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Food security is not a 1940s concern about U-boats patrolling the Atlantic

The view that food security is an old fashioned concern which harks back to a world where German U-boats patrolled the Atlantic is dangerously complacent, says Stuart Roberts, vice president of the NFU.

There is less time between now and our exit from the European Union than the average gestation period of one of my suckler cows, yet it is still very unclear what sort of industry those calves will be part of.

 

It seems the closer we get to March 2019, the more uncertain we are about what the future will hold. Given the potential size of the changes we face, perhaps this is unsurprising.

 

But despite these uncertain times, the prospect of change presents an opportunity to challenge ourselves, our political leaders, our customers and wider society with fundamental questions about farming’s future, and what farming’s role will be in post-Brexit Britain.

 

Purpose

 

Listening to the recent debate around agricultural policy reform, it appears the answer for many is that farming’s primary purpose is to deliver environmental and countryside improvements.

 

And while that is unarguably important, I am getting more and more concerned that we are not hearing enough about what I believe is at the centre of every single farm business – producing food for the public.

 

Some people will say it is old fashioned to talk about food security, and paints an outdated portrayal of a world where U-boats patrolled the north Atlantic. But that is a dangerously complacent view.

 

Challenge

 

I personally believe food security is the single biggest challenge we will face in a post-Brexit world.

 

Predictions such as a 214 trillion global calorie deficit coming down the track in the next decade bring this into even sharper focus.

 

Those who wish to pursue cheap food at all costs need to wake up to the reality of its implications – we would be relying on land overseas to feed UK consumers in an uncertain world, which is not only strategically dangerous in terms of our own food needs, but morally questionable when developing countries are increasingly struggling to feed themselves.

 

Foundation

 

With a growing global population, cheap food may not always be cheap, available food may not always be available and once we lose a solid foundation of domestic food production we will struggle to ever rebuild it. Ultimately UK consumers will pay a heavy price.

 

What do we need to see during the next 300 days to ensure domestic food production is given the priority it deserves?

 

We need to see real action which demonstrates we are serious about protecting our production standards.

 

Volumes

 

Evidence from elsewhere in the world speaks volumes. In 1995, Sweden was 90 per cent self-sufficient in home grown food. Today, after the Swedish government introduced higher welfare standards, their self-sufficiency has fallen to 50 per cent.

 

The lesson of unintended consequences when a Government imposes divergent approaches to domestic and foreign production standards, and when it takes its eye off the realities of the marketplace, is clear.

 

We need our politicians to recognise the enormous value our farmers deliver for the UK public every single day.

 

Cherished

 

Over and above the safe, trusted and affordable food I have already spoken about, our farmers manage more than 70 per cent of our cherished countryside.

 

Despite the impression some of our detractors like to give, they do so to an environmental standard I am proud of – for instance restoring 30,000km of hedgerow and planting 10,000 football pitches of wildflowers.

 

The true value, often hidden, that our farmers deliver to the UK public relies on having viable and productive farm businesses across the country, doing what they do best – producing a secure supply of British food of which we should all be proud.


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