Written evidence submitted by George Parkinson BSc Hons, Agriculture with Agricultural Economics (FS0014)

 

 

28 09 2022

Dear Sirs,

                   My name is George Parkinson and I am a former dairy farmer who now runs a beef herd. I am a former lecturer from Myerscough College, Preston and specialised in agriculture and business management.

I am interested in this complex subject because I strongly feel that resilient production agriculture is the best way of ensuring strategic food supplies in the UK over the next decade. Sustainable food production systems need not detract from environmental schemes. They can complement each other and UK farmers have the tenacity and drive to deliver both these aims side by side.

My main area of concern is that good quality agricultural land is currently being lost from agricultural production. House building, major infrastructure developments, solar farms and a large number of other non-agricultural uses are taking grades 1,2 and 3a land out of agricultural production.

I am sending you the executive summary and conclusion as these amount to the three thousand words which you have requested. 

These refer to my much larger report entitled The Case for Resilient Production Agriculture in the United Kingdom. If you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

 

Yours sincerely,

George Parkinson BSc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Executive summary points from each report section

 

   The demand for food and potential growth in demand for food in both the UK domestic market and the global market situations.

 

The growth in demand for total food consumed by volume in the UK is largely influenced by population growth. The income elasticity of demand is very low in developed countries, for instance, 0.1 per cent.

 

This growth in demand for food is likely to increase by 0.6 to 1 per cent per annum in developed countries but may be higher, for instance, two per cent per annum, in less developed countries as incomes increase.

 

Food waste, right throughout the food chain, is an area which needs urgent attention.

 

The projected increase in the world population numbers, shown below, means that all governments must keep a close watch on domestic demand alongside domestic and world agricultural productivity levels.

 

 

   Current UK population numbers and possible future growth projections. In addition, the current and world population numbers alongside possible future trends.

 

The UK Census 2021 figures released on June 28th 2022 state that the UK population now stands at 66,966,400 which shows that the UK population grew 6 per cent in the last decade.

 

Recent forecasts from the Office for National Statistics (January 2022) predict that the UK population will increase from 67.1 million in mid-2020, to 69.2 million by mid-2030 and to 71 million by 2045.

 

The World Bank has announced that the world population was 7.762 billion in 2020. The United Nations has predicted an estimated total world population rise to 9.735 billion in 2050. The potential world population increase between 2020 and 2050 stands at plus 25 per cent. If these figures are correct, a large number of extra people throughout the world will need feeding by 2050.

 

 

   The implications of target Net Zero and the response of UK farmers and world farmers in trying to achieve this objective.

 

Many farmers in the UK have farmed their land in an environmentally friendly way for some time. More recently a considerable number of farmers have put a great deal of effort into using less carbon in their production systems in a move to aim for target Net Zero.

 

Although the target of Net Zero may be a desirable long-term goal for many governments of the world’s nations, it cannot be at the expense of food production at the present time. Current unresolved conflicts, significant projected increases in world population numbers, unpredictable weather patterns, shortages of fertiliser for growing crops, together with high inflation levels in many nations means that policy makers throughout the world face very difficult decisions. It is of paramount importance that both sustainable UK and global food production systems are not compromised and, in many cases, the area of arable land and grassland used for global food production may have to be increased and/or intensified.

 

 

   The desirable self-sufficiency level for all foodstuffs consumed in the UK

 

It is not possible or desirable for the UK to increase domestic agricultural production considerably in order to be 100 per cent self-sufficient in terms of foodstuffs consumed. Firstly, it would require a large increase in agricultural inputs which would be subject to the law of ‘diminishing returns’ long before this target was reached. Secondly, many foodstuffs desired and consumed in the UK cannot be grown in this country, such as oranges, bananas and rice, to name just a few.

 

In a situation where the UK was in a serious conflict or in response to a global catastrophic event, then it may be possible to increase domestic agricultural production up to 75 to 80 per cent of total UK foodstuffs consumed, in the short term. This would require a considerable increase in inputs and would almost certainly involve a large increase in the costs of production.

 

If we do not maintain domestic self-sufficiency levels at 60 to 65 per cent of total foodstuffs consumed by volume, then we simply cannot ramp-up agricultural production to 75 or even 80 per if this ever became necessary. We undoubtedly have to maintain a sufficient number of skilled farmers and a sufficient area of quality agricultural land to have the capacity to respond to a short-term crisis.

 

   The robustness of current domestic and world supply chains for foodstuffs for both human and animal consumption adjusted for imports and exports as appropriate.

 

In 2020, the UK imported 46 per cent of the food it consumed by value. The net cost, after adjustments for imports and exports, was 26.6 billion pounds (a net difference of £26.6 billion). Eighty per cent of the UK’s imports come from the European Union (Source UK Food Security Report 2021).

 

According to Reuters, extra trade barriers created by Britain's exit from the European Union and subsequent trade agreements have added 6% to the cost of food.

 

At the current time it appears that farmers are deliberately disadvantaged when attempting to export agricultural goods and produce to the EU by having to ‘go through’ significant exports controls. A policy which legislates for one-sided border controls is simply not ‘’free trade’’.

