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Business leaders networking at the Peach 20/20 Conference  

06 Mar 2024

Peter Martin gets his ​​​​​​​wellies on

Peter Martin
If you think restaurants and pubs are having a tough time, try being a farmer. The plight of British agriculture was laid bare at the National Farmers’ Union conference in Birmingham last month.

At the heart of the problem is the balance, or lack of it as the NFU sees it, between food security and environmental protection. It’s a fundamental sustainability conundrum, but as far as the bulk of the farming community is concerned governments plural, as this is a devolved issue, have simply got it wrong.

Climate change has put the focus on the environment. But with large swathes of fertile land under flood water after the wettest February on record and the crops sown there almost certainly lost, changing weather patterns are now having a direct impact of the amount of food this country is potentially able to produce.

That is why this balancing act is not just an issue for farmers - and the current crisis has been devastating for many individuals who have literally seen their livelihoods washed away. All of us have a stake in this, and those in the food and drink business especially.

It is not just the weather, but the focus of politicians’. As Minette Batters, the charismatic outgoing NFU president, asked, why does it make sense to see apple orchards grubbed up while tree planting with its tax-breaks is prioritised, or maize for biofuel is incentivised over food production? “Planting trees on good pasture land is just bonkers.”

Her conclusion: “We must value food and environment equally.”

The first question for hospitality is do we really care about food security - and if we do, how to get involved in this fundamental debate? The evidence of this week’s Planet Peach Sustainability Summit is that a large section of the sector does care and is already engaged with suppliers. But how to get that connection with the primary producers out on the land?

As UK Hospitality’s CEO Kate Nicholls told the NFU conference, the two sectors have a lot in common, not least the structure of each industry - with a few large scale companies, but a mass of smaller enterprises often tenanted. Political co-operation is already happening on issues like migrant workers, and Minette Batters initiative to bring the sectors together through the hospitality roundtable she has chaired is more than welcome. It just needs to be built on.

My concern is that apart from Minette and Kate, hardly anyone else at the NFU event actually mentioned hospitality, although by value it is as important a partner for farmers as the supermarkets. Practically everyone else talked retail. Right or wrong, it is still the overwhelming focus for most in agriculture.

But hospitality itself can and should do more to get involved. There were only a handful of us from the hospitality world at the NFU conference - and while the likes of Asda, the Co-op, Morrisons, M&S and Lidl were all visibly supporting the event, there were no hospitality brands on view as sponsors. Next year, let’s make an impact.

Leafing through back issues of an old Peach Report, I reminded myself that I’ve written about this before - in fact exactly 11 years ago, when in the wake of a previous ‘food crisis’ I urged readers to ‘get their wellies on’ and go out onto a farm and talk to a farmer.

Extract from a Feb/Mar 2013 Peach report.
Extract from a Feb/Mar 2013 Peach report.

Well, I’ll be doing that this September along with Prestige Purchasing’s chair David Read and his colleagues as part of Prestige’s new initiative to take 50 hospitality leaders and their senior procurement and sustainability leads on a two-day farm tour when we’ll see the challenges of agriculture up close. If you want to join us on the Farm Study Tour, which is supported by the NFU and Peach 20/20 and will also take in a visit to the School of Sustainable Food & Farming at Harper Adams University, you can find out more and register your interest here

If you do care about where the food you sell comes from - and you want to do more than just leave it up to your wholesalers and distributors - it’s time to get involved.


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