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OFC Report Sheds Light on Mending UK's 'Broken' Food Supply Chain

A recent report unveiled at the 2024 Oxford Farming Conference has brought to light the critical state of the UK's food supply chain, exacerbated by a series of global and environmental crises.

Authored by Ged Futter, a former buyer at Asda and director of The Retail Mind, the report underscores the unsustainable nature of the current system where farmers are essentially underwriting the cost of consumers' preference for inexpensive food.


Futter, drawing on his extensive 30-year experience in retail, including a significant tenure as a senior buyer at Asda, highlights the 'permacrisis' state of farming, a result of various factors including Brexit, the conflict in Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic, and soaring inflation rates.


The report, titled "Is the UK Food Supply Chain Broken?", is based on insights from over 40 interviews with business owners and consultants across various sectors, including fresh produce and frozen food manufacturing.


The report points out the high-risk environment for farmers, marked by consistent oversupply and a lack of deep understanding of farm production costs and profitability.


Futter notes, "The level of risk is at an all-time high... More farmers are asking, is it worth doing?"


He also mentions the challenges faced by apple farmers who invest upfront for seven years before reaping a full harvest, while buyers often operate on shorter, seasonal cycles.


Futter also sheds light on the need for more rigorous accounting practices among farmers, citing instances of 'shoebox accounting' and reliance on accountants for profit or loss assessments.


The report identifies three key areas where retailer tactics need to be addressed: fixed price, long-term agreements; the impact of inexperienced buyers; and the audit burden. These issues, according to Futter, have drained profits from suppliers over the past decade.


Ali Capper, the executive chair of British Apples & Pears, who is also responsible for the OFC report, emphasises the urgency of rethinking supply chain approaches. She points out the unsustainable increase in production costs for fruit and vegetable growing, urging a recalibration of value-sharing throughout the UK's food supply chain.


The report builds on the 2023 OFC report's call for fairness and shared responsibility from farm to consumer, highlighting the need for a sustainable and socially just future for UK food.

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