 

Many EU countries are actively considering a significant reduction in livestock numbers to bring down agricultural emissions in response to target Net Zero. Examples of this policy are The Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland. New Zealand has also proposed limiting synthetic nitrogen production and also to reduce emissions from cattle to attain the target of Net Zero. These actions by exporting nations may reduce the supplies of global foodstuffs on the world markets in the next decade.

 

In April 2022, in response to consumer uncertainties, the then Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan pointed out that the UK food supply chain was ‘very resilient’ despite the soaring costs of inputs. Her analysis is probably correct for that particular time period; however, the robustness of food supply chains is an area which will require substantial attention by policy makers in the near future.

 

   The importance of organic and chemical fertiliser on both domestic and world crop and grassland production.

 

The Haber-Bosch process was invented by German scientists in the early twentieth Century with the result that nitrogen fertiliser was available for crop production purposes. Nitrogen fertiliser, particularly when blended with phosphate and potash, has been the main propulsion for vastly increased global yields of crop and grassland production systems since World War Two.

 

The world’s population has come to rely completely on the use of artificial fertilisers to maintain high or even reasonable yields in most agricultural production systems. The world’s population increases have been driven by the year-on-year use of artificial fertilisers and, put simply, the world population cannot be fed without the use of both artificial fertilisers and organic manures.

 

Bloomberg UK reported in March 2022 that Brazil, ‘an agricultural powerhouse and the world’s biggest fertiliser importer’’, has struggled to obtain enough fertiliser to plant the crops for later this year (September 2022).

 

It is possible to use organic manures to enhance cropping and grassland yields, however they are not a consistent product and require careful analysis before use. Both UK and global governments are going to have to give considerable attention to the availability of fertilisers and organic manures for crop production before the next growing season of 2023.

 

   The land area available and the quality of land for food production in both England and the UK.

 

Soils support all life on earth. Land therefore is the most valuable natural asset in the UK. Land is a finite resource.

 

The problem for UK farmers concerning land is that it has the potential to be used for other businesses in the countryside. This potential for multiple uses for UK land has driven the purchase price per hectare well over the value it would have for expanding agricultural production systems, i.e., the agricultural value.

 

The problem for policy makers is that often these ‘alternative land use’ operations take out valuable quality agricultural land either permanently or for a considerable time period. These other activities often purchase the most valuable agricultural land.

 

Andrew Montague-Fuller from Cambridge University produced a report in 2014 entitled ‘The Best Use of Agricultural land’ which highlighted that the UK may be running out of land for food production and could face a potential shortfall of 2 million hectares by 2030 (i.e., land for actually growing agricultural produce).

 

He pointed out that there is a danger that the future farming landscape of Britain might not be compatible with the country's needs. He added that actually we need more land put aside for the food needs of our growing population and that the balance may wrong if we don't face up to this shortfall.

 

The UK Agriculture statistics in the United Kingdom 2020 was published by Defra and the report predicted that the loss of Utilisable Agricultural Area (UAA) during 2020 was 1.5 per cent. If this trend continues then we would lose at least 15 to 17% of the UAA by 2030.

 

A report by Savills (2019) predicted that the UK agricultural land area may be reduced by 31 per cent by 2050 with the UAA being reduced from the current 17.3 million hectares to a projected 10 million hectares.

 

To maintain strategic resilient food supplies, land of grades one, two and three (a) must be protected as soon as possible or UK arable cropping and grassland production potential will be lost permanently.

 

 

 

   Production systems in UK Agriculture during 2021 2022

 

 

The UK agricultural industry is in a most fortunate situation at the current time due to the fact that a considerable number of production systems have been developed for UK farming purposes. These production systems are important because they have been developed to suit UK farming conditions over several centuries and the skills and knowledge of specific farm and local conditions have also been passed down through the generations.

 

The complete range of products produced by UK farmers and growers is too great to mention at this point. Arable famers produce both crops and vegetables, and grassland farmers tend to concentrate on livestock production. The UK climate is particularly suited to grassland production. Mixed farming systems are particularly suited to using the by-products produced by both crop and livestock farming.

 

The importance of both pig and poultry farming systems, which are often non-land using, must not be forgotten as these particular enterprises can be expanded to increase production levels at short notice, given the right incentives. From the arable side of farming systems, potato and vegetable crop areas can be expanded quickly, once again given the right incentives.

 

I strongly believe that, during 2022, agricultural production levels will have fallen well below the 60 per cent level of self-sufficiency for total foodstuffs, by volume, which is often quoted as the current situation. The only way to maintain agricultural productivity is for farmers to be paid a fair price for the quality produce emanating from current UK farming systems.

 

If cheap food imports are continually allowed in from abroad then the price of agricultural produce from UK farms will be driven down by the supermarkets. The inflation level cost increase of agricultural inputs has been over 20 per cent on many farms during 2022. If this current scenario continues then some farmers will simply go out of business. The current relatively low payment levels for the Sustainable Farming Initiative will not make much difference to farm survival issues during 2022.

