29 January 1999

We need intensive farming

INTENSIVE farming plays a key role in protecting the global environment and government policy must recognise that fact, members of the Association of Independent Crop Consultants have been told.

"Farmers have have unfairly taken the rap for the intensification of production that is necessary to feed a rapidly expanding world population," said Jim Orson, director of Morley Research Centre, at the AICCs annual meeting in Buxton, Derbys.

Since 1960 the world population has doubled, yet there is now less famine than at any time in recent history. That was despite only about 10% more land being farmed, much of the worlds wildlands and tropical forests being protected from destruction for food production, he noted.

UK farming has played its part, using suitable soils and a generally favourable climate for intensive food production and export. The consequent contribution to the preservation of fragile habitats overseas was an achievement for which UK farming was rarely recognised, Mr Orson said.

Concern about pollution from intensive agriculture and the destruction of local habitats has confused the picture. "This concern has distracted the debate away from the benefit of intensification to the global environment."

The challenge for government now is to further limit pollution and encourage biodiversity in the UK without reducing farmings support for the global environment through food exports.

More knowledge and better techniques, rather than government restrictions, would be the best approach, he said. "Input taxes clearly have no role to play in reducing the environmental impact of food production."

UK farmers must also learn to farm biodiversity as successfully as they produce food. That meant considering in-crop bio-diversity, through the use of more flexible herbicides and herbicide tolerant crops, he said.

But the industry needs more guidance on what is to be achieved and how to meet such objectives.

Agronomists can help in that area. But they also needed to explain the necessity of current farming methods in maintaining the existing fragile habitats of the world, which it was estimated contain 95% of the global biodiversity, he concluded. &#42