food companies are reacting to a myriad of issues from the ongoing legacy of Brexit, to rapid commodity inflation, to the enduring fallout of Covid and the impact of climate change.  It is understandable that their priority now is on short-term actions to shore up supply and manage their increasingly fragile margins.

But this is not the time for isolation strategies.  More than ever, collaboration is vital.  The supply chain needs to show empathy and understanding for each other.  To work together to mitigate both the short-term and long-term issues facing us.

Farmers are facing into great change – greater change than we’ve seen for decades. In the short-term even on the back of rallying commodity markets, input inflation is eroding and surpassing any financial gains that otherwise might have been had.

It’s tough out there, very tough and more than at any other time in my long (and illustrious) career in this industry, we need to be working together.  On a positive note, we are much less likely to be stung by doing so.

For more information about EFFP and the work we do, please get in touch: drawson@effp.com or 07834 337346.

Photo by Thomas Millot on Unsplash