Farm tech strategy 'may create mega-farm dominated countryside'

The Government's new Agri-Tech Strategy needs to avoid the mistakes of the past when it comes to introducing new agricultural technology to increase food production, according to the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Agricultural technology in the UK is to receive a £160m investment following the launch of a new strategy to deliver sustainable and affordable food for future generations, according to the government.

£160million will be invested establishing Centres for Agricultural Innovation and an Agri-Tech Catalyst fund to improve the translation of research into practice. The NFU believes it is very significant that agricultural science and technology are finally being recognised right across Government as essential to the success of the farming industry and its ability to contribute to the economic growth of the UK.

Ian Woodhurst, CPRE’s Senior Food and Farming Campaigner said: ‘We’ve found out bigger is not always better, and so we need to avoid new technology driving us into a mega-farm cul-de-sac, where only those who can afford to use new technologies dominate food production. We need a diverse agricultural and food sector so that new entrants to farming can get into the industry, and local food producers and farms of all sizes can introduce innovative ways of producing our food without damaging the character of our landscapes and wildlife.’

Industry is also expected to invest in the strategy using the latest technologies to ensure the process is productive whilst reducing environmental impact.

With the demand for food rising rapidly worldwide, the strategy also aims to make the UK a world leader in addressing global food security issues.

CPRE's Vision for Farming set out our aspiration for centres of agricultural excellence and innovation developing new technology and farming practices that produce the food we need without damaging the environment.

In some cases significant environmental gains could be made just by using existing technology more widely, for example methods of growing crops using lower quantities of agri-chemicals.

Ian Woodhurst concluded: "Even small, inexpensive technological innovations can make a big difference when it comes to boosting farmers' yields and profits while at the same time protecting our soil, water, wildlife habitats and landscape features. The strategy shouldn’t end up losing sight of the need to develop innovative technology and farming practices for farms of all sizes. It’s in this way that we can have high quality, healthy and affordable food produced where's it needed, in environmentally sustainable ways."

Pete Riley of GM Freeze said: “The success of the Government’s new Agri-Tech Strategy depends on whether it meets the real needs of people and the environment. Modern intensive farming systems have failed to produce a balanced diet for everyone but have polluted our air and water, degraded soils and produced huge losses of biodiversity. The strategy needs to improve on this and come up with the best, most sustainable approaches drawing on knowledge-based systems, the application of appropriate technologies and the socio-economic and political reforms needed to get food to hungry people without excessive wastage or food miles.

“The new strategy should provide an opportunity for fresh thinking on how to feed people without causing major damage to the planet, including facing up to the need to protect and encourage biodiversity of crops, farm animals and the natural world in which farming happens. Achieving this will require enlightened leadership and rejection of approaches that do not meet the need to draw farmers and consumers into cooperation.

“GM crops fail to meet these basic requirements because their existence is based on an attempt to patent and control seeds. This meets the ‘need’ of companies to achieve repeat seed sales, but it does not further the cause of sustainable food production – as is shown by the rapid rise in weeds resistant to the chemicals used on GM crops and the subsequent rise in herbicide use and damage to species like the Monarch butterfly.

“Since the strategy lacks any means for farmers or consumers to help guide its progress, GM Freeze is concerned about who is representing these voices and identifying real needs as the strategy moves forward.”