The future of food and farming

A challenge to the globalisation of farming
Our vision is that by 2026, farmers will be valued for the work they do in maintaining the countryside, woods, meadows and habitats for wildlife. Climate change, population growth and environmental taxes will be key drivers in making this happen.

Consumers will choose and prefer locally grown food having increased awareness of how and where it’s produced and the benefits for farming and the countryside.

Guardians of the natural landscape
Farmers will earn part of their income for maintaining the countryside. They’ll also generate an income from countryside visits as people take more holidays there. And they’ll play their part in supplying our energy needs diversifying into bio-energy crops, growing rapeseed oil and fast growing trees for wood burning.

What’s the future for food and farming? Give us your views below.

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18 responses

  1. Caesar Slattery

    Promoting local food & farming cuts Food Miles, cutting transport costs + cuts carbon emissions + benfits local economy. It cuts your own personal “Carbon Footprint” too.
    Encouraging the young sows seeds of improvements for the future.

    16 November, 2007 at 12:57 pm

  2. Sarah Robinson

    Local foods help connect the consumer to the countryside and increase awareness of the importance of our working landscapes.

    Local foods are fresher, enjoyed in season and therefore at their best, so taste better too than food that has been flown or driven hundreds of miles.

    As individuals we can all make a difference through buying locally, whether that be at a farmers market, farm shop, local store or even the local section in the supermarket.

    22 November, 2007 at 9:05 pm

  3. Lynda Needham

    Is it true that Grade 2 farm land is not important to the Uk & that a golf course is better suited to this type of land? I refer to plans to build 2×18 hole golf courses plus 400 bed hotel & more on 400 acres of farm land in Leicestershire near Shepshed. Bounded by Oakley Road,Hallamford Road, Ashby Road, Piperwood,& M1. And this is all because of the Olympics.

    26 November, 2007 at 9:13 am

  4. Suzanne Walker

    There is a conceptual problem in discussing farming: it is too easy for non-farmers to think of “farmers” as being homogeneous. They are not. Just as there are manufacturers differing in size and outlook from global car makers to local garage mechanics, so farmers differ in size, method of [food] production, and personal outlook. Most of the farmers that I know in Essex produce cereals by the hundreds (if not thousands) of tonnes. They are mechanised. They sell to grain merchants who in turn sell in vast quantities to British food manufacturers, and frequently by the container-load, to foreign importers (some of the best malting barley leaves Ipswich en route for Japan…) It is, therefore too simplistic to think that we housewives of Essex would be able to buy all our groceries and fresh food from local sources.

    27 November, 2007 at 11:10 am

  5. According to an IDG survey 80% of people say they want local food but only 20% are actually buying it. Is this because most of the british public are like lemmings and herd to the supermarket or because local food is perceived to be more expensive and inconvenient to buy?

    The good news is that, from our research, Local food can often be cheaper, (don’t be put off by a few rip off traders at the occassional farmers market). It is also a great deal more convenient than you think. Have a look at http://www.bigbarn.co.uk and type in your postcode. You will probably find you drive past a few great outlets on your usual weekly journies.

    You may also be interested in http://www.localfoodshop.co.uk a website designed to compete with supermarket online websites now turning over £3b a year. The site gives local producers the chance to team up and offer local consumer a big range of local produce in one delivery. Already 210 producers have added 4,200 products.

    So do you bit and tell your friends to stop being lemmings!

    28 November, 2007 at 6:39 pm

  6. Desmond Gunner

    I hope your vision of 2026 is right and that farmers will be able to make enough from Livestock Production to spend it on Environmental Management. Government Grants will never cover the total cost, plus a return on investment.

    However farmers will all be gone from our Sussex High Weald Grade 3c land long before then. Who do you want to take their place? Horseculturalists have higher priorities than wildlife for their money and GoodLifers often can’t afford the Stewardship Costs.

    We need new affluent Landowners, like the Victorians and Edwardians who looked after their land for its amenity value and had tenants or contractors to do the management work.

    Large Estates and Mansions are not practicable any more, so we need to allow new houses for such owners to live in, in exchange for the care of their surroundings and Public Access for others to enjoy it.

    5 December, 2007 at 5:31 pm

  7. John Dowson

    I`m writing an essay on farm diversification and would be interested to hear peoples views on the implications for the uk landscape of diversification in farming. I`d also be very interested to hear from any farmers who have decided to diversy, for what reasons, what they are doing to diversify and to what degree of success?

