A matter of trust
Pretty soon no-one who travels the motorway network will be able to escape the message: we all need to buy more British food and support British farmers.
The banners that are set to go up on farmland will urge shoppers to look for the Red Tractor logo on the food they buy and to "Trust the Tractor".
I will leave aside here the fact that the Red Tractor marque is a pretty loose form of categorisation and that it doesn't automatically mean that the goods it appears on are 100 per cent British.
But it's the issue of "trust" I want to look at.
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"Trust the Tractor" is a snappy enough marketing slogan and most people will know what it means. But the whole matter of "trust" in the food chain is a slightly less clear-cut issue. Can farmers, for example, "trust the supermarkets"? Only, I would suggest, if one adds the words "to screw them at every opportunity" – for such is the bitter experience of innumerable farmer suppliers over the last 30 years.
This whole campaign, of course, has been launched on the back of the latest figures which show that we are only producing 62 per cent of the food we eat or, in other words, that we are only two-thirds self-sufficient.
The logic behind the banners and the exhortations is that if we encourage consumers to eat more British products farmers will then have to step up production to meet demand and the sun will break over better, more prosperous times for British agriculture.
Unfortunately the market doesn't work like that because the market is controlled by supermarkets, not the farming industry. They more or less dictate the content of the national diet.
They have been responsible for importing huge tonnages of cheap food from Europe and beyond, favouring cut-price imports over the produce coming off British farms which, because of higher labour, fuel and energy costs is inevitably more expensive.
One cannot really blame them because they are only following the trend that is generally being set by British industry – buy a Ford van, for example, and while it might have had its final assembly here it will have been largely built in Turkey.
In the final analysis the power to put more British food on the table lies in the supermarkets' hands, and I honestly can't see any prospect of a policy shift coming under which they will willingly sacrifice some of their obscenely large profits in order to buy and display more British produce. They will simply continue to assure us quite meaninglessly that they will "support" British farmers – as long as the price is right.
Of course a lot of our food – such as exotic fruits, for example – has always been and will always have to be imported because we cannot grow it here. But when it comes to things such as meat, dairy foods and vegetables there is no reason why supermarkets need to look abroad – other than to save themselves a penny a kilo wherever they can.
And we still haven't done anything to end what I see purely and simply as an abuse of power, the holding of British agriculture to ransom by a cabal of ruthless supermarket buyers.
The NFU has criticised me for dismissing its voluntary code of conduct which was designed to deliver better and fairer milk prices.
But what has it achieved? Some retailers have indeed signed up to it, but milk is still being heavily discounted and thousands of farmers are still receiving prices that are woefully inadequate to cover their production costs.
A few months ago retailers assured pig producers they were going to start buying more British pork because that was what their customers were demanding. Now the sector is squealing again because the promise has – unsurprisingly – been reneged on.
Peter Kendall has tried to assure me that the beef sector is doing well but this has nothing to do with retailers playing the patriotism card. Quite the opposite: because they weren't getting prices they could live with scores of producers have reduced the size of their suckler herds, so with less beef available the price has to rise.
The truth is that despite Peter Kendall's attempt to wave a magic wand and put everything right with a few banners until supermarkets are obliged to pay cost of production-plus prices there will be no market stimulus for farmers to produce more to close that self-sufficiency gap. But there is an alternative. I'm not sure if that figure of 62 per cent includes the 12 per cent of our production that we currently export but my advice to farmers would be too look long and hard at the export opportunities that are now opening up and which forward-thinking producers are already taking advantage of.
Other countries are waking up to the outstanding quality of the produce that comes off British farms and – more to the point – they are willing to pay the proper price for it.
If British supermarkets won't start trading on fair terms which ensure everyone has a slice of the cake then we should simply turn our attention to other customers who will.
Richard Haddock is a Devon livestock farmer and farm shop owner and chairman of the Conservative Rural Affairs Group.