Conference hears most food produced by only 8% of farmers

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The startling news that 8% of farmers produce 57% of the food and from just 33% of the land, was revealed by Will Gemmill of Ceres Rural when he addressed the National Farm Management Conference from the Institute of Agricultural Management (IAgrM).

The 400 spectators were also reminded of the opportunities to embrace innovation to help improve both the UK’s environmental and food safety. Opening the conference, Minette Batters, President of the NFU, was joined by Professor Tim Lang, Emeritus Professor of Food Policy at City University London, and Lord Deben, Chair of the Climate Change Committee, to unpack the debate on how the agricultural sector currently reconciles food security and environmental security.

Ms Batters called for “greater local sourcing in food contracts, a whole-of-government approach to reducing inflation and a net-zero policy are needed to align the industry”. She added: ‘We have to allow the public sector to work with the private sector – public money has to deliver a multi-faceted return.’

While speakers at the conference recognized the many challenges facing farmers over the next decade, one solution to achieving food security may lie in adopting innovative farming systems that reduce waste through culture more effective.

Speaking later in the day, James Lloyd-Jones, CEO of Jones Food Company, said he believed ‘farming without land’ had the potential to put UK growers at the forefront of production and innovation. With a 55,000 square foot vertical farm in Scunthorpe and an R&D site in Bristol, his company had the ambition to have the technology to supply 70% of the UK’s leafy greens and soft fruits.

Although vertical farming may seem at odds with notions of sustainable production, Lloyd-Jones believes the model is part of a much-needed change in food supply. “Technology helps us grow better. We still believe in agronomy and high quality products, but automation through innovation can help,” he said. “Complementing traditional agriculture with innovative technologies could create shorter, more resilient supply chains and greater self-sufficiency – crucial elements for boosting food security. ”

Read more: The organic food and drink market is collapsing

Along with food security, maintaining stewardship of the countryside puts farmers at the forefront of environmental responsibility. Investing in natural capital and taking advantage of sustainable land management techniques is seen by many as a way to reduce climate disruption, the conference said.

Natural capital is a hot topic in agriculture, but opinions differ on how policies and private markets should interact with the agricultural economy. Speaking at the event, Emily Norton, head of rural research at Savills, urged farmers to act now to reap the rewards rather than wait for politics to catch up. To turn environmental protection into a future-proof business model, she suggested harnessing layers of value by stacking and aggregating ecosystem services on a single piece of land.

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