    Many thanks

    John

    8 February, 2008 at 3:47 pm

  8. Please see feature from the Daelnet website devoted to the Yorkshire Dales
    FROM John Sheard, Pendulum Press, 01756-798510 Week 335
    The countryside in 2006: time to talk now
    A week in the country
    A talk in time to save our countryside
    Our rural affairs commentator John Sheard, delighted that a ,long-overdue debate on the future or our countryside was launched this week, looks into two different crystal balls and predicts that both rural business and landscape conservation could –and should – work hand in hand
    THERE could be no better illustration of this Government’s contempt of our countryside than the row that erupted yesterday (February 28) when it was revealed that several cabinet ministers who had voted for the large-scale closure of sub-post offices – thinking most of them would be in rural areas – had suddenly changed their minds when they discovered that some of them might be in their own constituencies (See News).
    The Tories immediately accused them of “rank hypocrisy” and “nimbyism” – the ”not in my backyard” accusation which the Government, and Gordon Brown in particular, aim at country folk who object to huge housing estates being dumped in their much-loved green fields.
    I have many times in the past been accused of cynicism and when it comes to a situation like this, I hold up my hands and confess. In my eyes, today’s politicians are only interested in one thing: gathering votes to protect their own well-cushioned seats. And if you are a Labour MP, count the number of votes to be gathered on rural issues as … zero.
    This is why I believe that the countryside on-line forum launched by American author and Anglophile Bill Bryson on Tuesday was so important. Bryson, who wrote some of his best-selling books whilst living in Malhamdale in the Yorkshire Dales, wants thousands – hundreds of thousands, with luck –of ordinary folks to become involved in the debate over the future of the countryside (see News, Tuesday).
    Bryson is President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, one of the country’s oldest conservation charities, which will celebrate its centenary in 2026. It hopes there will be some countryside left by then and wants to start the debate now so that no future government can concrete over our green and pleasant land by subterfuge.
    The day after the CPRE rolled-out its new website (details later), another successful rural body, the Country Land and Business Association issued its comments on the project. The CLA is even older – it was founded 101 years ago in York – and, as one would expect – it believes that the countryside’s social and economic fabric needs to be protected as well as the landscape.
    CLA Yorkshire regional director, Dorothy Fairburn, said that the concept of rural sustainability was based on the three legs of economic, environment and social sustainability – but that without a strong, economic heartbeat, the countryside would wither and die.
    “We agree that the English countryside is a key national asset which is vital to the success of our tourist industry, important for leisure activity, a significant contributor to health and well being, as well as producing the bulk of the nation’s food.
    “Where we differ from the CPRE is that we believe that it must first and foremost be a living and working countryside – we have to recognise that our rural environment is a managed environment, shaped by human activity.”
    Now I couldn’t agree more. Without jobs in the countryside, we are in danger of becoming a museum for rich retirees, long-distance commuters and second homes, our young folk long gone to the towns and cities.
    If that is to be avoided, we need bodies like these two to work together. I would like other pressure groups to join in, even groups like the once much-respected Ramblers’ Association, whose head office staff (although not local branches) was infiltrated by the extreme left 20 years ago and which rarely raises a squeak in opposition to Labour policy.
    We need dozens of such organisations to make their voices heard to millions of people – people who, even though they live in towns, love their trips to the countryside. People with votes, the only people politicians ever care about (every four years or so, that is). Let’s have a Grand Coalition for the Countryside.
    • For more information on the CPRE on-line forum, see http://www.cp.org.uk
    ENDS

    28 February, 2008 at 9:49 am

  9. Reading 2026 Vision resuklted in the following comments:
    Green Belts
    There are discussions at the moment about the future of green belts around our towns and cities. Set up originally to deter sprawl, and particularly to prevent neighbouring settlements from joining up, they must retain this function, but could also, with some form of management, become much more attractive places. One possibility would be to enable the local authority to prepare an “improvement” plan, in collaboration with the local wildlife trust/RSPB/Natural England etc, with local civic societies and residents’ associations (and the local CPRE Branch?)and landowners and tenents. Some finance could come from Natural England’s Environmental Stewardship schemes, but additional amounts would be needed to remove eyesores. Natural England has initiated a debate – CPRE should join in and make a positive contribution, emphasising easy access to and information about all aspects of the countryside..

