New research with over 380 professionals working in food, farming and the countryside finds a huge appetite for change and collaboration across the sector. In Learning from Lockdown, a major new survey from the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, 80% of respondents wanted most things to be different in the recovery. None wanted everything to go back to how it was before.
The findings find some pride in how food businesses and farmers adapted to a shock that few businesses had planned for. Yet it also reveals that industry, public servants and community groups are eager to reset Britain’s relationship with our food, farming and countryside.
The survey shows a widespread desire for more collaboration and diversity, particularly through investment in shorter supply chains, as crucial to sustainable economic recovery.
70% or respondents say that the changes they want are possible by working together. This is despite most (59%) expecting recession and business failures to have a bigger long-term impact than recent changes in behaviour and values, such as cooking more from scratch or attitudes to nature.
Investing directly in communities and local businesses is a core theme throughout. 90% support shorter, local food supply chains, more diverse food UK production and better rural services, especially broadband and connectivity. 85% want better pay and conditions for land-based work. 70% want more power and resources devolved to local governments and communities.
“Lockdown has shown that the UK’s food system has the capacity for rapid and transformative change” said FFCC Chair, Sir Ian Cheshire. “Our survey captures this major shift and a huge energy to do things differently. Nobody who responded wanted to go back to where we were just three months ago. People made strong connections between food and nature, the importance of local diversity and resilience, and the need for collective leadership. It emphasises how much the countryside is at the heart of our nation and how important it will be for everyone to be able to play their part in a green recovery. We need a fresh vision that extends beyond Defra, to invest in a working countryside and stronger local arrangements. And we need a new plan, which matches the sector’s extraordinary appetite for change, while addressing the strengths and weaknesses exposed by lockdown, ready for the even bigger challenges we know are coming, like climate change.”
Prof Tom MacMillan from the Royal Agricultural University, who led the study as FFCC’s Research Director, said: “This new study builds on the YouGov polling we commissioned during lockdown in April, which found just 9% of people wanted everything to go back to how it was before coronavirus. Now we’re getting the same message from the food, farming and rural sectors. What’s most remarkable is the spirit of collaboration that comes through. This is a fiercely competitive industry often locked in polarised arguments over issues such as farming versus nature or local versus global. People are fired up by what they’ve achieved together and what has proved possible, both in big businesses and in local communities.”
FFCC Commissioner and Bidfood CEO Andrew Selley commented on the significant changes the pandemic has led to across his business as a wholesaler and food distributor in foodservice. “Lockdown forced the closure of a large proportion of our customer base – pubs, hotels, theme parks, and workplace restaurants – overnight. We’ve had to pivot the business. We’re now in partnership with our biggest competitor, Brakes, and have delivered over 3 million food boxes to the vulnerable.”
FFCC ran the Learning from Lockdown survey in May and 388 professionals responded. They included senior staff from large food businesses, farmers, estate owners, farming industry bodies, civil servants in Westminster, local and the devolved governments, government delivery bodies, campaign groups, community groups, and researchers specialising in food, agriculture and rural issues.
An interactive slide pack is available here.
Priorities for the UK’s food, farming and countryside include:
- More collaboration and collective leadership to tackle the serious issues:
- 79% agree that we need stronger relationships between government and society; and 50% agree they’re needed with business
- 70% think the changes they want are possible if they and others work for it
- 42% believe that central and local government should take the lead to “build back better”
- More resource and investment in communities and rural infrastructure:
- 93% want more investment in short or local food supply chains
- 91% say better rural services, such as broadband and rural connectivity
- 85% say better pay and conditions for land-based work
- 69% say more power and resources for local government
- On national food security and productivity, 91% say the UK needs more diverse and local sources of food production; 80% want more investment in research and innovation.
- Reinforcing the results of FFCC’s YouGov survey at the early stage of lockdown, which showed the public noticing cleaner air and more wildlife, 73% of respondents believe everyone needs easier access to nature.
- What surprised people: respondents were positive about collaboration, farming, dietary changes, small business and local food; mainly critical of government and buying behaviour (e.g. panic buying); and divided on the performance of the food system overall and on challenges relating to farm labour.
- Who took part: 388 professionals, from business (38%), local and national government (15%), local and national organisations from the third sector (27%) and academics (14%), other (6%).