2 min read

Are strikes the answer?

Are strikes the answer?
Should farmers go on strike?

Nurses, doctors, rail workers, teachers and passport office staff have all staged strikes this year.

And they're all demanding one thing - an increase in wages to keep up with rising prices.

With the majority of farmers looking for exactly that, should they go on strike?

How did we get here?

As retail price increases struggle to keep up with rising input costs, we've seen many shortages on supermarket shelves. Eggs, tomatoes and cucumbers have all been in short demand as producers cut back due to lack of profitability.

News of milk prices tumbling whilst input costs remain stubbornly high have sent shivers down the spine of many dairy farmers across the country. The farm gate price is hovering around the cost of production and there is little farmers can do about it.

Many of you have commented on social media that farmers could (or should) simply go on strike and hold the supermarkets to ransom.

But I don't think this is an option, and here's why.

Should farmers go on strike?

As this article in the Farmers Weekly points out, strike action is predominately taken by employees against their employer. The Government typically, if you're a public sector worker. As farmers are mostly self employed business owners, this wouldn't have the same effect.

As Guy Smith quite rightly puts it:

"As employers, farmers wouldn’t be helping their cause if they decided to down tools, any more than if shopkeepers decided to close their doors until their demands for improved sales figures were met"

And whilst farming does have it's fair share of unions, their role isn't to fight on the picket lines for members.

Secondly, the 'fight' would be against the major supermarkets - pretty formidable opponents. These companies will have alternative measures for a whole host of scenarios to ensure their supply chains remain intact. Even more so post pandemic.

If British farmers did decide to go on strike then the supermarkets, I'm sure, would ship produce in from elsewhere. Problem solved.

Whilst farmers are entirely within their rights to withdraw their produce from the market, it wouldn't have the desired effect even if performed at scale.

Which brings me on to my third point - at scale. Strikes only 'work' if the action is taken by the many. How many farmers these days would be prepared to stand on picket lines and fight for the cause? Very few I'd imagine.

So what is the best course of action?

Farmers looking for a better price or fairer wage have three options:

  • Find an alternative market
  • Sell a different product with a better margin (diversify)
  • Withdraw from the market (strike)

Withdrawing from the market in an attempt to force a better price simply won't work as there will always be someone there to fill the hole you've created.

Which leaves us with the remaining two choices. Both of which are valid but dependent on the farm structure and business model.

With the options to diversify these days aplenty, this would be my choice. If you can't change the system, you should change yourself. The goal should be to work smarter not harder.

And strikes don't fall under working smarter.