    Organic Farming
    There is no evidence that organic food has any specific advantages in terms of nutrition. Yields are lower, and there is a greater risk of loss from pests and diseases. Itmay have a place as a “niche” market, but CPRE should not endorse its widespread adoption. The Soil Association’s requirements are extremely stringent, and based on myth rather than science. CPRE should certainly encourage environmentally-friendly farming, with minimal use of pesticides and herbicides, no nutrient leakage into water bodies etc etc. but this can best be done through organisations like LEAF, through Environmental Stewardship, Nitrogen Sensitive Areas – it doesn’t need to be “simon-pure” organic

    GM crops
    Response to climate change may well require new varieties of food crops more resistant to drought or to novel warm climate pests and diseases. Such varieties will undoubtedly be produced by modern methods – known as Genetic Modification or GM – rather than the older techniques of plant breeding. But it is only the technology that has changed . CPRE should not allow itself to be influenced by the anti-GM lobby, motivated by dislike of multi-national agri-business and ungrounded fear of “Frankenstein” food.

    Changing farming systems
    Much of the discussion about farming and farmland in the 2026 Vision is fantasy. There will not be a “rush” of flowers or butterflies – set-aside has just disappeared and one must doubt whether it will ever come back. We will need all the good arable land to grow food. More wooded yes – more wet is questionable – sea level rise might well reduce wetland and not all saltmarsh loss can be offset, though we will have restored some flood meadows and made uplands wetter

    Increase in grasslands? there is a place for some “meadows” – floodplain water meadows, some limestone/chalk flower-rich grassland (though most of what survives is now in SSSIs), but one cannot really envisage a major shift from rotational grass in the arable rotation. It may well be that summer drought will requires new forage species.
    Livestock farming may well become less intensive as the price of feed increases – more grass-fed beef and free-range pigs and poultry, with a corresponding increase in price.

    The evidence now is that biofuels yield little GGas benefits. Biomass yes, and biofuel from farm waste, (other animal waste would generate methane as on-farm fuel). Research at Sand Hutton (CSRO) shows that there are other crops which could reduce our dependence on oil-based synthetic fibres, lubricants, plastics etc. So there will be novel crops, and a probable increase in maize and soya, and a decrease in water-demanding crops such as potatoes. Cropping patterns, like wildlife, will “migrate” towards the north and west. “big field monoculture” will continue, even though some hedges and field margins will have come back.

    Why should farmers be encouraged by “exit subsidies” to give up?. Probably more land will be farmed by commercial organisations run by professional agronomists, and there should have been a considerable increase in the number of co-operatives of farmers growing and processing and marketing “branded” local produce.. Farmland will still be managed primarily for food production, albeit with a greater emphasis on conservation of soil, landscape and wildlife – this will need more-highly-skilled labour – perhaps even more men and women.

    Wilderness
    This is fantasy – it will not happen in National Parks or AONBs, which will continue to foster traditional farming and land management, and there is nowhere else.

    A Changing Rural Population
    I cannot agree with the “continued trend in counter-urbanisation” argument. Rural population might increase but it should be through growth in rural employment – in other words the argument should be reversed – new and expanded services and enterprises first, rural population growth the consequence. Much more should be said about “affordable housing” – an end to speculation in land (high levy on planning gain?), end of cheap moprtage finance (this is happeneing as I write!), tax on second homes?

    More people enjoying the countryside?
    The paper talks of a huge increase in accessibility – are we talking about some expansion of CROW, such as greater access to the coast or more paths in farmland? Neither would bring about a huge increase. I have mentioned the need to broaden the functions of the Green Belt and to restore field centres and school visits..

    What is left out?
    There should be an explicit challenge to pro-market arguments such as Kate Barker’s. Susan Owens’ rebuttal should be embodied. Will we be substantially wealthier in 2026? This presupposes continued growth in consumption, which is not sustainable. CPRE should focus on better quality of life, compatible with reduced consumption..
    There is insufficient emphasis on the need for positive planning for integrated rural development.

    Coast and near-shore environments do not get a mention – they should.

    Many – perhaps even most – of the decisions about the future of the countryside will be made at a European or global level. Britain’s freedom of action will often be limited to an attempt to influence such decisions..

    There is still a need for base-load electricity – a Severn Barrage? Nuclear? CPRE should not dodge this issue.

