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COVID-19 — building resilience in the agricultural supply chain

Rarely have I been so appreciative of farmers as the other weekend.

I spent hours turning a small patch of grass into a “Good Life” style vegetable patch. It was satisfying, but back-breaking work and with my limited skills, not sure to yield any return.

With empty shelves recently in supermarkets up and down the country thanks to panic buying, it reinforced just how much we can often take the crucial work our rural sector does for granted, and how much we rely on it for our country’s food security.

Not least because the movement of some imported foods could be impacted if there’s a major shutdown in the country of origin.

Plus, while the full impact of the outbreak remains to be seen, it’s very likely it’ll hit farming’s seasonal workforce, particularly if further travel restrictions limit travel for the workers needed to pick and pack crops in the summer. The availability of these migrant workers, of course, was already under the microscope as part of the Brexit debate.

Food security

What this all proves is just how important it is to safeguard our food security, especially at a time where there are longer-term concerns that farmers here would find it hard to compete with potentially cheaper imports subject to varying food and welfare standards post-Brexit.

Of course, one of the voices laudably lobbying for protection has been Minette Batters, NFU chair, who has called for rules on minimum standards for imports to be enshrined in law, as well as that other countries wanting to trade with the UK should do so “on our terms” when it comes to food standards and animal welfare.

What’s next?

The latest Scottish budget included some positive points of interest for the sector, including a £1million campaign to promote the Scottish food and drink sector, as well as £10million over three years to help distilleries ‘go green’, but that’s only part of the picture.

What else needs to be done?

Back in 2014, the World Economic Forum said when it comes to feeding nine billion people in 2050 in the face of climate change, action on the ground delivers results. This statement still rings true.

In practical terms here in Scotland that could take a variety of forms.

Indeed, if the strength of the supply chain is the key point here, then there’s a role for co-operatives in strengthening that chain. These businesses, owned by individual members rather than investors are run by, and for, the members and it’s a model that’s widespread internationally.The role of organisations run under the umbrella of SAOS cannot be understated with co-operatives providing jobs or work opportunities to 10% of the world’s employed population, and the three hundred top co-operatives or co-operative groups generating $2.1trillion.

Additional support to increase supply and investment in technology, work to attract new entrants into the industry is a necessity, and immigration rules will play a large part in that. The negotiation and execution of legally robust and enforceable export and supply contracts will also prove decisive.

The enhanced support of Food and Drink Scotland for Scottish brand protection and investment in export chains will be vital in the “new world”.

We find ourselves in a position where it’s necessary to bring food production and a labour shortage under the spotlight. One thing’s for sure, we shouldn’t take our farmers for granted and there’s much work to be done in terms of how those businesses work together, how they attract people, and how they’re set up to trade with the international community.

Linda Tinson

Stirling-based Linda Tinson is a partner at Ledingham Chalmers. Linda has vast experience in all aspects of business in the rural and agricultural sector. She also has experience in family business and personal succession planning.

Posted, 10 April 2020 by Linda Tinson
Categories: Coronavirus | Coronavirus and rural | Insights | Private client | Rural