ALREADY soaring food prices are set to rocket as winter approaches, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) warned yesterday, saying wheat yields in England are down 15% to 1980s levels.
World food prices are also being driven up by the rise in grain costs following the worst drought in 50 years in the USA and a heatwave in Russia.
A ‘drought’ in the spring was followed by the wettest summer for 100 years, leading to a poor wheat harvest, the NFU said.
NFU President Peter Kendall said: ‘There are many farmers who are down 25 to 30% on the wheat crop. In some cases you looked from the outside and you thought, this crop will do over four tonnes to the acre – and it’s been struggling to do three and some cases two tonnes to the acre.’
Kendall said the 30% increase in the global price of wheat over the past 12 months is also putting pressure on farmers who buy grain to feed their livestock.
He said: ‘The challenge for the pig and poultry market is trying to make sure that retailers pay a fair price, because in pigs 50% of the cost is grain, poultry it’s 60% – and these farmers at the moment, because the prices haven’t responded yet, they’re actually saying I’m not going to fill my sheds with poultry or pigs any more.’
Richard Dodd, of the British Retail Consortium, said: ‘Whilst retailers are certainly doing all they can to protect customers from the full impact of that, of course some of that inevitably will impact on shop prices.’
Ian Johnson, south-west England spokesman for the NFU, said fruit and vegetable crops have collapsed, with potatoes and apples particularly badly affected by blight, mildew and disease.
‘I’ve been farming now for 40 years and it’s the worst harvest I have ever known,’ Johnson said.
Tim Lang, professor of food policy at London’s City University, said the poorest 10% of households in the UK have seen a drop in food affordability of 20% in the last eight years and that this is a ‘disaster for public health’ as the price of healthier produce such as fruit has risen by 34% in the last five years.
Lang said: ‘Most analysts think the long drop in food prices, of affordability, is over. We are now in a new world, a world of new fundamentals, not just bad weather this year but a long-term squeeze.’