The push to make food production as efficient as possible with the use of new technology could end up driving farmers out of business, an agricultural expert has warned.
Emily Norton, a dairy and arable farmer and head of rural research at Savills consultancy, said there was a danger the human element of farming was being ignored by policy makers and the wider supply chain, who are focused heavily on the need to increase efficiency.
Her comments, at the Financial Times Global Food Systems Summit in London on November 19, followed a call from Wheatsheaf Group chief executive Graham Ramsbottom for investors in plant-based food innovations to consider how the 1.2 billion people employed in the livestock industry worldwide would be affected by a large-scale change in diets.
She said: “[We] really [need to think] about the social impact of what we are doing and how we actually value rural communities and the human influence on farming.
“When you say 1.5 billion people are involved in this as an industry, and technology is innovating their existences away, as a society, we need to decide what it is we are really trying to create.
“If our sole motivation is feeding people efficiently, this is inevitable. Efficiency will drive all of this away and we will lose the human influence on farming and have an increasing disparity between what we do as humans in our day-to-day lives and producing food.”
Ms Norton went on to suggest the UK Government had not considered how to ensure farmers were able to continue doing their jobs when putting together the English post-Brexit public money for public goods scheme.
“Income support is heavily reflected in the Common Agricultural Policy, so farmers can make a living from agriculture regardless of what is happening with the markets or the weather,” she said.
“We are not seeing that messaging in future agriculture policy at the moment, and there has to be triple protection.
“You need social protection, environmental protection and financial protection.”