Technology is vital to environmental and economic sustainability for UK agriculture. This was the recurring message from speakers at this year’s Agribusiness 2015 conference organised by the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC).
The theme of the conference was ‘Growing the sustainable agrisupply chain’. Speaker after speaker gave an upbeat view of industry prospects, but emphasised that access to technology was vital to sustainable delivery.
Parliamentary under Secretary of State at Defra George Eustice delivered a positive message for the industry and confirmed that the UK Government is fully behind AIC’s drive towards a risk-based approach to European decision-making.
“We need to retain key crop protection products and we recognise the threat to these, particularly endocrine disrupters,” he said. ”We believe that products should only be removed where there is a genuine risk, but we differ from other EU countries in this approach.”
AIC Chief Executive David Caffall talked of the Confederation’s work in reducing the burden of regulation and the challenges ahead. Speaking during a panel session alongside George Eustice, he said: “Our target now is decision-makers in Europe. We have the support of the UK Government but we now need to mobilise Europe.”
He had earlier announced the formation of ‘Food for Thought’, an alliance of European trade associations that will bring together the interests of agriculture alongside food and drink to provide increased lobbying power on cross-sector issues.
The need for a fiscal regime that will encourage investment in innovative technology by UK agriculture was at the heart of the presentation by NFU President Meurig Raymond. While Chairman of the AHDB Peter Kendall set out an ambitious manifesto to make AHDB into a world-leading Centre of Excellence to provide access to the technological advances that UK agriculture needs.
Suzanne Pera, Farm Inputs Analyst with Rabobank, described a view of the future where precision farming would increase both business efficiency and sustainability. She was confident that the new technologies could be applied across all sizes of enterprise including family farms, and was positive about farmers benefitting from the value created.
Richard Heathcote of Cool Farm Alliance talked about the models for measuring on-farm sustainability, which have been developed with the support of major multi-nationals, and have already been applied on 100,000 farms. He said that neither technology nor ecology was the panacea for sustainability, but said that it is crucial to ‘measure in order to manage’.
The conference was chaired by broadcaster and Farming Today presenter Sybil Ruscoe.
AIC Chairman Jon Duffy said: “It was a thought-provoking and rewarding day. The quality of the speakers was probably the highest I have seen, and in Sybil Roscoe we had a chairwoman who engaged so successfully with the audience and stimulated some great debate”.