8% of farmers, produce 57% of food; from only 33% of land.
This statistic, of where UK agriculture has been, was shared by Will Gemmill, Executive Partner at Ceres Rural, at the Institute of Agricultural Management’s (IAgrM) National Farm Management Conference.
With this level of untapped potential, the conference, attended by over 400 delegates, was a reminder of the opportunities available across the industry to embrace innovation to help improve both the UK’s environmental and food security.
Opening the conference, Minette Batters, President of the National Farmers Union was joined by Professor Tim Lang, Emeritus Professor of Food Policy, at the City University of London, and Lord Deben, Chair of the Climate Change Committee, to unpick the debate around how the agricultural sector is currently balancing food and environmental security.
All three speakers aligned on the need for closer collaboration and multi-layered solutions to address the issues that the sector currently faces. They agreed 21st Century food security has to deal with multi-criteria challenges. It’s no longer just about water and biodiversity, for example, but must address social criteria, such as affordability and social structures.
Ms Batters added that these challenges cannot be addressed by government alone. “Greater local procurement in food contracts, a whole-government approach to reduce inflation, and a net zero policy are needed to align the industry.
“We have to allow the public sector to work with the private sector - public money has to deliver a multi-faceted return,” she said.
While speakers at the conference acknowledged the numerous challenges facing farmers over the next decade, one solution to provide food security may lie in adopting innovative farming systems that reduce waste through more efficient growing environments.
Speaking later in the day, James Lloyd-Jones, CEO of Jones Food Company, said he believes ‘landless agriculture’ has the potential to put UK producers at the forefront of production and innovation.
With a 55,000 sq. ft vertical farm in Scunthorpe and an R&D site in Bristol, Mr Lloyd-Jones’ company has ambitions for the technology to supply 70% of the UK’s leafy greens and soft fruit.
Although vertical farming may, to some, seem at odds with notions of sustainable production, Mr Lloyd-Jones believes the model is part of a much-needed food supply change. “Technology helps us farm better. We still believe in agronomy and high-quality product, but automation through innovation can help.
“Complementing traditional agriculture with innovative technology could create shorter, more resilient supply chains and greater self-sufficiency – crucial elements for bolstering food security.”
Alongside food security, maintaining stewardship over the countryside places farmers on the frontline of environmental responsibility. Investing in natural capital and profiting from sustainable land management techniques is seen by many as a route to reduce climate disruption.
Natural capital is a hot topic in agriculture, but there are differing opinions on how policy and private markets should interact with farm economics.
Also speaking at the event, Emily Norton, Head of Rural Research at Savills, urged farmers to act now to reap the rewards rather than waiting for policy to catch up. To turn environmental protection into a futureproof business model, Ms Norton suggested exploiting layers of value by stacking and bundling ecosystem services across a single piece of land.
The conference highlighted that there is no silver bullet to food and environmental security, but highlighted the potential of UK agriculture to embrace change and drive innovation.