3 April 2023

Empty fruit and vegetable shelves are becoming a common sight. While they’ve quickly become a political debate, the real reason behind them is being overlooked. Food security. Most of us assume that a country like the UK is guaranteed to have a high level of food security with its domestic agriculture industry.

The situation isn’t so straightforward. The National Farmers Unions’s (NFU) food security campaign has already gained over 35,000 signatures from its members, calling on the government to support food security by introducing measures to reduce production costs, including energy bills.

Food security is one of the most under-reported aspects of the climate change crisis as countries grapple with rising costs and environmental changes. The UK is now increasingly relying on overseas markets for produce as domestic production falls in the face of rising costs.

Food and energy security are dual-link problems with the same solution: building a self-sufficient, reliable renewable energy industry. It will provide affordable energy, tackle climate change, and reduce reliance on imports.

Why Food Prices are Soaring 

Have you noticed your supermarket shopping costing you more? You’ve probably found yourself looking twice at the prices of everyday items like milk and eggs. Four of the largest supermarket chains, including Asda and Tesco, have introduced purchase limits for everyday items, like cucumbers and tomatoes.

Fertiliser is one of the reasons why food prices are soaring, with supermarket shelves sitting empty. The gas crisis has sent the cost of fertiliser skyrocketing. The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) estimating that farmers could spend up to £938 million a year extra, almost £80 million a month, on fertiliser.

Most high-carbon fertilisers are made using gas and face the most volatility in pricing. The cost of global fertiliser peaked in spring 2022 in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While prices began to fall during the summer, they remain significantly higher than before the start of the gas crisis. 

Fertiliser prices in the UK sit at a historic high. Ammonium nitrate, a common form of fertiliser, was being produced in the UK for £234 per tonne at the start of 2020. It peaked at £841 per tonne in July 2022 and remains at roughly £700 per tonne at the start of 2023.

The agricultural industry is dealing with problems on every front with oil and gas. The continued reliance on fossil fuels is increasing the industry’s carbon footprint while rising energy costs are making fertiliser and everyday running costs more expensive.

Continuing to rely on fossil fuels impacts the UK’s long-term food security and impacting the prices we pay today. The UK Government’s December 2021 Food Security Report stated that “the biggest medium to long term risk to the UK’s domestic production comes from climate change and other environmental pressures like soil degradation, water quality and biodiversity”.

The Danger of Relying on Foreign Imports

Fresh food inflation hit a record 16.3% in February 2023, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), up 0.5% from January 2023. While the current shortage is partly driven by a cold snap in Europe, it shows the dangers of our reliance on foreign imports to make up for the shortfall in domestic production.

Examining the trend of UK tomato production reflects the overarching theme of domestic production. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimates that the UK’s tomato production has fallen from 93,000 tonnes in 1985 to 68,000 tonnes in 2021. By comparison, the UK’s population has grown by a fifth in the same time frame.

UK fruit and vegetable growers are feeling a bite from rising energy costs, making production increasingly less profitable, leading to rising prices on supermarket shelves. Labour volatility following Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic has also left the industry vulnerable and exposed to international supply chain problems, leading to the current shortage situation.

Allowing the UK agriculture industry to rely on oil and gas has led to unmaintainable production costs and a reliance on foreign imports. Investing in renewable energy will boost the UK’s food security by lowering production costs and making domestic agriculture more profitable.

Food Security and Climate Change 

One aspect of climate change that is rarely reported on is food security. Food production is the number two cause of emissions while also being the industry most directly impacted by the consequences of climate change. The industry is in a unique position to play a vital role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and benefit from a net-positive across the board.

Climate change brings extreme and variable consequences, from drought to flooding and rising temperatures. Investing in renewable energy solutions and infrastructure to develop energy security can support the agriculture industry, including UK fruit and vegetable growers, to stabilise food security.

The Benefits of Homegrown Energy

Boosting the UK’s renewable energy output industry is vital for achieving energy security and is necessary to provide the agriculture industry with a much-needed lifeline.

When you’re shopping in the supermarket, you probably find yourself gravitating towards local produce. It’s often less expensive and more reliable. Homegrown energy falls into a similar category.

Investing in renewable energy will reduce the UK’s reliance on foreign energy imports with a more affordable alternative to reduce energy costs and the agriculture industry’s carbon footprint.

Solar farming offers a sustainable way to regenerate the agriculture industry and achieve food and energy security. Solar power provides near zero-carbon electricity and is becoming increasingly more affordable and competitive in price compared to fossil fuels. Renewable energy reduces production costs for farmers, making domestic production more profitable and ensuring price stability on supermarket shelves.

Green Switch Capital is working with hundreds of landowners to create a sustainable, self-reliant energy market that guarantees food and energy security. Together we can provide the agriculture industry with a way to lower its greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate the impact of climate change, and regenerate domestic production.

Get in touch with our team today to work with us to power a safer future and find out more about our land-leasing programme.