Farmers condemn suggestion to take farmland out of production

Farmers have slammed a suggestion by former Defra chief scientist Ian Boyd that half of UK farmland should be taken out of food production.

Professor Boyd, who spent seven years at Defra until he stepped down last year, made the comments in an interview with The Guardian.

See also: Farm leaders hit back at ex-Defra scientist’s climate claims

Some 50% of land currently used for agriculture needed to be transformed into woodlands and natural habitat to fight the climate crisis and restore wildlife, he said.

Half of farmland – mostly uplands and pasture – produced just 20% of the UK’s food and would be better for used other public goods, said Prof Boyd.

[Prof Boyd’s suggestion] as fanciful as the Adventures of Paddington Bear

Rather than rearing livestock, farmers could be paid for storing carbon dioxide, helping prevent floods and providing landscapes for people to improve their health and welfare.

“Most of the livestock production in the UK is unprofitable without public subsidy,” he said, suggesting lost food production could be made up by the development of vertical farms.

“The public are subsidising the production of livestock to produce huge environmental damages, all the way from greenhouse gas emissions to water pollution.

“Why should we continue to do that? It’s not sensible.”

But NFU deputy president Guy Smith said Prof Boyd’s suggestion was as “fanciful as the Adventures of Paddington Bear.”

Vertical farming in tower blocks might work for some niche, high-value crops like herbs – but not for staple crops like wheat, he tweeted.

It is not the first time Prof Boyd has offended farmers with his comments.

Last November, he suggested the UK’s farming system was “very inefficient and in need of very significant transformation”.

And last summer, before he stepped down as Defra chief scientist, he suggested consumers should be allowed to eat chlorinated chicken.

NFU president Minette Batters said allowing imports of chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef into the UK would be a “betrayal” of British farming.

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