 

Policy makers who wish to maintain a specific level of agricultural food production in the UK may therefore have to contemplate some sort of alternative funding level for farmers. Sustainable food production systems need not detract from environmental schemes. They can complement each other and UK farmers have the tenacity and drive to deliver both these aims side by side.

If the total UK agricultural production systems as a whole loses too many farmers or if too much land is lost to other uses, then the future net balance of payments in agricultural products will deteriorate. In these circumstances the cost to the UK government and taxpayer will be staggering.

 

 

   The Practical Implications of the Environmental Land Management Scheme, Rewilding and Tree Planting for Carbon Offsetting Purposes

 

The principal problem with the ELM scheme is that it appears to assume that UK domestic agricultural production (percentage self-sufficiency levels, now approximately 60 per cent by volume) will somehow be maintained at current levels and, in addition, that supplies of cheap human foodstuffs of reasonable quality will always be available in sufficient quantities on the world markets.

 

It could be argued that all Environmental Land Management schemes would have to be intricately incorporated within current farming production systems to have any ongoing success in the future.

 

Landscape Recovery is surely the most difficult area to ‘economically justify’ out of the three sections of Defra’s Environmental Land Management Scheme as one third of the ELM budget may be used for this section. If a small number of landowners with large farms receive a significant proportion of the current ELM budget, is this good value for the taxpayer and the consumer? Has a detailed cost-benefit analysis been carried out on the financial implications of landscape recovery?

 

At the current time the drive to place additional environmental considerations above resilient strategic food production is simply not rational.

 

The current payment levels of the SFI scheme are not a great incentive to participate in the scheme, particularly when taking into consideration recent inflation rates (these payment rates were announced in December 2021). Many farmers are simply waiting for more information to emerge and perhaps will then join at a later date.

 

The increasing development of planting of trees on good quality farmland in the UK for carbon offsetting purposes is causing a lot of stress amongst the farming communities and certain countryside organisations. This carbon offsetting development has been called ‘’greenwashing’’ by farmers and many other individuals interested in countryside issues. Greenwashing enables large corporations to look like they are addressing the climate emergency without forcing them to rethink their business models.

 

   The Possible Impact of Climate Change on UK Agricultural and UK Enterprise Production Levels

 

The UK governments response to climate change concerning the agricultural sector has been the introduction of the Environmental Land Management Scheme. ELM pays farmers for the provision of public goods and particularly with actions taken to help and/or improve the environment.

 

I believe that most practical working farmers have been so overwhelmed with attempting to mitigate the agricultural input cost inflation rate that they have simply concentrated on remaining in business. It could be argued that the significant extra input costs associated with maintaining production systems (per annum) on even a small farm during 2022 almost makes the current SFI payments irrelevant.

 

Farmers also have to face the direct consequences of any future climate changes which may involve fluctuating weather conditions. UK farmers have the business acumen, drive and tenacity to fine tune or even change existing production systems to survive any future problems which may arise from climate change challenges.

 

 

   The Reasons for Promoting a Well-Balanced Diet compared to the Drive to Promote Plant-based Diets Including the Recent Promotion of Plant-based ‘Meat Products’ in the UK

 

Jayne Buxton has recently published a well-researched book entitled ‘The Great Plant-Based Con’.

It has been become widely accepted for some time that a very high intake of red meats for a sustained period in a human diet can cause significant health issues in certain people. Buxton has recently pointed out that a very high intake of plant-based foodstuffs, particularly if highly processed, can also cause significant health issues in certain people. A balanced diet appears to be the most sensible option.

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

The main point of this review is to emphasize that is of paramount importance that the UK retains a sufficient quantity of good agricultural land to enable resilient food supplies to be sustainably delivered in the future. At the current time we are simply losing too much quality agricultural land per annum to other uses or developments. Building houses means that land will be lost for ever. 

 

Production Agriculture must be at the heart of any agriculture and countryside policy developments, not at the periphery. To ignore the vital contribution that UK agriculture makes to strategic food supplies is unusual and the flagship ELM scheme does not set out a particular vision for UK Agriculture. In addition, farmers in England, Scotland and Wales are all have separate support schemes, which can be confusing at times.

 

Recently trade deals have been signed with other nations which appear to disadvantage UK agriculture whilst simply importing food from countries with lower farm production standards. It is possible to argue that UK policy makers are engaged in a form of ‘’carbon colonisation’’ of food production by exporting the carbon used in farm production processes to other nations?

 

The UK has legislated in 2019 for Target Net Zero to be attained by 2050 in the entirety of the United Kingdom. It is vital that all businesses work towards using low carbon systems of production and ‘carbon offsetting’ may simply delay this process.

 

Current UK production systems are important because they have been developed to suit UK farming conditions over several centuries and the skills and knowledge of specific farm and local conditions have also been passed down through the generations. Losing valuable UK agricultural land from agricultural production systems is a major problem now and also going forwards. It is just as important, however, to retain a crucial number of UK farmers with the experience to produce agricultural produce in a resilient and sustainable manner throughout the next decade.

 

Farmers have always cared for soils, the environment and nature in the countryside. As my grandfather said, as did other grandfathers at the time: - Live every day as if it was your last, but farm as if you would live forever. Wise words indeed.