'There will be empty supermarket shelves without fair pay for farmers'

Farmers warn they face leaving the sector as they struggle to turn a profit due to soaring costs.

Scotland could face food shortages if farmers aren’t given fair pay for their produce amid soaring costs, those in the industry have warned.

Farmers say they face going out of business if they are unable to make a profit with the price of feed doubling, soaring energy bills and a struggle to employ workers.

These were among the many talking points at the Royal Highland Show, a celebration of rural life and Scotland’s rich produce being held in Ingliston, near Edinburgh.

The sector is worth £16bn and employs around 130,000 people in Scotland – but producers warn without a fair price being paid for their produce, they’ll be forced to leave.

Robin Traquair, who runs a pig farm near Edinburgh, had to make a difficult choice after Russia’s invasion in Ukraine in 2022 as feed imported from the country doubled in cost.

He told STV News: “The week after Ukraine got invaded, we decided to empty the whole farm out. Because even if we were given a pig for free, to finish for market, we couldn’t make a profit with all of the other costs added on.

“So you’ve got a reduction in meat supply to the supermarkets and to the wholesalers, and that’s why we’ve seen prices go up – because unless we can make a margin, there’s no point in doing it.

“I still want to know what the trade deals are going to be ahead, I still want to know if I invest a large amount of money in my shed, am I going to make a return on that.”

The pressures have prompted UK government investigations into pork, dairy, eggs and horticulture.

Those supply chains have been marked out as most at risk of stopping production.

But there are growing calls for urgent help for poultry farmers, too.  

Ross Forster runs a chicken farm near Dundee.

He said: “If we’re not very careful, we’re going to end up in much the same situation as the eggs were in the last year, where we get bare shelves in the end.

“Because actually, the costs of filling these sheds and the input risks is now getting too great for what we’re getting out at the other end.

“We wonder why food inflation is so high, when we hit a moment like this – but when you’re starting from such a low bar, any percentage increase is going to be hard. £4.20 to feed your family of four or five your protein intake for a meal, is not a lot of money.

“Not when you see people spending money on large coffees that’ll cost more than that around 20 pence a chicken – that’s the difference we’re talking to keep the industry viable.”

Caroline Millar, chair of National Farmers Union Scotland, said: “Food is the most important thing. We need to eat at least three times a day.

“We have this new agricultural policy coming in 18 months, but we need to know what the investment is both from UK and Scottish Government into our sector, so we know we can put good nutritious food on to people’s plates.

Alister Jack added: “Farmers underpin the local economy. They are important for our food security.

“We’ve seen important that is with Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine difficulty getting grain into the Black Sea and out into the world markets that’s driven prices up. It’s important we can be self-sufficient in these things.”

Mairi Gougeon said: “I announced some conditions putting forward as part of future support, ultimately to ensure we have the a resilient industry going forward and continue to produce some of the best produce in the world.

“We will be continuing to pay our farmers at the earliest possible stage. We will continue to issue payments September this year. We want to ensure our farmers, our crofters and others in the sector have that certainty of cash flow.”

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