IF YOU attended this year‘s Crops conferences, you‘d have been left in no doubt about the need to react to what the market and consumer wants, writes Julian Gairdner.

Biofuels, biodegradable packaging, internationally approved labelling standards, looming rows at the World Trade Organisation, shortening supply chains, and remaining competitive through product differentiation.

Just some of the topics that enthralled delegates at last month‘s sell-out Crops conferences at Perth, Scotland, and Cambridge, England.

While readers of Crops magazine will be treated to full – and exclusive – coverage of the two days in the Dec 11 issue, fwi.co.uk readers don‘t need to feel left out:

Labelling –  World Trade –  Alternative products

Labelling

European Union consumers may have to pay more for food, but our product is different and we need labelling to differentiate it, argued former Italian agriculture minister, Paolo de Castro.

“We have to change the way we compete…to show consumers a difference with our products. We need to emphasise the distinctiveness of our products. We need to use labelling to protect our products,” he said.

World Trade

Environment Agency chairman, John Harman agreed. “We need to protect the standards in the EU, and avoid a situation where in a free world market, if Brazil has the lowest standards and is the most competitive, we simply end up destroying the environment there,” he explained.

But Ann Tutwiler, chief executive of US-based International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council believed Mr de Casto was being unrealistic.

“If the EU wants its green box [environmentally-approved subsidies for farmers] and environmental standards forget it. That would be asking for complete WTO gridlock.”

Already, many Americans were asking what the benefits of WTO membership were and threatening to leave, she added.

Alternative products

Instead, she suggested the private sector should pioneer product differentiation on the grounds of improved quality and standards of production.

But government and private business will need targeting to kick-start products such as bioethanol and biodegradable packaging, Peter Billins, chief executive of British Biogen, and Alastair Dickie of the Home-grown Cereals Authority, explained.

“You can drive a car once around the globe on one hectare of wheat [converted into bioethanol],” Mr Billins said. “The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution says we need to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% by 2060 – bioethanol will already achieve that.”

Ford is developing a car to run on 85% bioethanol he told delegates. Getting the major manufacturers on board was a key factor in developing the biofuels market.

Meanwhile, biodegradable packaging will reduce landfill and deliver a viable market opportunity for farmers, Mr Dickie added.

“This area would be moved forward more quickly of there was an obligation similar to the biofuels initiative [under the Energy Act 2004], to include a percentage of biodegradable packaging in the UK.” The government needs to do more, he suggested.Crops logo

For full conference coverage, see Crops magazine (Dec 11).

Your chance to be part of tomorrow‘s future, today.

Back to top