Agriculture faces a global challenge. The world's
population, now around 7 billion, is expected to grow to 9 billion
by 2050. Many food prices have increased and are likely to go
on doing so.
In response, agricultural production must increaseto
feed these extra mouths, to keep prices down, and to respond to
a world-wide demand for better nutrition.
Higher output has to be achieved using finite resources.
The world cannot afford to release new land for farming. We need
our forests and wilderness to absorb the carbon dioxide we create.
Supplies of fresh water are everywhere under pressure.
Projections of climate change show that many areas used for agriculture
are under threat, from drought or flooding.
Mitigating climate change also means that farmers
must reduce their use of fossil fuels, and change practices that
contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases.
The response to this challenge has to start now.
Decisions have to be taken, and actions implemented, with urgency.
The UK and the EU are not sheltered from the challenge.
Europe must act quickly and coherently to transform EU agriculture,
and make it ready for this new era.
Far from limiting production, the trend of the last
decade, European Governments must see as the prime focus of agricultural
policy the need to raise productivity, while supporting environmental
sustainability. Innovation must be at the heart of this effort.
Science is key. In the UK, the Government must maintain
the quality of fundamental research but also do more to plug the
gaps in applied agricultural research.
Between 2007 and 2013 the Common Agricultural Policy
budget is around 400 bn; EU funding for agricultural research
is under 2 bn. The European Commission must make a co-ordinated
drive to lift agricultural research to a new level, not least
through the European Innovation Partnership on sustainable and
Innovative knowledge must be put into practice. This
is not happening systematically across the EU. Member States should
improve advice to agriculture; the CAP Farm Advisory System should
be extended to stimulate innovative practice.
Regulation should help, not hinder. Politicians and
society must not be afraid of new properly tested technologies.
These may include the genetic modification of crops, but GM is
only one example of a range of possible technologies. Benefits
and risks must be clearly articulated, recognising that too precautionary
an approach may pose risks to global food security.
This is a challenge that must be addressed across
the Government, across the European Commission and across society.
Only collaborative working, bringing together scientists, farmers,
retailers, and consumers, will enable agriculture to meet the
tests of the future.