Foodservice Footprint sunak2 The Friday Digest: Rain, rain go away Out of Home News Analysis  news-story-top news-email-top

The Friday Digest: Rain, rain go away

Perhaps it was the farmers that swung it? Just over a week after Rishi Sunak welcomed the great and the good of the food and farming sector to 10 Downing Street to discuss the challenges facing the industry, he was standing outside the famous black door announcing a general election on July 4th.

That the prime minister’s speech took place amid a downpour felt somehow apt given his tenure has coincided with the wettest 18-month period since 1836. He also held office during the hottest year ever recorded in 2022, yet there remains little evidence that Sunak is ready to swing behind the climate cause during his campaign for re-election. In claiming to have faced down “environmental dogma” in his circumspect approach to net-zero, Sunak hinted that if the environment is to feature heavily in this election campaign it will be as a wedge issue designed to divide, rather than unite, the electorate over the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis.

If the PM believes intuitively that farmers are on his side over net-zero, a recent poll may give him cause for concern. The survey carried out just before the Downing Street farm to fork summit found that farmers are more worried about climate change, and show stronger support for net-zero, than the public as a whole. The poll published by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) found 72% of farmers were worried about climate change, slightly higher than the general public at 70%. It also found 72% of farmers supported reaching the UK Government’s target to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, slightly more than the 65% support the poll found amongst the public more widely.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised given the bleak prognosis facing farmers following the near incessant rainfall experienced during the autumn and winter, which was made 15% heavier by climate change according to a studyfrom the Met Office and other experts. New ECIU analysis has estimated that arable farmers face losing nearly £1bn in revenue as a result of the wet weather. Based on current prices for wheat, barley, oats and oilseed rape, and previous estimates of the impact of the wet winter on harvests this year, farmers could lose £890m on these crops compared to what they could have made if they’d produced as much as in 2023, according to the analysis. “The science is now clear that this winter’s wet weather was made worse by climate change. With crops hit by the winter washout, the UK’s food security has been shaken and farmers are left counting the cost,” said Tom Lancaster, land analyst at ECIU.

Embattled farmers are increasingly looking to new revenue streams to ensure their future survival. This includes by selling more products direct to customers, according to the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE). In its ‘State of rural enterprise’ report, NICRE found that around a third of English farms in the North East, South West and West Midlands are interested in increasing their direct or local sales, which currently account for 11% of the total, in order to improve margins, access new market opportunities and gain greater control over how products are sold.

The survey also assessed farms’ environmental practices and found that almost nine out of 10 farms monitor soil quality at various intervals, however take-up of carbon footprint calculation was less widespread, with only a third of farms carrying this out. The survey comes at a time when a growing number of food businesses are seeking to generate accurate, farm-level data on key environmental indicators as part of their desire to communicate the environmental impact of food or dishes to their customers.

Elsewhere in this week’s Footprint Friday alert is news that businesses have been put on notice over the introduction of new sustainability standards from 2025; food retailers are planning to collaborate to purchase Fairtrade products; and schools are having to pay to feed hungry children who are ineligible for free school meals.