Rising population is opportunity for farmers, but cooperation is needed

UK farmers must be more proactive in engaging with consumers if they are to benefit from the predicted growth in demand that will result from a rising population, conference delegates have been told.

Speakers at the Sentry conference near Linton, Cambridgeshire heard that world population was expected to increase from 6bn to 9bn by 2050, meaning that a 50% increase in food supply was needed. On top of that, there were other opportunities from bio-energy, natural materials and using land to mitigate the effects of climate change.

But, unless farmers cooperated, and took an active role in promoting the role of agriculture to consumers and policy makers, there was a real danger they could miss out on many of those opportunities, said Jack Wilkinson, former president of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers and Canadian farmer.

“We, as farmers, often talk to ourselves, but are not proactive and good at engaging with consumers,” he said. “In this country, retailers own the brand, but there is a wonderful opportunity if we [farmers] can start branding our product and make sure we’re driving the agenda. It’s a dangerous game if we let others run our food system.”

In an impassioned speech, he said farmers had to get more “aggressive” and use their strong lobbying power. “You’ve been protected by the CAP for too long – now’s the time to stand up and fight back.”

Mr Wilkinson said he didn’t believe the US could afford to keep subsidising its producers to the current extent and once this funding was reduced, it would pave the way for further cuts in EU direct support, he said. “This would put massive price pressure on producers,” he added.

While he had no specific answers as to how individual farmers seized the initiative, he said supporting national farming organisations and schemes – such as Open Farm Sunday – were a good start.

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