MP George Freeman and NFU president Peter Kendall debate future farming at Royal Norfolk Show
The role of the next generation of Norfolk farmers in meeting the global challenge of future food production was discussed by agricultural leaders at the Royal Norfolk Show.
Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman and Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers' Union, discussed the implications of climate change and population growth during the meeting at the NFU marquee yesterday.
The main topic was how to produce more food from fewer resources, with our burgeoning global population of seven billion expected to reach nine billion by 2043.
But local farmers' representatives at the meeting raised more fundamental and immediate local issues, such as the need for wage structures to recognise the technical skills in their industry. They also said a change of perception was required in schools to change the dated stereotype of farming, and to make it an attractive career option for entrepreneurial youngsters.
Mr Freeman, who is also chairman of an all-party parliamentary group on science and technology in agriculture, said the advances being made at institutions like the Norwich Research Park should play a pivotal role in securing the world's food supplies.
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He said: 'Whether you are in Swaffham or Swaziland these problems will be faced all around the world. We will have to double our food production with half as much water and half as much energy. We are not talking about a marginal increase in productivity, it is a fundamental challenge facing a whole generation.'
Mr Freeman said all government departments needed to recognise the economic value of agriculture as a manufacturing force, and recognise that biodiversity benefits can be founded on viable farms.
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'At the heart of this debate there is an idea that has taken hold that we have to choose between biodiversity and intensive farming,' he said. 'I wholeheartedly reject that idea. We must not lose sight of the fact that a progressive and prosperous farming industry underpins the ability to invest in all those things we cherish.'
Mr Kendall said the challenges of meeting the food demands of 2050 were immense, but that the farming industry needed to first focus on the challenges of 2025.
'If we talk about 2050, we think it is someone else's problem,' he said. 'But we need to start the debate which George is supporting right now, and realise that we need to be bold. We need to portray that this is an exciting, inventive career which is going to be central to solving the fundamental challenges of food security.
'The bio-science industry here is leading the UK, but we need an agricultural industry to back it up. 'I do not want all the latest technology to be allocated to climates, varieties and crops in other countries, and not here in the UK. We need to make sure the next generation of farmers has the tools to apply that next generation of science here.'
One meeting attendee said it was crucial to change perceptions in the education system that agriculture was a career option only for 'those least likely to succeed'.
Mr Kendall agreed. 'How on earth are we going to attract young people to invest their time and work hard in this industry if we don't make sure the returns are there for them?
'If we attract the right people, using the right technology, the we can start to address the fundamental problems we have been talking about.'
In response to a question about the role of genetically-modified (GM) foods in the future farming model, Mr Freeman said: 'We need a framework in which people can choose. I think if we can conduct a public debate and explain the significant benefits these technologies can bring, then people can choose to buy a product which improves their health or prevents disease, or they can decide to choose to buy foods produced with conventional methods.'