Following the Agriculture Act, it’s time to look to the future of farming
After several false starts and months of deliberation, last month the Agriculture Act passed into law in England. The first major UK farming law in 70 years; this legislation will ‘transform the way Government supports farmers’ according to Environment Secretary George Eustice MP.
Of course, this is only step one. The Act is about enabling change – it provides the UK Government with the powers required to design UK agricultural policy once we leave the EU and exit the Common Agricultural Policy.
So, with the Act in place, it is time to look to the future of farming and how we can best ensure that UK farmers have access to all the tools they require to produce the crops we need, whilst minimising the environmental impact of farming.
It’s clear agri-tech innovation must be a part of this. Agri-tech has the potential to make crops more productive, nutritious, and pest-resistant, and to enable farmers to grow more food on less land, with a lower environmental impact, helping the UK meet its ambitious climate change targets. Only by embracing these innovations will the UK be able to respond to the challenges of future pandemics, a growing global population, and the impact of the climate emergency.
Giving our farmers access to these tools in future will rest on the UK having a science and evidence-based regulatory environment that works for everyone in the food supply chain, from farm to fork. Until now, politics in the EU have stood in the way of wider use of innovations that are used safely elsewhere, meaning that UK farmers and consumers have not been able to take advantage of UK-developed innovations like the Sainsbury Laboratory’s blight-resistant potato – which offers better yields, lower costs and reduced health risks.
Despite already being used abroad, British farmers are yet to reap the benefits from such homegrown innovations. This is in comparison to other markets such as Australia and Argentina, which have adopted an enabling regulatory approach and have seen the safe introduction of a wide range of advanced crop traits, to the benefit of farmers, the food sector and the environment in their respective countries.
Now that we have the freedom to set our own regulatory path, we must learn important lessons from abroad and ensure that decisions are made for scientific rather than political reasons.
Whether drones to count sheep and monitor crops, or self-driving tractors, the UK’s cutting-edge technology can enable the UK’s farmers to maintain a safe, resilient and sustainable food supply. A science-led regulatory system will ensure that farming in the future can meet growing food demand and be resilient to shocks to the system, such as future pandemics or the impacts of climate change, while minimising greenhouse gas emissions in ways that are not possible with the tools currently available in the UK.
We have a unique opportunity to help farmers in Britain and around the world re-write the future of farming. We should now maximise the opportunities presented by Brexit and champion innovation, a sustainable future for people and planet depend on it.