England’s farmers must do more to boost yields and improve efficiencies to keep food affordable without destroying nature, a report on the nation’s food security says.

Experts from across the food sector said climate change, a growing population and changes in diet mean farmers and the rest of the supply chain need to pull together to produce more while impacting less.

Set up by DEFRA to bring together representatives from government, agriculture, consumer and environmental bodies, the report by the Green Food Project sets out ways for the country’s food system to tackle issues facing the food sector.

As well as using fewer resources, it calls for the introduction of more innovative technology, the improvement of conservation management and greater encouragement of young people to join the industry and make careers out of the food sector.

Unveiled by farm minister Jim Paice on Tuesday (10 July), the report looks at how production and consumption could change in five sectors: wheat, dairy, bread, curry and geographical areas.

In the report, the project’s steering group – which includes representatives from the NFU, the RSPB and the Food and Drink Federation – identifies a number of “strategic steps” around research, knowledge exchange and consumption that could be taken to strengthen the food chain (see box).

It also makes some more unusual suggestions, such as British farmers growing herbs, spices and chickpeas for roti-bread flour if the country’s climate changes.

Mr Paice said while Britain already punched above its weight, the country’s entire food chain had to show leadership and play to its strengths.

“Whether it means embracing new farming technology or people wasting less, we’ve got to become more sustainable,” he said.

While there were many examples of cutting-edge innovation in all sectors, these were the exception rather than the rule, he added.

“We are talking about the need for a culture change across the entire food chain and this is the first step in a long-term plan to make that happen.”

NFU president Peter Kendall, who sat on the steering group, said the report was a “turning point” towards creating a national food strategy that mapped out who needed to do what in the food sector.

He said the NFU was committed to working more closely on skills, new entrants, competitiveness and environmental delivery.

“We now have some clear actions to move forward with,” he added.

“In particular, the report identifies some of the steps that need to be taken by the science community, government and farmers in delivering more user-inspired, applied research.”

Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director, said the report was an important first step towards working out what England’s contribution should be to help food production become more sustainable.

“We need to be thinking and planning at the landscape scale to get the most from our land and stay within environmental limits – both within England and globally,” he said.

Strategic steps

  • 1 Research and technology – improve knowledge base and science capability; also improve forecasting potential scenarios the sector will face in the future
  • 2 Knowledge exchange – improve the way in which research and advice is shared between food, farming and environmental sectors
  • 3 Investment – giving farmers and businesses confidence that investments will improve future performance
  • 4 Ecosystem services – develop a clear understanding of the economic costs and environmental risks of allowing such services to deteriorate
  • 5 Consumption and waste – initiate further work on how to tackle problems within the food system surrounding consumption, demand and waste

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