Warning vegetable and grain shortages could soon hit | Politics | News

Farmer have warned that vegetables and grain shortages could hit shelves as green subsidies takes land out of commercial use. It comes as Britain has previously been hit by egg shortages.

Stephen Holt, a 66 year old farmer from Northamptonshire, says government subsidies are encouraging farmers to focus on wildlife rather than food production.

Speaking to The Times, he said a scheme called the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), which is part of the government’s post-Brexit Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs), has seen farmers paid for protecting wildlife habitats.

It comes as more than 50 farmers will drive their trucks and tractors to central London on Monday. They’re protesting against low-quality food imports and misleading labels.


Stephen primarily grows winter wheat, but also produces oil seed rape and beans to keep his crop healthy. Known as “break cops”, they help control weeds, disease and pests, and improve soil health – but they can also be sold for extra income.

However, Stephen has now signed up for a new subsidy. Instead of growing they break crops, he’ll plant a legume cover crop that will help pollinators improve soil health, but won’t be used for food.

He told The Times: “Instead of 1,300 tonnes of product, we will produce 900 tonnes of product from our farm.

“All our input prices are approximately 50% higher than before Putin invaded Ukraine but our arable crop prices are below where they were. If you do the sums it’s better to take government money for legume fallow crop for one year and then alternate with a first year winter wheat as a commercial crop.”

Stephen says the new scheme will reduce his costs and give him a steady income every three months. Fellow farmer James Williams, of Oxfordshire, believes such schemes will take “30%” of wheat land out of production for a “season or two”.

He added: “If this happens all over the country, it’s really clear what could happen to our food supply.”

James says it could take “several years” and a “significant increase in prices” to sustain bread production should something disrupt imports during the scheme.

The government however says it is keeping an eye on the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) programme to make sure it doesn’t cause any problems. Last month, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told farmers he’s going to make a new law that will include a way to check how well the UK can feed itself.

Currently Britain grows around 60% of the food we eat, including most grains, meat, milk and eggs. A lack of workers at certain times of year has however seen production levels drop by 20 to 30% since 2024.

Egg production is said to be at a nine-year low. This led to 7,000 fewer farming business in 2022 compared to 2019.

A spokesperson from Defra said: “Last month the prime minister and secretary of state made clear our commitment to support profitable farming businesses, including a new annual UK-wide food security index and the largest-ever grant offer for farmers, expected to total £427 million.”

“Our schemes pay farmers to take actions that improve the environment, but they have profitability and food production at their core. We are committed to continuing to produce at least 60 per cent of the food we consume in the UK.”

Farming minister Mark Spencer however wants to reassure farmers. He said: “We firmly back our farmers. British farming is at the heart of British trade, and we put agriculture at the forefront of any deals we negotiate, prioritising new export opportunities, protecting UK food standards and removing market access barriers.”

One way to change the industry could be early years food literacy schemes, says a citizen assembly organised by the Food Farming and Countryside Commission.

The 18-person assembly spent a week looking at the issues before making a series of suggestions including a pre-watershed ban on junk food advertising and the expansion of free school meals to families on universal credit.

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