Produce more, impact less. This is the challenge that the NFU’s farmer and grower members have set themselves. It’s a big ask for farmers anywhere and at any time.
But as we prepare to enter the second decade of the 21st century, we are in what the Government Chief Scientist John Beddington famously called ‘the perfect storm’: farmers have to grow their crops and livestock in a way that achieves bigger yields and better quality. But we can’t massively increase our use of fertiliser, pesticides, water, energy. Using these inputs certainly has an impact on the farm balance sheet but it also has an impact on soils, air, water courses and biodiversity.
What is needed is for all the resources that are essential to put enough quality food on people’s plates to be used more efficiently at every stage of production. Getting the most out of every field, glasshouse, or animal; targeting and utilising every bit of nitrogen, feed, fuel or water; minimising what is lost by protecting against pests, diseases and the weather; and making greatest use of the by-products. This is about optimising, not maximising. It is all about efficiency.
These improvements aren’t just going to happen if we all stand on enough conference platforms and talk about it. The rhetoric is important, as is the leadership it symbolises, to get everyone enthused and achieve a sense of common purpose (and we have arguably still got a little way to go on that!). But what is essential is the science, the R&D. And for that science to be applied on the ground to enable farmers and growers to really step up a gear.
It is no good just having amazingly clever fundamental research going on at places like John Innes Centre, Rothamsted or Institute for Animal Health. Some of this world-leading brainpower must be directed towards taking the clever science much closer to the crop or animal itself. These people will really be making a difference to the huge challenges the world is facing.
We also need scientists with the practical and communication skills, and advisers with the science skills, to really get engaged with farmers.
As anyone with any knowledge of the farming industry will know there is no ‘one size fits all’, no standard operating procedures, either in terms of the actual production systems or the people in the industry. This infinite variation can be challenging – and regulators certainly struggle with it – but it is why farming is fascinating and rewarding to be involved in.
The fact that food production is again high on the political agenda is a great opportunity for British farmers, but also for scientists to play a central role in feeding the world.
About Peter Kendall, NFU President
Peter Kendall farms in Eyeworth, East Bedfordshire, in partnership with his brother Richard. 620 hectares of combinable crops are grown on the home farm and contracting and rental agreements are also operated with four local farmers.
The farm has changed over the last 10 years from a very traditional mixed farm to a totally arable unit.
Peter took a degree in Agricultural Economics at Nottingham University, before returning to the family business in 1984.
He was Chairman of NFU Cereals in 2003, before becoming Deputy President in 2004 and President in 2006, and is also a Vice-President of the European farm organisation, COPA.
Peter sits on a variety of bodies in the UK and Europe including IGD’s Policy Issues Group.
At the top of his list of priorities is ensuring that the growing importance of agriculture and horticulture to food security and climate change are not only recognised by the Government, but reflected in its policies affecting farming right across the board. But he sees moving all sectors towards sustainable profitability as also being vitally important.
Tel: 024 7685 8500