The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is a horrifying situation that continues to cost countless lives as the world watches on in dismay for the people of this brave nation and in disgust at the actions of President Vladimir Putin.
However, while not wanting to distract from this unfolding tragedy and the terrible human cost, the invasion is also leading towards a troubling situation for UK farmers and food security as a whole.
This conflict involves two of the world’s biggest grain and fertiliser exporters and, while the impact will not be immediate, many experts fear there are significant implications for global food supply later in the year.
This means there will be a renewed focus on UK farmers to deliver and help shore up the UK’s frail food security. Farmers will need support to optimise food production in the months ahead and that will need clear communication from policy makers through to agribusinesses, researchers and the farmers themselves.
We need a partnership approach and agribusinesses will need to do more to communicate their solutions and services to reduce the impact of the challenge ahead.
Global agricultural leaders
The Ukraine is known as “the breadbasket of Europe” because it has the most amount of arable land of any European country and is home to around a quarter of the world’s super-fertile “chernozem” or “black soil.”
The country boasts around 42 million hectares of agricultural land. At present, 32 million hectares are cultivated annually, representing an area larger than Italy. Many had said the Ukraine could “feed the world” with its continued expansion of the agricultural sector.
Ukraine is one of the world’s top three grain exporters and also a world leader in soybeans and sunflower oils. However, the invasion of Russia has thrown the future of the entire country into doubt and, while a relatively insignificant concern at this moment, the agricultural sector will most likely suffer.
Independent agronomist Mike Lee, who specialises in agriculture in the Black Sea region, recently told Farmers Weekly that, in Ukraine, winter wheat crops are in the ground and tractors are still out fertilising. He also believes Ukrainians will probably continue to farm throughout the year. However, the situation will almost inevitably put a stop to any exports.
Fears for food production
While the Ukraine fights for its very survival, Russia has deservedly been hit with a swathe of unprecedented sanctions.
However, Russia is also one of the world’s biggest producers of grain and fertilisers and the sanctions will prevent them from exporting these goods.
Again, Farmers Weekly has closely tracked how the conflict is making global wheat markets nervous and prices are rising. The invasion is having a significant impact on grain, fertiliser, oil and gas prices – adding further pressure to the agricultural sector around the globe.
The impact will not be immediate, but a global shortage of fertiliser amid already soaring prices, coupled with disruption to planting and export of Ukrainian grain will have significant implications on global food supply in Autumn.
New strategy for farmers?
UK Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab predicts this conflict could last months or even years. Despite this, the global demand for grain keeps increasing – from food to biofuel – and what this means is that it will be a very different global food market in the months to come.
The EU has already made a series of dramatic shifts in policy around defence and energy, and they are now shifting that focus to food security.
In the UK, farmers have little incentive to expand food production at the minute. In recent months agriculture has been sacrificed on the altar of Brexit with new “deals” for New Zealand, Australia the US and Brazil offering little protection for UK farming and looking like they will hit farmers very hard.
French president Emmanuel Macron has already indicated a shift in policy saying France can no longer “depend on others to feed us, care for us, finance us and defend us”. We can expect the UK to quickly follow suit and deliver a new food production strategy in the months ahead.
Why is communication important in farming?
While UK farmers have always been pioneers in developing innovative new systems and using research and data to maximise output and improve efficiencies, they will now again be expected to go even further as the nation looks at them to feed us.
We need collaboration, new policy and support and agribusinesses will have to play a role in providing partnership and solutions to ensure UK farming can rise to the challenge.
For agribusinesses, this means they will have to move and adapt just as quickly as the farmers. They will need to be poised to deliver the solutions and services to meet the new focus on food production and communication will be key.
Farmers consume information, advice and services through a multitude of channels and agribusinesses need to make sure that they are communicating all of the information and advice that they need.