Farming Comment: Peter Kendall’s final New Year’s messsage before stepping down as president of the NFU
With parts of the UK again under the cosh after a stormy Christmas I am reminded once more of the influence, not only of the weather but also of the rest of the environment on farming.
I know farmers wish all those householders suffering from the recent floods and horrendous weather a better start to 2014.
Looking back over the past year, more records have been broken for extreme weather around the world. Record temperatures in Austria, blizzards which killed nearly 100,000 cattle in the USA and, of course, possibly the most powerful tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded history, smashing into the Philippines and killing 6,000 people; these are just some examples. And farmers have also been at the wrong end of extreme weather affecting our potential to grow crops and rear livestock around the world.
For me, this reinforces the delicate balance that exists between mankind and our precious environment. While it is certainly right not to attribute any one weather event to climate change, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events around the world is in line with scientists’ predictions. That is why adaption to climate change and building resilience is essential for us all.
Farmers already accept without reservation our dependency on a thriving, stable environment to deliver on our crucial role; to produce more food in the coming years. Over recent weeks there has been a recurring theme from some environmental groups that farmers at best fail to recognise this and at worst wilfully undermine this critical interdependence.
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However nothing could be further from the truth. For example, what we do for treasured landscapes, like Britain’s national parks. Without extensive sheep and cattle grazing the heather and grass moors would revert to rough scrub and woodland. Public access would be difficult and key wildlife species like the red grouse that depend on grazing would be lost.
Farmers shape the lowlands too – over 40% of hedges are trimmed to retain a berry crop for over-wintering birds, every farmer is required to complete an annual soil protection review and Defra statistics show there have been 53,000 more ponds created in the past decade.
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We should also contest farming’s alleged impact on wildlife. So I’d like to mention some positive facts: The brown hare has a stable population, not declining as is often reported. The otter has returned to every English county. And few people look behind the headlines to find that wild bird populations have changed little in the past 40 years. Even the 19 so-called ‘official’ farmland birds show contradictory trends – there are increases in Goldfinch, Stock Dove, Whitethroat, Woodpigeon and Jackdaw.
A healthy, thriving environment is vital to the very practice of farming. This is why farmers and growers continue to strive to make improvements. From the quality of our air and soil, ensuring our water is free from pollution and safeguarding our much needed access, to caring for abundant wildlife including bees which are essential for pollination to a very large part of farming.
Demonstrating our careful stewardship of the countryside to our customers and those visiting our magnificent landscape will continue to build trust, trust that is so important if we are to build the much-needed capacity and infrastructure of British farming over the coming years.
It is why I ask British consumers to continue backing British farming because we can and will continue to deliver. I ask that they seek out high quality British products when they visit food outlets in 2014; in return by forming a long term pact between consumers, retailers, food service and farmers, we can deliver the sustainable farming that is going to be vital to feed the UK’s rapidly growing population, and protect our safe and trusted food chain against the backdrop of increasingly unpredictable weather.