Who knows what the future may hold but at the moment there are many issues and pressures on the United Kingdom agricultural industry which are extremely wide-ranging going from climate change and food security to farmer incomes and an ageing agricultural workforce.
One of the big issues at the moment and which appears frequently in the media spotlight is the rising price of food and the issue of food security. CLICK HERE for the FAO website on the world food situation. Food commodity prices have risen sharply since the end of 2006. The price of wheat more than doubled between October 2006 and October 2007, while the price of rice increased very quickly more than doubling between January and April 2008 (source FAO commodity prices). The cause of these increasing prices are complex but are connected to increasing demand from emerging markets such as China, the rising cost of fuel and rising input prices and also increasing demand for biofuel. However, weather related events such as the continuing drought in Australia, a major exporter of cereals, has also reduced production. These high commodity prices will more than likely boost production and in response the EU rate for set-aside in 2008 was set at 0% (the scheme is likely to be scraped in the future). Nevertheless, increasing production could put the environment under further pressure. See the Natural England website for their view on this.
See the following articles to give you more detail of the world food crisis.
Food prices crisis
Cost of food
Impact of biofuel on food prices
Increasing agricultural production
The cost of rising prices
Slow Biofuel production
Aligned with increasing demand for food and rising food costs is the issue of food security and whether there is enough food to feed ourselves. Food security is defined as “when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. One of the biggest challenges to food security in the future is climate change and whether enough food can be produced. The recent Rome Food Security Summit in June 2008 highlighted these problems and the need for resilient agricultural systems. The increase in global temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns that is predicted will have a huge impact on the yields of current varieties. It has been argued that new genetically modified crop varieties, such as drought tolerant varieties will be needed to maintain yields, follow the hyperlink for details. The negative public attitude to GM crops in Britain and Europe has been very different to the rest of the world, where uptake particularly in the US, Argentina and Brazil has been huge. For more details see the following BBC website.
Agriculture will undoubtedly have to respond to a changing climate in the future, however, agriculture can also play a part in mitigating climate change. Agriculture can play a part in reducing emissions of the three main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide as agriculture is responsible for emitting large amounts of these gases. Reducing the loss of soil carbon and use of inorganic nitrogen fertilisers and denitrification are just two ways of reducing emissions.
Pause for thought, list three more ways in which agriculture can play a part in mitigating climate change?
Within the UK the issue of animal disease and biosecurity came to the forefront of public attention, following the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in 2001, where over 2000 cases were confirmed. This along with the recent emergence in the UK of two new diseases Avian Influenza or bird flu (particularly the H5N1 strain which can infect humans) and Bluetongue has meant that biosecurity will remain an issue for the agricultural industry for a long-time to come. For more details refer to the DERFA website.
While this is not a definitive list it gives some idea of the current issues and pressures on the UK agricultural industry. Other areas that are likely to have an impact are the World Trade Organisation talks, possible further enlargement of the EU which has already expanded to 25 then 27 countries recently.
Pause for thought, what other factors are likely to affect the UK agricultural industry?
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