It’s an ill wind…

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Before the war: loading grain in Odessa, Ukraine

At the New Year I wrote about the possibility of Ukraine being invaded. How much I wish the sources I had been reading were wrong! That such a proud and resourceful people should be put through such a pointless and vicious war is a tragedy akin to Greek mythology rather than our times.

I have been transfixed by the reporting of it because I have a very close friend who is Russian. Just before the war started we spoke, and he said that it was very unlikely that Putin would invade as almost every Russian claims kinship with someone in Ukraine.

He has ancestry from Ukraine, and after the start of the invasion he was like a broken man, talking of “that man” – meaning Putin – in the most derogatory terms. I was, and am, afraid for him as such language can put you in jail for 15 years and Russian jails are not friendly places. He, like many of his fellow citizens, is trying to leave Russia because there is no place for reasonable people in a society that will not allow dissent.

Meanwhile, the Russians tried to take Kiev and we all prayed that its citizens would hold out under such terrible circumstances. With incredible bravery, they did, and the Russians withdrew.

Now, here comes the point that brings this into our world of fish. Within four days of the Russian withdrawal I was amazed to hear that Kiev was looking for salmon supply from Loch Duart again! Now, how utterly amazing is that? The resilience of people faced with some of the darkest times you can imagine is utterly mind-blowing. So before I move on, here’s to the Ukrainians, their fight, their courage and their sheer dogged determination to keep their country their own.

The war has disrupted the global economy enormously but some things remain the same. China’s dominance of almost everything continues, and until the West decides to go back to producing stuff, we will be giving our money to someone else.

What has become more obvious is the impact of Ukraine’s farming being so badly disrupted. Wheat supplies are going to be heavily impacted and this will affect Europe as we have previously imported a great deal from Ukraine, including not only wheat but also rape and other oil-bearing seeds. It was heartening to see Ukrainian farmers are still trying to sow their fields as this gives hope for the future. Who knows who will benefit from that production, in these awful times.

Supply and demand

I am not well-versed enough to predict the consequences of a long drawn out war, but there are some things which are macro enough for most people to accept their likelihood. The first one, which we have already seen, is that things will get more expensive both at a cost level for business but also at a sale level. Initially it is likely that this will improve profitability but of course costs will feed through and that will no doubt put pressure on profits.

More interesting is to try to estimate how the general restriction in food supply will affect the global markets and thus global food prices.

Generally, the UK is reducing its beef and sheep production, not as a reaction to calls for less meat production but more due to worries about how government will react to the mounting pressure from so-called environmentalists. Rather like salmon farming, beef farming requires a long-term commitment and herd reductions cannot be reversed in a short period. So once government starts to tamper with agriculture and aquaculture the effect on the food market could be very dramatic and long-lived. Just like Ukrainian wheat production, lower beef production will affect demand for alternative commodities, particularly in terms of protein, which cannot be a bad thing for seafood consumption.

Seafood prices are doing extremely well at the moment, as I know to my cost from visits to my local fishmonger. By the way, isn’t it wonderful that the doom-mongers who said all fishmongers would close were utterly wrong! In fact, supermarkets are finding it harder to deal in fresh seafood, apart from salmon, and I guess that’s primarily because of market volatility.

I am sure that there will be those that say it is due to people not wanting to eat it. If that is true then why is John Dory £42.00 a kilo in my local fishmonger? Oh, and it runs out incredibly quickly.

So whilst there is terror and destruction in one part of the world, there is always another way to look at it. To quote an old tenet “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good!”

John Dory