Climate change is unstoppable and UK farmers must adapt to impacts of global warming such as floods, droughts and rising sea levels, DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman says. In this exclusive article she sets out key issues facing the farm of the future
In the UK, we’ve long been used to the availability of affordable food. Yet the recent alarming headlines about global food security and the possibility of food inflation are causing some commentators to debate the future of our domestic food supply.
There is no doubt that the UK is a world away from many developing economies in the resilience of its food production and supply chain, but no industry is an island and there are other emerging factors which will have an impact on future productivity.
Climate change is, of course, the most obvious. Most farmers know the climate in which they farm is warming – bringing floods to some areas and months without rain to others. The NFU has pointed out that the driest first six months in 70 years has had an impact on domestic grain yields.
The industry is adapting. Climate change will close some doors and open others and longer, warmer growing seasons will certainly offer opportunities for those who can seize them.
But recent months have highlighted another trend which the industry needs to anticipate – the rush to stake claims in the mineral resources our modern food production and supply chains need to function.
The value and scarcity of many of these resources is not lost on those countries lucky enough to have them. Just as Russian wheat is not for sale at any price nat the moment, so Canadian supplies of potash have become the source of a hostile takeover bid by an Anglo-American company.
Supplies of phosphate, often credited with making the 1960s Green Revolution possible, and other rare earth metals are increasingly being guarded by the countries they come from. As the economies of Russia, China, India and Brazil plan for their own economic growth, they are well aware they may need their resources themselves.
And the need to increase food production to feed a global population of more than 9m by 2050 means the demand for fertiliser is only likely to go up.
For UK farmers, using these resources sustainably, and using science to develop alternatives to them, is likely to become an ever more important tool in the industry’s adaptation armoury.
DEFRA will do all it can to help the industry, whether by analysing the risks, from climate change impacts to biodiversity loss to resource hoarding and adapting to them, so that farmers will be able to ensure the industry of the future remains as resilient as it is today.
Caroline Spelman’s vision was given ahead of a Climate Change Committee report. Read the report at www.theccc.org.uk