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Seismic Changes in Store for Farmers

The findings of a recent report into the future of farming quoted some rather alarming statistics …

In 1920 each farmer fed 19 people, by 1970 the number fed by each and every farmer was 26, but by 2013 a single farmer fed 155 people.

While this is a very simplistic view and simply a division of total population by numbers of farmers, the continuing trend is very clear and more than a little worrying.

The biggest cause for concern has to be the increasingly steep curve with the 50 years from 1920 to 1970 showing a 37% increase, but then the next 43 years producing nearly a 500% increase!

So, what happens next? That has to be the question exercising the minds of politicians and farmers leaders alike as we look forward to the fast growing world population that I mentioned in this column last month.

There’s no doubt technology will play its part with driverless tractors, vertical farming technology, drones and agri-bots (yes, there’s now a second generation of agricultural robots!) already in place on farms and in fields and set to revolutionise the food production industry.

As the report suggests, we have seen huge increases in crop yields and conversion rates of grassland into meat, along with an increasing reliance on the ever more fickle weather across the globe. We’ve seen record temperatures in Australia with crop failures and animals being slaughtered due to lack of feed and then conversely, record freezing temperatures in parts of the USA bringing more crop failures. Here in the North of Scotland at the time of writing, we are experiencing one of the mildest ever Februarys on record and very welcome it is too! To those who say, “We are going to pay for this later” … my reply is usually something like “Enjoy it while it’s here – just remember 2018’s Beast from the East!”

Even if you don’t believe these events are brought on by global warming, there’s no denying that these extreme weather patterns are actually happening and what’s more they are having a real effect on food production.

So, anything farmers can do to cut down the risk factor has to be good and that’s something which hasn’t escaped the attentions of the NFU’s on both sides of the border.

Just last week NFU president from South of the Border, Minette Batters unveiled a report called “Future of Food 2040” in which her team challenged farmers to evolve and adapt in the face of forthcoming “seismic changes” to what we’ll be eating, our food buying patterns and how food will be produced. NFU head of policy, Dr. Andrea Graham declared that whatever happens after Brexit, planning for the future of food must start now and that “business as usual” will not be an option!

The report calls for Westminster support for new technology development to enable farmers to take on the challenges of not only surviving, but also thriving by 2040 as they take on the challenges of feeding the world.

Minette Batters closed her speech with the stark warning to governments across the UK “Failure to support even more new technology will mean the advantages and opportunities of the future are simply grasped elsewhere, putting at risk UK national food security both now and in the future”.

The message I am taking from all of this is “It’s time for governments to put their hands in their pockets, stop relying on cheap imports and support new technology which will help UK farmers feed our own people”.