UK farmers will be at the forefront of meeting a doubling in global demand for food, according to NFU president Peter Kendall.
With world population expected to increase by 50% to 9bn by 2050 and a shift towards meat-based diets in developing nations, farmers would be expected to double food production, Mr Kendall told the British Crop Production Council congress in Glasgow.
“And the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 90% of the increase in food production needs to come from improvements in yield,” he said.
It is a challenge that we have been able to meet so far thanks to developments in science and technology, Mr Kendall said.
“But this point in history is different,” he warned.
Energy demands are rising at the same time as fossil fuels are depleting, increasing food demand, meeting the challenge of water scarcity, soil erosion and biodiversity, climate change against population growth were creating a “convergence of challenges” that had never been faced before, he explained.
In addition, the financial recession was putting pressure on public budgets and private spending, and leading to a resurgence in protectionism.
“For farmers it meant producing more, while impacting less.”
The recent Royal Society report had said it was not possible to do this using existing technologies, he said.
“Experts say average global wheat yields will need to rise from 2.6 to 3.5t/ha over the next 25 years. Average wheat yields are already 7.2t/ha in the UK.
“Some have hinted that it is pointless to focus on increasing production within UK borders. But in my view, that’s missing the point. The right question to ask is not what the rest of the world can do for the UK but what the UK can do for the rest of the world.
“Of course it’s a global challenge, but it’s a local response that’s needed.”
UK farmers were well placed to meet that challenge because they were less likely to be affected by climate change, were highly skilled and had access to top quality technical assistance and the best research brains around, he explained.
“I’m not making a plea for self-sufficiency. That’s also missing the point. It’s about investing in productive agriculture.”