The conflict in Ukraine has brought food and energy resilience in the UK into sharp focus.
Russia and Ukraine are two of the largest cereal growers and exporters to Europe, and are also a source of vegetable oils, and agricultural fertilisers. The UK faces restricted imports which affect not only arable but livestock feed.
The consequences of the war also affect the source and price of our energy. The cost of red diesel for farm vehicles and the price of gas used, for example, to heat greenhouses and to make fertiliser has soared.
Such crises serve to remind us that although we are part of a global economy, we must look to our own resources. The last time this occurred was during the Second World War, when land management was crucial to increase our food production.
UK farmers have reacted quickly by already offering support to Ukrainian refugees with donations, but there is no short-term solution to stabilising their own businesses and increasing domestic food production over what may take several years to resolve. Tenant farmers will be worried about the viability of their holdings and landlords will be concerned about rents and capital investment.
Ukrainian workers have accounted for 60-70% of recruits under the UK's Seasonal Workers Scheme in planting, picking, packing and grading fresh produce. Those already based here have their visas extended to the end of 2022, but some may choose to return to fight in the Ukraine alongside those who would otherwise have come to the UK this year and next.
Investment, time and support needed
Just as the new grant schemes such as the Sustainable Farming Initiative are beginning to roll out to replace the farming subsidies, farmers now face the challenge of how much land to keep in food production and how much to put into environmental schemes and sources of renewable energy. One of the requirements of new ways of farming was to boost productivity while reducing carbon emissions. Another was coupling bioenergy to carbon capture.
Anaerobic digestion plant and biomass boilers have been around for some time. If gas prices are going to seriously affect heating greenhouses and polytunnels, then now may be the time to look at installing ground source or (if the land is near a reasonable sized river) water-source heat pumps. Solar and wind generated energy can now be stored in batteries which are constantly been developed and improved.
All this takes capital investment and time to speed up or change farming methods, and develop new technologies. Farmers will need funding support for new initiatives and infrastructure, as well as help from their professional advisers in navigating this new landscape.