The Impact of Covid-19 on Farming and the Food Chain

Covid-19 has had devastating effects on almost all industries, but few have had to adapt their entire business models like the food industry. In the past couple of months we’ve seen drastic changes to consumer behaviour when it comes to how they eat, from no longer dining out at pubs and restaurants, panic buying at the supermarkets, and the rise of fresh meat and veg boxes delivered, contactless, straight to your door.

In this month’s blog we’re going to look at the impact of Covid-19 on farming and the food chain, from dealing with a declining workforce which leads to the breaking down of the supply chain and completely adapt business models to serve a vastly different clientele with a moments notice. We’ll look at how consumer food purchases could change post lockdown, and how consumers can support UK farmers now.

Workforce & the supply chain

The food chain is made up of multiple moving parts, making it vulnerable at the best of times. Throw a global pandemic into the mix, and the food chain can very easily break down.

Slaughterhouses with declining staff have had to turn farmers away, deliveries are being delayed if drivers are shielding or unexpectedly unwell. Farm work, which is generally undertaken by workers from abroad, is readily available with 80,000 positions currently open, as lockdown measures have forced workers back to their homes.

Whilst many workers will be unwell, many have also been furloughed, which means they are not permitted to work by the government. This puts businesses who still need to keep the chain going in a difficult position – they may need to furlough staff to make the finances work and avoid redundancies, but this also means fewer people able to work.

Clientele changes

Even before lockdown measures were formerly put in place, foodservice was feeling the pressure. Many restaurants, pubs and café’s noticed huge drops in business from two weeks prior to lockdown. And once lockdown was formerly announced, foodservice almost closed down entirely. Dairy farmers dumped thousands of litres of milk that would have gone to coffee shops, and cheese producers had to throw away a huge amount of stock that would usually be sold into wholesale, where the demand was no longer there.

Huge operations like McDonald’s closing their doors had a huge impact on farmers across the country, who’s entire livelihoods depend on supplying them. Almost overnight, the entire foodservice and catering industries had gone, leaving farmers with a huge amount of produce, with a relatively short shelf life.  

Many businesses have been forced to adapt overnight, finding new avenues to sell.

Changing consumer behaviour

When the Covid-19 situation started to deteriorate rapidly, consumers turned to panic buying. Chicken was a particular favourite for the panic buying public, putting huge strain on chicken farmers. Chickens generally take 7-8 weeks to rear, so it is not possible for farmers to merely provide more to the supermarkets.

Whilst the panic buying situation seems to have levelled out, many farmers are worried that consumers may have switched over to cheaper or own brand labels whilst their produce was not available and may not switch back.

Looking to the future and the ‘new normal’

When many food businesses lost their foodservice and catering clients, they turned to consumers, offering direct farm-to-table fresh produce that can be delivered contactless to your front door. This was also a great avenue for farms who were reliant on local weekly farmers markets.

We have recently launched our own meat boxes, which change monthly and can be delivered nationwide in the UK. This service was relatively unknown prior to Covid-19, but is now hugely popular, and it makes sense.

If there are less people in the food chain, there is a smaller chance of it breaking down. A smaller food chain also means less people handling your food, with less issues overall. Creating new localised supply chains is now more important than ever.

The pandemic has made it clear that we need to re-look at farming and the food chain and move the focus away from produce being as cheap as possible. We need to shift back to a more sustainable farming system with a focus on local, quality ingredients. Supporting our farms now will mean that we are in a much better position to deal with an issue like this, should it arise again.

We hope online ordering is a trend that stays post lockdown. And with UK staycations set to become hugely popular until travel is deemed safe again, online ordering allows farmers to potentially sell to tourists renting out holiday homes in the UK.

Ordering produce direct from farms is a great way to support UK farmers and take some pressure off the chain.

Morton’s Meat Boxes  

Each month, we will curate a special selection of fresh and local produce in season, package it beautifully and deliver it to your front door. The boxes (£45) will be brimming full of meats from our own farm as well as other Norfolk farmers who share our values and unerring commitment to quality. From June, we’ll also be smoking meats from our smoke house and including this in our meatboxes.

With our growing, award-winning range including our free-range chickens, Mangalitza rare breed pork, pasture fed Jacob lamb and best free-range turkeys to choose from, you’ll experience delicious flavours that are rarely found elsewhere.

Place your order here: https://www.mortonsfarm.co.uk/product-category/subscription-meat-boxes/