The war in Ukraine is likely to affect food supplies in the UK and the Isle of Man in several ways.
Ukraine supplies around 30% of the world’s wheat and Ukrainian farmers are expected to plant their crops for the coming season soon. But their main agricultural areas, which have some of the richest soil in the world, are now the target of air attacks and artillery bombardment.
Wheat and cereals already produced can no longer be exported due to the Russian naval blockade of Odessa and other ports in the south of the country.
In the UK, feed wheat prices (for livestock feed) have already increased by 39% since March last year, which will clearly affect the cost of meat production as well.
According to the NFU in the UK, the cost of producing a chicken is 50% higher than a year ago, but farmers have so far absorbed much of that extra cost.
The NFU has also warned that seasonal fresh produce in the UK is likely to be affected, as Ukrainian workers make up 60% of recruits under the UK Seasonal Worker Scheme, filling essential roles such as planting, picking, packing and grading fresh produce.
All of this means that the Isle of Man Government’s commitment to food security under the Our Island Plan will have to be more than just words.
At the start of the pandemic, in March 2020, images of supermarket shelves stripped of essentials like flour haunted us all. The question now is: is it likely to happen again?
Food & Farming spoke with Philip Dunne, Chairman of the Board of Laxey Glen Mill.
He said: “We are really in a privileged position where our silos are about full and we still have wheat on the farms and we have no more capacity to store.”
“We are well supplied with wheat.
As he goes on to explain, 95% of Manx wheat is winter wheat, which has a higher gluten protein content, making it ideal for bread and flour production.
This was planted in the fall for this year’s crop which will be harvested in August and September.
He continued: “In terms of food safety, I think it goes hand in hand with environmental safety and provenance – people are asking us more and more: where does it come from? how was it grown and who makes money from it.
“We buy every last morsel of grain on the Isle of Man and we know it’s only gone 20 miles [to get to the mill]: if it can be grown locally, why would you bring it from Canada?
“But it’s important to say that local provenance doesn’t mean your standards have to be lower. We have to learn what they are doing elsewhere and we have to make sure the quality is not inferior to [customers] would go elsewhere.
“We are in constant contact with UK millers and bakers to make sure we get the most out of the wheat we grow on the Isle of Man. We need our grind to be the best it can be and our cooking too.
“DEFA has helped us along the way, to make sure the training we receive is up to date.”
And, as Mr Dunne points out: “People will make a choice and [locally produced] costs more – people growing on small farms will always cost more. But it’s like an insurance policy – you pay a little more to know she’s always there for you. During the pandemic, we ground night and day to make sure our flour was on the shelves when the supermarkets didn’t have it.
This is something to think about when deciding whether or not to buy cheap imported bread.
As Dunne adds, “Perhaps we are moving from a ‘just in time’ economy to a ‘just in case’ economy.