    3 March, 2008 at 3:06 pm

  10. j wild

    While I would like to share the optimism of the CPRE and it’s 2026 vision I fear this will not be the reality at that time. There is no hope of arriving at a state of affairs, where wildlife and landscape are protected / enhanced, with current EU and government policy.

    Coming from a livesock farming heritage I am fully conversant with current agricultural policy & the current crop of stewardship schemes. I can tell you now that the ‘broad and shallow ‘Entry Level Stewardship scheme, open to all farmers, will not bring about the kind of changes needed to either enhance the landscape or reverse wildlife losses – esp farmland birds. Sorry, but this scheme falls well short of whats going to be needed to reverse local extinctions, which are the main cause of bird losses nationally.

    Typically losses of say Yellowhammer may be around 50 – 60% nationally since 1970. These sorts of figures mask the fact that the 50 – 60% is made up largely of local extinctions, 100%, in areas dominated by intensive livestock production where once this bird and a range of others thrived.

    Current agricutural spending effectively means that 80% of money paid to farmers via the single farm payment is supporting the hugely damaging practices that have caused these losses, while 20% is being used through stewardship to try and reverse them!

    We must not loose sight of the fact that, although enjoyed by most people, red meat is not an essential part of anyones diet, therefore we should not be tolerating environmnetal degradation during it’s production – and we certainly should not be buying that degradation through the single farm payment.

    We need to ratchet up further the environmental stanards expected of farmers in return for the money they recieve, even if this results in the number of farms being reduced – effectively putting those with high environmental standards in charge of more land.

    When you look at the dismal state of most of the lower lying livestock areas of the north it really begs the question ‘what are farmers actually doing to look after it?’ The answer when you use your eyes rather than your ears to listen to the various farming organisations is, in too many cases, absolutly nothing.

    The trend for higher grain prices could be turned in to a real positive for the environment by livestock producers if they saw the value of producing their own feedstock rather than relying on other parts of this country or the world to supply it.
    A patchwork of sustainably produced spring cereals could well be better than a return to haymaking………….

    On a wider scale we need policies that stop farmland falling into the hands of others who seek to exploit it in other ways. we should be seeking to ring fence farmland at the margins rather than allowing losses to equestrian & sporting interest such as golf courses, etc.

    UK farmland is a precious resource that has & can deliver truly sustainable production but we are currently a long way from this end………

    4 March, 2008 at 12:59 pm

  11. Paul Kemp

    Farming needs to be intensive at least until we can bring oursleves to instigate a global policy of humane population contol. The area of land devoted to farming cannot be allowed to continue to expand at the expense of wilderness and semi-wilderness. Organic farming is a niche market, and an important one, but the current global population could not be sustained by organic farming alone, it requires low-intensity land use practices which would consume far too much of the Earth’s remaining wild and semi-wild places.
    I think we should stop thinking of farming as something that just takes place in the countryside. There could be far more urban farms producing food locally and involving communities. There are also exciting proposals for towering multi-storey urban farms. And Rural farming could be both intensive and ecologically benign if a new generation of non-toxic, biodegradable pest control and fertilisation methods were developed. It would also help if we reduced our appetite for meat as its production is highly inefficient in terms of land use.

    7 March, 2008 at 10:59 am

  12. Richard Wilson

    Using waste crops for fuel makes sense but growing biofuel crops does not. We need more food sourced locally not less.

    8 March, 2008 at 11:04 am

  13. Philip Greswell

    We should not assume the farmers are the natural guardians of the countryside. They are in fact businesses and where opportunity exists, will sell there land for housing development.They should not be allowed to be able to do this, blighting the land as they wait for final RSS’s to emerge.

    In the countryside there are few examples where the trees and management of natural features is seriously attended to by farmers and I see many old trees in farmland, but few young trees are planted.

    I think there should be more active management of the countryside and, no doubt from this current consultation,an agreed and approved plan be put in place setting out how the countryside should be looked after and by whom,following principles of good environmental practice and also good business practice.

    I am not advocating too much Government input or management here for the need to avoid the sort of bad management that can happen where there is not a wider interest.The Plan should be pulled together by Government,the universities, farmers, business, planners and be done with new and original thinking by people who are of a high quality, particularly the CPRE.

    Original thinking rather than smart thinking as I see at present, where the latest trend or piece of planning law has to be tackled in a way to mitigate yet more bad news or badly thought through laws.Once everything is agreed, the 10 year plan should proceed and everyone would know what is required to ensure the very best of outcomes.

