'We can help fix UK's broken food system' say Norfolk and Suffolk's top farmers
PUBLISHED: 15:17 20 July 2019
Photo supplied by Brian Finnerty, NFU East Anglia, 01638 672125
Suffolk and Norfolk's top farmers believe the sector can deliver on a demanding sustainable agenda - as long as the industry gets the right support.
Speaking in the wake of a report from the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission - which is calling for a radical shift in food and farm practices - the county chairs of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) said farmers recognised the need to up their game in response to the climate emergency.
Their response is in line with a two-year inquiry by the commission, based on consultation - including an eight-month bike tour around the UK - which found most farmers thought they could make big changes in five to 10 years - with proper support.
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Glenn Buckingham in Suffolk and Nick Deane in Norfolk pointed out that farmers have proved themselves to be adaptable and forward-thinking in the past - but needed the government to get its act together and set an agenda they could work to.
The commission wants the UK to adopt a 10-year plan for the food and farming industry in response to the climate emergency.
It says there should be a dramatic shift towards 'agro-econological' farming by 2030, including organic food production, pasture-fed livestock, wildlife protection measures, more use of trees and more government support for healthy produce.
Mr Buckingham suggested farmers should be judged against carbon emissions targets, underpinned by good data showing the environmental cost of the UK's food system.
Mainstream society had finally woken up to "our broken food system", he added, describing it as too centralised and economised.
"Our whole system of life in the western world has become disconnected with the capability of the planet to sustain," he said.
Food left most - if not all - farms relatively unadulterated, but modern food processes to enable longer shelf life had become the norm.
He called for a more diverse farming production system with 'relocalised' supply lines.
He was fine with a 10-year target, he said, but society needed to be behind it and needed to understand the reasoning for it.
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The NFU had already set a Net Zero by 2040 target, he pointed out, but there was a great deal to do outside of agriculture, which is responsible for 11% of UK greenhouse gas emissions.
"I think farmers are always ready for a challenge. In general we realise the past 50 years of industrialisation do have consequences and they need to be remedied without disrupting food supply," he said.
"Our leaders, politicians need to take note and put in place the ability to change."
Plants can and do play a role in carbon capture - although not at the rate it is being emitted - and would continue to do so while technological methods are perfected, he said.
Reducing emissions comes in many forms, he pointed out, from using more fuel efficient machinery and techniques like satellite guidance, to regulating inputs with the use of scientific analysis.
"This will be a challenge we have not faced before. It is certainly an issue that is not going away, and our industry is very much part of it," he said.
Mr Deane, inset below, pointed out that the report recognises it's vital to have a long-term plan for farming.
"This plan must allow farmers to invest in their businesses with confidence, meeting the challenge of producing food for a growing population while protecting and enhancing the environment," he said.
"As work around NFU Norfolk's centenary has demonstrated, farmers in the county have an impressive track record in taking the sort of forward-thinking and innovative approach that the report authors advocate.
"We accept that farm businesses will need to change.
"But if UK farming is to fulfil its potential to be the world-leader in healthy, sustainable food production, there are some significant short-term challenges that must be overcome.
"At the moment, farmers in parts of the Norfolk Broads don't know if they will have water to grow irrigated crops next year, let alone in 10 years' time."