The UK must reinvent its food system to make it fit for the rest of the 21st century, according to Professor Ian Crute, Chief Scientist at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.
Speaking at the NFU conference on the recent Future of Food and Farming Foresight Report, Professor Crute warned that this country could not afford to have a business as usual attitude to farming.
He called for policies and decision making to be fully joined up and pointed to five main global challenges going forward which were identified in the Foresight report and had to be addressed. They are:
* Balancing supply and demand – producing more and wasting less
* Addressing price volatility
* Ending hunger
* Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
* Maintaining eco-systems and biodiversity
Professor Crute said that food prices were at their lowest and were likely to increase in real terms and be made worse by climate change, although he was uncertain about the rate and level of the rise.
“We need multiple bread baskets to offset geographical risks for failure in supply and robust trade agreements,” he said. “Price volatility is best addressed by confidence in supply, adequate stocks and trade. The UK in north west Europe has a role in ensuring our bread basket is well supplied.”
The new buzz phrase in farming – sustainable intensification – was explained in more detail by Professor Crute as a “simple and appealing” concept. He said it meant maximising food production efficiency on the smallest necessary land and usually was the greenest and most profitable way to farm.
Professor Crute demanded urgent action in a number of key areas. He called for the industry to capitalise on existing knowledge in a bid to close the yield gap, lift skills, step up capital investment and improve its succession planning.
He said he would like to see more done on cutting waste in the food chain, investment in new technologies and he encouraged UK producers to lead the way, within Europe and globally, on reducing greenhouse gases.
“We have a report (Foresight) that seeks to raise substantially the political profile and priority of food – nationally and internationally,” he said. “This is an opportunity for UK farming to demonstrate our competitive credentials in the context of a green economy and a rapidly changing global marketplace,” he said.
Read more NFU Conference coverage 2011