UK – Farmers need a new mind set to be able to grow and produce food sustainably and profitably, writes Chris Harris, from the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC).
A new report for the Oxford Farming Conference produced by consultancy Bidwells says that the UK farming sector has to be more open to changes in land management and must not solely consider that farmers must own the land they farm.
The report says that a mind-set that is closed to new business structures, limited collaboration and a lack of investment in farm infrastructure is holding UK farming back.
In opening the conference co-chairman Adrian Ivory said that agriculture needs to play a part in the changing demographic of the world society that is seeing a larger population and changing eating habits.
In this relation the report produced for the conference Opportunity Agriculture: The Next Decade challenges farmers and farm business operators to think more widely about sources of capital and to explore agreements such as share farming or partnering with external investors.
“The context to this important research is that our farming sector has far-reaching opportunities, but it needs to adapt to profit from them,” said conference co-chairman Julian Gairdner.
He said that farm businesses need to adopt an openness and willingness to embrace change.
“It is likely that more transformation will happen in the UK farming industry in the next 10 years than we have seen in the past 50, so the industry needs to be prepared to adopt new systems, structures and partner investors, who understand agriculture.
“The report delivers some hard-hitting punches and, intentionally, it doesn’t hold back in spelling out the progress needed,” Mr Gairdner added.
The report says that farmers will need to look for alternatives to their tried and tested methods of food production.
It says that further decoupling of farm ownership from farm operation in the UK is inevitable.
The future profitability of farming will mean inter-farm collaboration on infrastructure such as buildings, roads, water systems in order to achieve sufficient capacity.
“Water security will be the key defining issue for food production in a decade’s time and farmers need to prepare for this,” said Ian Ashbridge the author of the report from Bidwells.
He warned that farming has to be allowed to access new technologies that will improve yields of key food crops and not fall victim to the same “Luddite attitudes as GM has”.
The report also calls for the farming sector to invest in people.
“The UK risks exporting its talent both in the science community and also in agricultural leadership and business management,” said Mr Ashbridge.