    I sense that at present we have people all with their own little areas of interest rather than a wider view. For example, I would not think it wise to simply have one lead “expert” making all decisions on the countryside, ie Natural England and it should be free from possible pressures from Governmwent.Honesty, trained and professional personnel and a common objective is surely the way forward. Otherwise life for everyone is a frustration and a mini battle as one trys to out wit the other.

    Despite the existence of the CPRE, from what I see in their publicity, such as the noise intrusion aspect, despite very considerable expertise and skill I see in members,it has not stopped the relentless creep of development. Hence my suggestion for an all encompassing Plan.As you may gather, I am not familiar with all the tools at the disposal of the Planning System such as recent PPS’s on climate change etc, but these tools clearly exist and then have to be summoned to ward off a planning application which has only their own interests at heart. If they had to follow a Plan at the start, life would be that much easier and planning applications could be dealt with more speedily.

    9 March, 2008 at 6:53 pm

  14. Jean Johnson

    The most urgent need both for people in England and elsewher in the world is to disconnect food supplies from oil supplies.Although it is not possible to calculate precisely how long oil supplies will last we do know that oil production has passed its peak(see Hubberts Peak by Kenneth Deffreyes) and can therefore expect the oil price to continue rising between now and 2026.This will mean reducing dependance on imported grains to feed livestock for example.
    Jean Johnson

    26 April, 2008 at 4:06 pm

  15. Jean Johnson

    In addition to the above, farmers will have to cope with the rising price of fertilisers (maufactured from oil) and the increasing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics which will lead to increasingly virulent diseases in both people and animals cmbined with the increased cost of running farm machinery.The end of the oil age will change everything, and everybodys life.We need to start thinking about it now. We cannot afford to wait until the oil has all gone.

    20 May, 2008 at 4:14 pm

  16. John Ward

    All over UK agricultural land is being destroyed piecemeal by local planning authorities with no oversight, central strategy or thought for the future. With world food prices unlikely ever to fall back to where they were, we should be growing as much of our food here in this country instead of shipping it halfway round the world, with all the global warming issues that entails. In Lincolnshire, a big Mexican company is likely to be given the go-ahead by a weak County Council to destroy thousands of acres of farm land just to extract sand and gravel. Farmers must realise that they only borrow the land from their grandchildren – it is not their right to destroy it. Holes and craters will not feed future generstions.

    3 June, 2008 at 6:08 pm

  17. John Ward

    If you want to help preserve what agricultural land there is left, PLEASE write to Mr Adrian Winkley, Development Directorate, 4th Floor City Hall, Lincoln LN1 1DN and voice your objection to the Cemex plan to destroy farmland at Tattershall. The food problem facing the world today means it would be criminal lunacy to destroy for ever these huge tracts of land.
    This issue is made all the more crucial by yesterday’s report about all that prime wheat-growing land along the Humber which will be lost to the sea now that the defences have been abandoned.

    3 June, 2008 at 6:40 pm

  18. John Farquhar is right to say that much of the 2026 Vision is fantasy, especially Nick Schoon’s contribution. If this country is to produce 70% of the food required for a larger population in 2026, agricultural practices will have to change radically. Jean Johnson is right to highlight our dependence on plentiful supplies of cheap oil. Modern agriculture has been defined, without too much exaggeration, as the turning of oil into food. and we are already seeing the result of increased competition on the prices of both oil and food.

    But Nick deserves credit for being the only person writing in the Vision booklet to suggest that population growth should be tackled and not merely catered for. However his suggestion that population growth would be ‘winding to a halt’ only eleven years after the government’s decision to opt for a UK population limit simply does not make demographic sense. Population growth cannot be turned off like a tap and it takes generations for an increasing population to stabilise.

    In the first half of the 1990s, before the immigration influx and when the average family size was well below replacement level at 1.8 and 1.7, the population was still increasing because there was still a large proportion of young people from the earlier baby boom. The rate of population increase had slowed so there was spare capacity in schools, for instance, and this led the media to conclude erroneously that the UK population was shrinking. In fact the Office for National Statistics at the time was predicting that the UK population would continue to increase slowly but steadily until 2025, later revised to 2020. Immigration levels during the last ten years or so have of course completely changed all that.

    Whilst we undoubtedly urgently need the Sustainable Development Strategy that Nick envisages, let us be realistic about its short-term effect on population growth.

    21 June, 2008 at 12:23 pm

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