A lack of funding for agricultural research and development threatens to undermine Britain’s food security, NFU president Peter Kendall has warned.
Technology was vital to ensure food security and win the battle against climate change, Mr Kendall told a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference on Monday (29 September).
“We need to see that UK agriculture is not being disadvantaged vis-à-vis its competitors,” he said.
“Scientific research is fundamental to delivering productive agriculture, and yet budgets are being cut.”
Despite increasing concern over rising demand for food, the government continued to put too much emphasis on policies that placed the environment ahead of production, Mr Kendall said.
A fundamental shift was needed to rebalance food production and environmental considerations, he said. “We are asking farmers to produce more while reducing their environmental impact, but we are also seeing R&D spending slashed.”
The fringe meeting was co-hosted by the NFU and the government’s landscape agency, Natural England, whose chief executive, Helen Phillips, highlighted a “dramatic decline” in the state of the countryside.
“Food security and environmental protection must go hand in hand,” said Dr Phillips. “There has been a dramatic decline in the natural environment, with a halving of the number of farmland birds and butterflies in 30 years.”
But Mr Kendall dismissed this claim. “Farmers have responded fantastically to challenges on the environment, changing their mindset to ensure environmental considerations are a prerequisite for anything they do,” he said.
Huge gains were to be seen from agri-environment schemes, but they would not be delivered overnight, Mr Kendall said. “It would be helpful to see a bit less stick for farmers on what they have achieved, and a lot more praise.”
Earlier, shadow agriculture minister Jim Paice told Farmers Weekly that a Tory government would set up a joint review, with the industry, of all regulations affecting agriculture with a view to abolishing those that were unnecessary or excessive.
This would help farmers to produce food with the least hindrance, said Mr Paice. “The vast majority of farmers are hard-working, straightforward people who recognise that regulations need to be kept to a minimum.”