South of England Show returns as rising costs and staff shortages hit agricultural industry

ITV News Meridian's Kit Bradshaw has been speaking to farmers about the future of the agricultural industry

The South of England Show has returned to Ardingly in West Sussex, marking the start of the summer season and providing a welcome boost to the rural economy.

However, it comes at a crucial time, as farmers and agricultural workers face rising costs, a labour shortage and pressures from climate change.

The Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit have impacted recruitment in the industry.

Tim Bamford, Regional Director, Country Land and Business Association said: "We need a good amount of people.

"Technology will come but we're not there yet so we need access to more people from abroad, but we also need training, more youngsters to go into the industry who can then fill these positions, because agriculture and horticulture is an aging group of people. It shouldn't be."

Many farmers are concerned about the cost of fertiliser. Credit: ITV News Meridian

For one Sussex dairy farmer, from Lewes, rising prices are causing the most concern for the future.

Tom Gribble, Dairy farmer, said: "Our costs have risen hugely, we were being charged 40p a litre for red diesel during lockdown and now it's more than £1.10 a litre.

"We can't just cut down as we've been reducing our costs constantly for years and years.

"I feel that there's a lot more pain to come for consumers yet."

  • ITV News Meridian's James Dunham spent the day at the event

Kent farmer Kevin Attwood says the rising costs of both fuel and fertiliser, combined with disruption to supply chains on the continent, mean squeezed profits.

He said: "The cost of fertiliser has gone from £250 a tonne, to £650 a tonne, but it has gone as high as £1,000 a tonne.

"So that is the critical thing which has really risen in price, but it is also an issue of supply.

"If you don't have any fertiliser, next year's crops are going to be rather challenged."

The rising costs for farmers will undoubtedly mean price rises for consumers in the shops.

But some feel the renewed focus on food security and buying British is long overdue.

Elizabeth Buchanan, President of South of England Society 2022, said: "We need food, and the one thing the pandemic has taught us, and now the great sadness of what's happening in Ukraine, is that we realise actually how remarkably fragile our food system is and we need to be able to produce food here.

"British farmers produce some of the highest quality food and they produce to the high environmental standards and crucially high animal welfare standards, that really matters."

The South of England Show was founded in 1967 and is organised by the South of England Agricultural Society.

A scaled back version of the show took place in 2021, with the last 'full' show, including livestock and showjumping, taking place in 2019.