The food and farming industry is one of the largest contributors to the UK economy. It is worth £113 billion, it provides jobs for nearly four million people, meaning 13% of the working population work within the UK food and drink sector. Food really matters.
The next 20 years are shaping up to be a period of significant change for food and farming, in policy, in markets and in consumer demand. We have a unique opportunity to restructure our food industry, so it meets the needs of our farmers and growers, and most importantly, the public who tell us they want to buy British food because of the pride they take in our world-leading animal welfare and production standards.
Farming and food production is on the brink of a revolution that will see what we eat and how we produce it undergo a huge change. Advances in technology and the challenges of a changing society are already creating new opportunities for the sector as people’s preferences for what they eat, and how they buy, shift on a scale perhaps never seen before.
How will we eat in 2040?
The NFU has just launched a report, ‘The Future of Food 2040’, which takes a look at what we’ll be eating, how it will be produced and the impacts and opportunities for farming. Inherently, farming is a forward-looking and progressive industry that has always been an early adopter of technology. British farmers have a real interest in producing the raw ingredients that underpin a healthy diet and help to solve some of the national challenges we see today. The report illustrates potential paths ahead.
The future starts now
I believe agriculture has a bright and innovative future. Robotics, tracking systems that monitor the real-time health and position of livestock and vertical farming are just some of the very real possibilities that can help to increase UK productivity.
To ensure we are able to take full advantage of these technological advances it is crucial that farm businesses are not only given the support they need to survive and thrive now, but they are able to start to plan and prepare for the future. Failure to do so will mean these advantages and opportunities are simply grasped elsewhere in the world, risking both our current and future food security. We must remember we operate in an increasingly connected global world.
That same global world is also becoming more volatile and agriculture, by its nature, is an industry that is exposed to climatic and market volatility. As the UK looks to develop new trading relationships, there is significant potential for volatility to increase as markets are increasingly exposed to global factors like weather, pests, disease and trade relations. It is vital there are measures in place to ensure UK farming can ride out these volatility storms, as well as underpin skills development and knowledge exchange so farmers and growers can better deal with these issues longer term.
The climate change challenge
Climate change is arguably one of the greatest challenges of our time and British farmers are ready to act. Our ambition is to strive for net zero greenhouse gas emissions across the whole of agricultural production by 2040.We recognise a combination of policies and practises are needed to achieve this aim, and the NFU is looking to build on our work with industry-led initiatives, such as the Greenhouse Gas Action Plan, so we can manage our natural resources more efficiently and reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint.
It is crucial that government continues to engage with us to deliver a sustainable, competitive and profitable British farming sector for generations to come to enable us in turn to continue to produce great quality, traceable food from world-leading, British farms.