Memorandum submitted by Wyndham Rogers-Coltman, OBE (SFS 02)
1. The current food supply system is only robust given a regular supply of fuel to home grown food growers and suppliers and uninterrupted imports by air and sea which is dependent upon a guaranteed fuel supply and good labour relations and civil stability in supplying countries. Nationally we have virtually no control over these factors. In addition the continuity of supply of home grown foods is very vulnerable to commodity prices over which growers have no control and which are often controlled by other countries' tariff, export and farm support policies. The great strength of our home grown food supplies is a bunch of skilled and dedicated farmers who continue to grow food to their best ability against all the odds of uneconomic prices and government interference through EU and National policies, including, in particular, environmental policies.
Challenges affecting aspects of
a. Soil quality. The biggest factor threatening the ability of our soils to continue to produce high quality food in economic quantities is the world shortage of Phosphate and Potash and our dependance on foreign supplies. The normal balance of fibre and mineral elements in soil can be preserved virtually for ever by good farming practice. The elements extracted by plants and not returned to the land can not be replaced without artificial inputs. Over intensive farming brought about by low commodity prices and their associated consequences such as larger and larger machinery is a considerable threat to soil quality.
b. Water availability is a national asset which we must work hard to preserve. Over abstraction from small supplies is a real threat which can be countered by winter fed storage reservoirs but these can only be established through government policies and financial incentives. Policies which take into account regional vulnerability and prioritise accordingly are essential.
c. The marine environment in the seas surrounding the
d. Our science based agricultural research has become a pawn of expediency. It must once again become a national priority. The problem is that the lack of profitability and the diversity of interests within the industry prevents the private sector from funding the research needed. This means that government funded research is the only viable option. It is essential for the security of our limited share of our national food supply market that Government gives agricultural research a high priority.
e. Voluntary, cooperative training groups have always been a strength of our industry but their future is threatened by the lack of economic viability.
f. Trade barriers can only be dismantled on a world wide basis. The state of current trade talks indicates the difficulties associated with obtaining international agreement which is robust and sustainable even within periods of food scarcity such as we experienced in 2007/8.
g. There is no viable alternative to private ownership and management of the agricultural industry. Totalitarian policies for food production have invariably led to food shortages and starvation and, consequently, civil unrest.
4. I suspect that trends in food consumption will continue to be led by price with low price commodities being favoured by a population increasingly susceptible to the economic factors to which they are subjected by governments more interested in the theory of social change as opposed to the health and contentment of their people.
5 & 6. DEFRA is the laughing stock of the industry and, until it gets its act together, will be of no use in furthering the security of food supplies. There is no coherent cross government food security policy. DEFRA appears to be incapable of understanding the problems which producers and consumers face yet they alone design policies to further food security.
7. It is not possible to double national food production by 2050. Even if the government embraced all the most modern and futuristic scientific advances this would not be possible. The fact that our biggest national threat is energy security will ensure the impossiblity of this aim even if the natural reserves in our soils and the elements needed to ensure their continuity were sufficient which they are not. DEFRA should concentrate its efforts on ensuring that our national agricultural industry gets a fair crack of the whip in the context of the European Union and international policies.
My presumption in submitting evidence to your committee is based on my experience as, first, a naval officer sailing the seven seas for 13 years in the Royal Navy protecting our shipping lanes, second, as a farmer of 44 years experience, third, as a main board member of the National Rivers Authority throughout the entire 8 years of its existence, fourth, a three year spell as a Countryside Commissioner and, fifth, many years of involvement with start- up businesses on the fringes of the agricultural industry all of which have survived and prosper to this day in whatever form that they might have evolved into.