Tales From The Fields: Cash crisis could cut home food production

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During this week in 1970 a warning that the growing crisis in agriculture could lead to a cut-back in food production was issued by National Farmers Union president Mr Henry Plumb on behalf of the three United Kingdom farmers’ unions.

Revealing that the unions had just made further urgent representations to the government, Mr Plumb said: “It is a tragedy that just at the time when higher food production is needed to save imports farmers will be forced to retrench. Unless the situation is put right by an injection of real money into agriculture this autumn the country will find itself spending even more on imports from abroad to the detriment of the balance of payments.

“Already in the first half of this year Britain has spent £38 million more on importing food than in the same period in 1969, and £63 million more than two years ago. This cannot make sense for a country with balance of payment difficulties.”

Mr Plumb continued: “This situation has arisen because, following a decade in which farmers’ costs rose by £100 million more than the prices they received, cost inflation has now got out of hand. In the four months alone immediately following the Price Review announcement in March farmers’ costs rose by no less than £20 million per annum, and the figure is very much higher today.”

Mr Plumb said that whereas only a few years previously these costs, which were almost all imposed from outside, were rising at about £25 million a year, they had increased from 1967 to 1969 at more than double this figure.

The rate of increase in 1970 since the Review had been even steeper, he added. Unlike most other businessmen, farmers were unable to increase their selling prices to meet higher outgoings.

“The recent increase in market prices for cereals are a serious blow to livestock farmers who are faced substantially higher bills for feedingstuffs. It is the Treasury, however - not the farmers - who are getting the benefit of the higher prices for cereals and livestock, through the substantial savings these have created in agricultural support,” warned Mr Plumb.

He continued: “The present government are committed to a policy of expanding home food production but have not stated that they cannot announce details until they have carried out a review of the national economy as a whole, which they intend to complete during October. Despite all the very serious problems I believe farmers should allow them this time to do the job properly.”

Mr Plumb concluded: “However, I must warn the government that agriculture is facing the most serious financial crisis since the end of the war, that the situation is worsening as each week passes and that the action taken in October must be swift and substantial enough to reverse the present dangerous trend.”