A new report commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Farmers has identified four primary drivers to change in the farming industry. At this present time, no BREXIT deal has been announced and, deal or no deal, this will have an effect on farming in the short term, but in the longer term human diet and health, climate change and environmental protection will have a more gradual but nonetheless profound effect on UK farming.
The report’s author, Professor Alan Buckwell (Imperial College) reviewed a number of recent reports on climate change and food strategy from which he identified two schools of thought on how to deal with these emerging issues.
The first is that the UK utilises new and emerging technologies to produce more food to feed both domestic and worldwide consumers, potentially paying farmers to deal with biodiversity issues. Combining this with both knowledge and technology enhancements to effect greater precision farming, with use of artificial intelligence and robotics, and potentially vertical production of some foods, plus insect, algal and cultured protein. These strategies would undoubtedly have some effect, but do not address issues of over-consumption and waste, restoring climate stability and perhaps is over optimistic about the availability and use of technology.
Secondly, there is a strong lobby arguing for transformational change to deintensification and ‘agroecology’, with tough action on pollution through regulation and taxation, and incentives for organic ‘sustainable’ farming with natural processes and stricter action on pesticide approvals. This route does not take sufficient account of economic and technical feasibility as well as the likely unpopularity of higher food prices.
Finally, there is the issue of the actions of people with generalised over consumption of food and high levels of food wastage (20-30%). Over the past 30 years there have been moves to reduce smoking, and more recently to reduce the amounts of salt and sugar consuming, and now to reduce how much red meat and dairy products are consumed. All these have been linked to chronic disease and premature death in the wider population, but to change habits is a very slow process without Government intervention (think plastic carrier bags!).
Combine this with the Government’s release of its “Roadmap to Sustainable Farming” this week, which plans to deliver a better and fairer farming system in England over the next seven years and the Agriculture Bill receiving Royal Assent in the last month or so….there is plenty to consider.
Who knows what the answer is? It is clear that change is coming, but to what extent the mixture of old and new will converge only time will tell, but without doubt, change will come.