Spending on innovation vital to future of farming

Investment in agricultural innovation must be significantly increased if Europe is to avoid becoming the “granny of the world” in terms of technology and food production, say Lords.

Lord Carter of Coles, chair of the House of Lords Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment EU sub-committee, said the current level of investment in research and development across Europe was unacceptable.

Farmers faced a future of risk and uncertainty thanks to climate change, rising populations and unstable economies, which meant the EU could not carry on without doing more to stimulate farming innovation.

Speaking during a House of Lords debate on the committee’s report on innovation in agriculture on Monday (6 February), Lord Carter said the UK and EU was a powerhouse of creating knowledge.

But he said European farmers found themselves in an environment that was hostile to innovation and woefully under-resourced.

“The options for the future of EU agriculture would not include a steady-as-she-goes approach,” he said. “It is just not good enough to carry on as we are.”

Lord Carter said the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) needed to be radically changed to switch spending into agricultural research.

The European Commission’s proposal to increase research funding from €2bn to €4.5bn from 2014 was a step in the right direction, but direct support payments needed to be shifted towards promoting innovation, he added.

Conservative Lord Caithness said Europe faced being left behind unless farmers were given better access to science to allow them to adapt and produce food sustainably.

“Europe is increasingly becoming the granny of the world,” he said.

“If we do not have radical change, we will get left behind even more and that will have disastrous consequences.”

The EU should look more closely at the potential of genetically-modified crops as a possible way forward, he added.

LEAF president Baroness Byford called for an investigation into how GM might help Europe, but said more needed to be done to encourage new generations into food production in an effort to encourage innovation.

Greater efforts needed to be made in communicating science and new technologies directly to farmers so they could make use of them, she added.

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