I was recently awarded one of the two Jill Willows Scholarships from the Farmers Club, to attend the Commonwealth Agriculture Conference in Canada, where drivers shaping global agriculture and food were discussed with the next generation of farmers.
The most pertinent part of this discussion was broken down into improving consumer perceptions of agriculture and adapting to meet the needs of a growing global population. In my opinion, the two go hand in hand.
Dr Robert Saike, who spoke at the conference, stated the next 30 years will be the most important in agricultural history.
This is because by 2050, the world population is estimated to climb to 9.8 billion, which means food production will also need to increase by around 60 to 70 per cent.
However, while more food is needed, the farming landscape becomes more challenging and there appears to be a disconnect between the two.
I believe the real opportunity lies in how the farming sector markets itself.
Improving the consumer image of agriculture is absolutely vital, and there is a need to showcase the great work that is being done to produce high-quality food, sustainably.
For example, in crop production, there has been a huge drive for integrated pest and disease management, encompassing cultural, chemical, biological and biorational methods.
A number of companies have invested significantly in the development of biorational solutions to provide greater options for growers and now about 50 per cent of actives pending European registration are naturally derived.
Although, historically, biorationals have been used in speciality crops, the increasing pressure on conventional chemistry for the control of major pests and diseases, means that these are being developed in broadacre cropping.
Agricultural inputs, including pesticides, are vital for sustainable food production and engaging the public to improve their understanding of the science involved is really important – especially as it is estimated the loss or restricted use of plant protection products could result in as much as 50 per cent less yield for some crops.
There are also a number of industry stakeholders coming together to support stewardship in order to improve and maintain responsible usage of crop protection products.
There is a wealth of knowledge and experience within the sector and, if we can come together as an industry to reinforce these positive messages, it will all help the public to understand what we are doing to meet the growing global demands for food.