5 July 2002

Low farming input not the way ahead

LOW inputs are not the route to sustainable farming, says NIAB director Brian Legg, who believes the government should be keener to acknowledge the industrys environmental achievements.

The sustainable agriculture agenda has been hijacked by advocates of low inputs, claims Prof Legg. "Their argument is that all agricultural inputs are bad. But thats a crazy starting point. If you take it to the extreme zero inputs are not sustainable at all."

High output is vital to feed the worlds six billion and rapidly growing population and ensure room for wildlife. "We dont want to have to use every square inch of the planet to grow food."

For those who believe low inputs are the way ahead, Prof Legg points to a 1998 Surrey University study comparing intensive and low input approaches. To the researchers surprise it showed that the least environmental impact based on per tonne of production came from high output production methods using appropriate inputs, he says.

Many good things happening in the countryside are going unreported, he adds. "The roe deer population is now over 0.5m – thats more than in medieval times."

Badger, otter, deer and grey squirrel and fox numbers have all increased in the past 20 years, and wetland and marsh areas have risen 27% in a decade offering fresh wildlife habitats.

In the same period farmers have planted over 87m trees and 10,000km of hedges and brought 13,000km of derelict hedges back into management, spending £16m/year looking after them.

The UKs woodland area is now 5% larger than it was in 1990 and twice what it was in 1920. "We dont hear much about all that from environmentalists. I just wish DEFRA would shout about these successes."

NIAB has a key role to play in furthering such progress by identifying intrinsically reliable high output varieties, concludes Prof Legg. &#42