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Good farm profits don't mean greener pastures

The agri-food sector has been hailed as one of the saviours of the local economy. It has come through the credit crunch and downturn unscathed and with new vigour to lead the charge out of recession.

Industry representatives have even gone so far as to claim the sector can take up the slack in the job market left after the full round of public sector cuts have taken hold. If estimates are correct, that means finding employment for up to 15,000 people; a very bold claim.

There's no doubt our local farmers and food companies are in the good position of being able to take advantage of soaring end product prices which they could only have dreamed about just a matter of years ago when many were being forced out of business. But there are downsides, for consumers and for farmers themselves.

Livestock farmers, who amount to the majority of all those who work the land on these shores, have had to play a balancing act, enjoying inflated cheques for milk and meat on the one hand but having inflated bills for feed, fertiliser and fuel on the other.

Cereal farmers have probably got it best, only being hit by the latter two cost burdens while enjoying increased income from selling their harvests for feed.

This testy relationship between farming neighbours may mellow after events of the last two days which has seen global wheat prices fall 5% after Russia lifted its export ban on wheat.

While the heat is off for now, volatility in food prices may become the norm in the coming years and could change the shape of our agricultural sector and our eating habits.

A report released by Oxfam estimates world food prices could climb by 180% by 2030. To put that into perspective, if a loaf of bread were to cost £1 today and prices climbed as Oxfam predicts, that same loaf would set you back £2.80 in 2030.

Of course, aside from the extra we would have to pay for our weekly shop, there's the more serious issue of the millions of people around the globe for whom such a spike in food prices may put their daily bread beyond their reach. For them, the economics are a matter of life and death.


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