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Farming Matters: Owen Paterson - 'The UK can rise to the great challenge of this century'

There is no doubt that beating the Covid-19 pandemic will require a sustained, collective effort unknown in this country since the end of the second world war.

Those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery will be vital in ensuring the success of our response.

 

We have not contemplated the possibility of scarcity in a generation.

 

In such circumstances, it becomes easy to take food production for granted, and for governments simply to assume that there will always be an unlimited source of safe food from overseas.

 

Indeed, over the last 30 years, the UK’s self-sufficiency in food has fallen steadily from almost 75 per cent to little over 60 per cent today.

 

But times like these serve as a dramatic reminder of the importance of domestic farmers, processors and distributors in keeping food on our tables.

 

The primary role of the rural economy is to grow food, as the current crisis is reaffirming. Looking ahead, that role must be recognised as we design the UK’s independent agricultural policy after 40 years of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

 

In order to meet the challenge of growing more food on less land to feed a growing population in the years ahead, we have to boost productivity.

 

To do that, the Government must allow farms the maximum flexibility to grow their businesses by embracing technology.

 

The EU’s extreme interpretation of the precautionary principle has held back precise biotechnologies and safe, modern chemical approaches, even forcing major biochemical companies to turn away from the European market.

Owen Paterson says technology can allow farms maximum flexibility to grow their businesses.
Owen Paterson says technology can allow farms maximum flexibility to grow their businesses.

Balance

 

Our new approach must be different. We need to balance the precautionary principle with the innovation principle, so that regulators must always consider the potential merits of new techniques and innovations.

 

This approach complements expanding global free trade.

 

With the freedom to use cutting-edge techniques, British farmers can produce more food, and do so at world prices.

 

In so doing, they can compete at home and abroad, capitalising on the palpable demand for high-quality British produce across the world.

 

In parallel, UK policy must address the other priority for rural policy and improve the environment.

 

We must properly reward farmers for the environmental roles which they play in increasing biodiversity, improving soil quality, producing saleable water and managing flood control.

 

This will be especially valuable in marginal areas, where food production alone is not a viable source of income.

 

The next few months will be tough and demand a great deal from the farming sector. But they will serve to remind us all of the issues which must be priorities outside the CAP.

 

By embracing technology and innovation, the UK can rise to the great challenge of this century: growing more food on less land, sold at competitive prices and improving the natural environment.

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