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    Leading academic among experts chosen to set out a Future for Farming in new report

    Posted 9 April

    “The recommendations in the Future of Farming report examine how we can all work together to build a brighter future for UK food and farming – and how the £104.4 billion sector – the country’s biggest by turnover – can, in turn, help change our country for the better.”

    A woman with a tablet computer in a field.

    A leading academic at Harper Adams University has helped shape a new report on the Future for Farming which has just been released by Farmer’s Weekly.

    The Future for Farming report sets out a range of recommendations for policymakers, each of which were drawn together after a roundtable with 18 experts from across the Farmers Weekly Transition network – which includes Harper Adams University’s School of Sustainable Food and Farming.

    The University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Lee, was among the participants whose contributions fed into the report, which examined six key areas for policymakers: agricultural policy, food production, food security, trade, natural capital and climate change.

    Discussing food security in the report, Professor Lee said: “To my mind, food security is a public good. But the current policy direction means farmers are focused on how they can deliver biodiversity net gain or capture carbon, or diversify their farm.

    “They are so focused that they are being persuaded to move away from producing high-quality food. That means we’ve really driven ourselves into a corner as far as food security is concerned.

    “Unless we also recognise the importance of food security in producing high quality food on land where it is most sustainable and efficient to do so, then we’re in real trouble.

    “What we need is a ministry of agri-food, which would emphasise the potential of this country to produce high-quality nutrition in conjunction with protecting the environment, not the other way around.

    “We need to have the expertise and knowledge to ensure that our production methods are suitable for the output levels required amid the changing climate.”

    Discussing food production itself, he added: “As a leading university in agricultural science, we focus on how production science can be used to improve efficiency and help with achieving this balance.

    “A sustainable production system has economic, social and environmental measures at its core. Currently, there is a disconnection between funding and the application of science in the UK, which is why we need change.

    “Improving that mechanism will allow science to have a central role.”

    And discussing some of the conditions which affect trade, he said: “We need more veterinarians within the livestock sector, including in abattoirs.

    “As a country, we are still very short of large animal vets and that is a major focus for us at Harper & Keele Veterinary School – to increase that number.

    “The provision of local abattoirs to support the ruminant livestock sector, in particular, needs to be addressed. This will provide high-quality, local, nutritionally dense products and the associated business growth opportunities.

    “The valorisation of manures at source on farm, to replace inorganic fertiliser, also needs further attention and investment to realise a circular food system and the future sustainability of livestock supporting arable nutrient demands.”

    Talking about ways in which UK farmers can help provide workable solutions to climate change, Professor Lee added: “To help farmers with the net zero challenge, we need a fundamental understanding of baselines so that every farm can do a full audit of its carbon stocks.

    “Technology to help with this is developing all the time. We need to stop predicting and modelling and start measuring, so that improvements can be tracked. Too much information is based on modelling at the moment, which is not accurate enough.

    “The recent development of the Sustainable Farm Network hopes to achieve support for farmers.”

    The full report was released as the spring 2024 Transition supplement with Farmers Weekly and is available to read here.

    Speaking after its publication, Professor Lee added: “We’ve been a keen supporter of the Transition project since its inception, and its aims are reflected in the work being carried out by the School of Sustainable Food and Farming – as well as across the University’s research departments, Future Farm and more.

    “So it was great to be asked to take part in the Transition roundtable, and to work with experts from across the UK and make key suggestions for policymakers as they turn their thoughts towards an election year across the UK.

    “The recommendations in the Future of Farming report examine how we can all work together to build a brighter future for UK food and farming – and how the £104.4 billion sector – the country’s biggest by turnover – can, in turn, help change our country for the better.”

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