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Rationing May Come Again

Supermarkets are limiting the amount of cooking oils people can buy. Tesco stated “To make sure all of our customers can continue to get what they need, we’ve introduced a temporary buying limit of three items per customer on products from our cooking oil range.”

Part of this is down to panic buying and hoarding although there is already a serious shortage of sunflower oil due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s not a full rationing system as we had during and for years after WW2 with coupons and weekly quotas.. yet.

Cancelling a ration coupon, 1943

Perfect Storm

We’re in a perfect storm on food supplies. The problems caused by the pandemic were not immediately as bad as I feared. In fact it was impressive how well the UK supermarkets and distribution systems coped. The cost inflation following the end of the pandemic was, I suppose, predictable although I can’t recall anyone actually doing so.

Just as we’re climbing out of the lockdowns, the Ukraine war happens. Oil and energy prices skyrocketing as exports of grains and cooking oils is cut off. Farmers find the cost of fertiliser has gone up fivefold. Although the arable farmers are getting higher prices for their produce, they aren’t getting enough to compensate for the increased input costs. They react by growing less.

It gets worse though. The poultry farmers have been hit by increases in feed prices. Remember, ‘free-range’ poultry require feeding just as much as caged or barn birds. They’ve also been hit by avian flu restrictions, forcing them to keep the birds undercover. That’s another cost although it seems the restrictions come in every winter nowadays.

They’re losing money on every bird and many don’t know if it is worth carrying on. Some are just taking a break and not replacing livestock as usual. This hits the farmers who supply fertile eggs to hatcheries, the hatcheries and those who specialise in raising birds from day-old to point of lay.

There are similar problems with other livestock and we’re in a silly situation. High and consistent demand being unfulfilled because the farmers can’t get paid enough to cover their costs. Who wants to pay to go to work?

Lead Times

Another problem is that farming is a business with long lead times. Whether growing crops or raising livestock takes time. It’s not like turning a switch in a factory, recovering production levels could take two or three years

The price increases we’re seeing now are just the start. Price rises in the pipeline are going to hit the poorest hardest and, if things carry on as they are, real shortages are inevitable. The best estimate is that the Ukrainian wheat exports will be half that of last year.

Madman not a Fool.

The madman in the Kremlin is not a total fool. He knows the west won’t risk the final war over Ukraine. He’s also calculated correctly that the Germans won’t switch off the gas so he’s got billions coming into his war chest.

His latest act is to steal hundreds of thousands of tonnes of Ukrainian wheat. See Reuters. I think he’s preparing to hold another threat over the world. Obey me or starve – not a new tactic for the Russians. They did precisely this in the Holodomor of the 1930s

Rationing is fair

The only fair answer to food shortages when they get really bad is price controls and rationing. The British government discovered this towards the end of First World War when a few food riots raised the spectre of Bolshevik revolution as had happened in Russia. At least everyone was equal with rationing.

Even in the Second World War and after when we had rationing in Britain, not everything was rationed. Some food gluts were available in season although you had to queue for them and prices were not universally controlled – so could be expensive.

Those who grew their own supplemented the ration and ensured their supply of fresh vegetables without queuing for hours.

Wartime Virtues

I think we’re going to have to rediscover some wartime virtues. Waste nothing, be inventive and plan meals according to what we have available. And grow as much as you can for yourself, your family and friends. Dig for Victory!

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
7 comments on “Rationing May Come Again
  1. Sonia stuart says:

    Hi everyone,
    We have plenty of land here in the UK and perhaps farmers should consider going back to horse manure or chicken poop, rather than these super expensive fertilisers…. and perhaps get back to a simpler way of living and growing our vegetables and fruits…

    • John Harrison says:

      Unfortunately to produce the yields they need fertiliser. Farmers Weekly calculated we’d need 2.5 billion chickens and 10 million dairy cows to replace the artificial fertiliser. So we’d sit down to our 18 boiled eggs for breakfast washed down with a gallon of milk! Transitioning to an organic system is possible and yields would probably reduce somewhat but it takes time. It’s harder to kick an addiction than to become addicted as we have to artificial fertilisers.

      • Ann Isik says:

        Hello John
        I really enjoy your newsletters. And I’ve got all your books. I hope one day to be able to get ‘Dig For Victory’ as an audio book. Any plans for that? You’ve helped me learn to grow our own, though I’m growing cabbages etc in the greenhouse over the winter as I haven’t figured out how to get them to survive outside! I’m laughed at but I’m at least growing SOME food ‘all year round’. You paint an unpalatable picture (pun intended!) yet I fear, an accurate one. I believe Nature is forcing us to change the way we live, because we’ve ignored her. I hope we aren’t too late. But I feel too many still have heads stuck in the sand. We gave up our allotment when we moved here. We have a small veggie square but a large garden to expand into and I’ve added tons of extra grow-bags this year for fresh produce. Our freezer is stocked and I’ve even managed some decent quince wine! Because of the dire situation in the UK and globally I’ve recently topped-up our supply of organic dried foods. We’re veggie so we eat and enjoy the beans and pulses of this world and it’s a cheap way to eat. I’m trying to be positive but I believe we are in the early stages of WWIII and rationing is on the way. 🙂

        • John Harrison says:

          Sorry Ann but it really wouldn’t work as an audio book – diagrams and images. Nothing wrong with using your greenhouse all year round.

  2. Derek Wade says:

    I beleive we must come to terms with some rises before things settle again in perhaps three or four years. Folk must learn to live a little more frugaly and I mean a little.
    The Farmers dramatic claims can be taken with a touch of salt; they have never been able to cope but always have. As for fertiliser we have excellent potash mines and ammonia & nitrogen is not beyond our chemists wit.
    Sunflower oil can be readily replaced in part with Palm and rape to stabilise prices: they are equaly as good.
    As for the comparison with rationing in the war; a lot of what happened in the war was adversely influenced by the depression which immedietely preceeded it. I think it is worth recalling Cpl Jones’ “don’t panic” – just pull together & think & help those poor sods sufferring the murdering b*** Putin & co.

  3. John says:

    As a very young boy just after the war I can still vividly recall being out with my mother and reaching through the railings at the bottom of a railway embankment to pick dandelion leaves to provide a filling for a sandwich when we arrived home. For a treat the cream from the milk would be saved, put into a Kilner jar and shaken to produce a teaspoon size lump of butter.

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