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FG 175: Future farm trends that will define the British agricultural industry

Farmers Guardian has covered some momentous changes over the last 175 years, but what might farms of the future look like? We ask four key experts...

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FG 175: Future farm trends that will define the British agricultural industry

PROF TIM BENTON DIRECTOR OF ENERGY, ENVIRONMENT AND RESOURCES, CHATHAM HOUSE

 

THE next 25-30 years will have to see fundamental changes in the global food system if humankind is to survive.

 

A cheap food policy over the last 70 years has led to soil loss and lower air and water quality, as well as poor diets and food waste.

 

The pressure of such a policy on the environment and on healthcare budgets will mean change will be unavoidable and we may reach that tipping point when change is essential very soon.

 

For the UK, this will mean the need for more diverse farming systems, integrating livestock and crop systems with a focus on reducing climate footprints and improving nutritional quality of food.

 

This might not necessarily be done on an individual farm basis, but collectively where groups of farmers share resources and market a range of products together.

 

Emerging

 

These systems are already emerging, including a group of Yorkshire farmers I am working with which shares forage, manure and market products to food markets locally and nationally.

 

Farming in the UK may be only worth £10 billion a year, but it is the bedrock of an essential £200bn food industry and it has the opportunity to make the changes which will benefit us all.

 


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GRAHAM REDMAN PARTNER AT THE ANDERSONS CENTRE AND EDITOR OF THE JOHN NIX POCKETBOOK

 

THE next 30 years could see the biggest revolution in British agriculture since the enclosures in the 1700s.

 

Within that timeframe, the technique of using biotech to produce proteins will have been perfected and widely used.

 

It could mean a massive reduction in demand for livestock and dairy products and impact arable farmers who produce grain for animal feed.

 

As farmers increasingly think as land-based entrepreneurs, a whole range of new opportunities will arise.

 

Improved carbon management tools and Government carbon reduction targets will mean carbon sequestration will be a major income stream, while the social and environmental services farming can offer will be recognised.

 

New management skills and techniques will be needed in this new agricultural revolution.

 

There will still be small family farms with day-to-day operations which are governed by seasonal routines, but they will have to respond to new opportunities and techniques if they are to thrive.

 

Farmers who take a ‘business as usual’ approach to farming may find it difficult to survive over the coming decades, but there is a bright future for those who anticipate and embrace change.

SARAH BOLT MEMBERSHIP MANAGER, KINGSHAY, AND FOUNDER MEMBER OF WOMEN IN DAIRY

 

UNDERSTANDING more about the way animals behave will be key to success for the livestock farm of the future.

 

We already have a lot more systems monitoring dairy cows and other livestock than we did just 10 years ago. More data allows the farmer to identify opportunities for change and improve practices over the longer term.

 

There will be a continued focus on herd health, welfare and feed efficiency, as farmers are tasked with reducing the climate impact of dairy and livestock production.

 

The human element of farming will become increasingly important.

 

Happy and healthy staff who are secure in their jobs can lead to happy and healthy animals.

 

There will also be a lot more women on livestock farms of the future; female students now make up 80 per cent of vet schools and there are a lot more female agricultural graduates.

 

There will still be room for dairy farms of all sizes in the future, but those which will thrive will be the ones prepared to learn from each other.

 

We could also see different forms of ownership, such as cow hire agreements and share farming.

 

These could lower barriers to entry and allow younger farmers to begin an exciting and rewarding career in livestock farming.

DR TINA BARSBY CHIEF EXECUTIVE, NIAB

 

CLIMATE change is likely to the main driver for how farmers farm over the next 30 years. The UK could be able to grow crops such as soya, which would be a good addition to the rotation.

 

There is also likely to be a diversity of cereal crops which are tailored to specific regions.

 

Genetic engineering will have moved on considerably and, if it is able to be used, will be able to deliver a range of benefits, such as enhanced nutrition, carbon capture and yields.

 

Farmers will want to keep their land cropped at all times to maximise its productive and carbon potential, as well as protect soils.

 

New and cheaper technology will allow a much greater understanding of plants, individual fields and soil, allowing farmers to prevent problems before they occur. Many of these new systems will be with us in the next five to 10 years.

 

Challenges

 

Climate change may present enormous challenges, but with the right regulatory support and market incentives, scientists and farmers will be able to respond to those challenges in very creative ways.

 

This may require some initial investment and incentives from Government to kickstart new systems, but once they are up and running they should be self supportive.

 

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