The narrow debate over conventional and organic farming needs to stop so producers can concentrate on developing sustainable and secure food supplies, says the Soil Association.

Speaking at the group’s annual conference in Birmingham (3 Feb), Soil Association director Patrick Holden called on the industry to work together to find ways to radically change the UK’s food production system,

While the two factions had different views on production, Mr Holden said the challenge of finding ways to farm with less inputs while cutting emissions and producing more food needed to be addressed by both sides.

“We are all in this together. I disagree with Peter Kendall on things like genetic technology and the use of fertilisers but we have a responsibility to work together. This is too big to indulge in narrow debate that polarises.”

Mr Holden said current systems of production were unsustainable, unsecure and volatile to outside shocks which could hit food supplies.

”We can’t continue to use fertiliser because of emissions and the inputs needed to produce then. That means a return to crop rotation to put carbon back in the soil, the end of intensive farming systems and a return to mixed farming. These changes are the most radical changes to the food system since the Second World War. That calls for a war effort without there being a war on.”

Mr Holden said the only way to achieve change was to increase public understanding of the challenges farmers face and to encourage consumers to change their buying habits.

“We need action from consumers and an increase in political action,” he said. “There has to be a much stronger and deeper political debate about food security and production to achieve this.”

You can follow the conference on Twitter using the #SAconf  (see below).