UK must grow more food sustainably, says government plan

Food and farming is a key focus in the government’s new industrial strategy, with a clear commitment to invest heavily in sustainable agriculture.

The 255-page report, published on Monday (27 November) makes a number of references to agriculture and the food and drink industry.

As the country prepares for Brexit, the report highlights the need to replace the current EU subsidy scheme – the CAP – with one that supports sustainable agriculture.

See also: Many arable farmers still missing out on precision farming benefits

The report reveals details of a new programme called Transforming food production: from farm to fork, which will “put the UK at the forefront of advanced sustainable agriculture”.

This is part of a global shift towards high-efficiency agriculture, rising global demand for food and water and the need for agriculture “that produces more from less”.

“Over the coming years, as we replace the common agricultural policy, we will increase the incentives for investment in sustainable agriculture, helping to grow the markets for innovative technologies and techniques,” the report says.

“With powers set to return from the EU, the UK government is in discussions with the devolved administrations over future arrangements. Our work will develop in line with the outcome of those discussions.”

More food needed

The report says the world will need 60% more food by 2050 to feed nine billion people, while demand for water is expected to increase by 20% in the agriculture sector alone.

“For this to be possible, the way we produce our food needs to be significantly more efficient and sustainable,” says the report.

“By using precision technologies we can make that a reality: transform food production whilst reducing emissions, pollution, waste and soil erosion.

“By putting the UK at the forefront of this global revolution in farming, we will deliver benefits to farmers, the environment and consumers whilst driving growth, jobs and exports.”

Data and drones

The report outlines a plan to grow the markets for innovative farming technologies and techniques, using data acquisition, automation and drones and invest in R&D.

As part of the strategy, there will be a big focus on strengthening partnerships in the UK’s “thriving” food and drink industry, our largest manufacturing sector, which adds £112bn/year to our economy and accounts for one in eight jobs.

The report says leaving the EU will present “opportunities and challenges” for the sector, but the opportunities will be “significant”.

To address this, UK government will form a new Food and Drink Sector Council, which will lead the work to secure the UK’s position as a “global leader in sustainable, affordable, safe and high-quality food and drink”.

Broadband and mobile connectivity

In a further move which will please farmers, the strategy promises to ensure regulation is “as simple as possible for businesses” as well as a commitment to invest in the rollout of broadband and mobile connectivity.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) welcomed the specific attention given towards agriculture in the industrial strategy, but said it was disappointing not to see more action pledged on planning reform.

CLA president Tim Breitmeyer said: “The strategy rightly identifies that  technology coupled with better use of data will be the key to making farming more efficient and productive, whilst reducing potentially harmful impacts on the environment.

“This commitment to investment and policy support in these areas, has to be matched by a commitment to securing the possible Brexit trade deal and establishing a successor to the common agricultural policy that is fit for the next generation.” 

Industrial strategy: UK food and farming industry

  • Invest in sustainable agriculture
  • Grow markets for innovative farming techniques and data acquisition
  • Embrace Brexit opportunities for food and drink sector
  • Roll out broadband further and improve mobile connectivity
  • Reduce red tape burden for businesses
See more