UK ‘must act’ if it to remain major farming nation, says report

THE UK must act if it is remain a major farming nation, a national farming conference was told today.

It should not underestimate its role as a farming nation, but it needs to focus on areas of weakness including access to natural resources, according to a report commissioned by the Oxford Farming Conference into where global agricultural lies.

“Despite being a small nation, the UK currently ranks respectably for political, corporate and trade power but is vulnerable in the long-term to the availability and control over natural and mineral resources,” conference chairman Cedric Porter said.

“If the British Isles is to continue to punch above its weight on the global agricultural stage it will need to strengthen output ~ it is vital for farming and for our future food security.

“The report shows us that the UK still retains an historically big influence in global agriculture, but with countries such as China, Russia and Brazil coming up the ranks, the food and farming industry will need to act to retain our strong position.”

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, who is due to address the conference tomorrow, said it was “clear” that British food and farming already punches above its weight.

“With more and more mouths to feed in the world with a growing population, the industry’s going to have huge opportunities to export high quality British products to emerging markets,” she said.

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“But we can’t be complacent and need to remain competitive, which is why we’re working alongside the industry to keep technology and innovation at the forefront of British agriculture.”

The report found trading relationships are a crucial factor in global power and the UK’s position as a major importer and exporter of key commodities is crucial to its success at a global level.

With Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform firmly back on the agenda the Government and devolved parliaments must continue to recognise the need for policy to increase farm production and sustainability, Mr Porter added.

“The whole of the food industry also needs to ensure that the relationship between corporates and the UK’s farmers is a successful and balanced one. The UK has a disproportionate concentration of large trans-national corporations (TNCs) based here which in global terms can be seen as a positive since those organisations are powerful when it comes to decisions that affect agriculture and food. But while that continues to give the UK international influence, it does not necessarily translate into an improved position for our farmers or the agri-food supply chain.”

The report which has been written by the Scottish Agricultural College pulls together a vast array of recent research into an unrivalled and uniquely authoritative document which the OFC hopes will be used by farmers and interested groups to lobby in order to keep the UK at the top table.

“There are few studies that demonstrate as conclusively as this where the UK ranks in power terms and where the threats and opportunities are in the future,” Mr Porter explained. “By creating a Power Index, we have given some sort of sense of the pecking order. Our focus as a conference is to make sure the UK does not become sidelined and all of us as stakeholders need to pressure government, corporations and representative bodies as hard as possible, particularly with CAP reform around the corner.”

“This is not the time for the UK to damage or relinquish its productive capacity. Quite the opposite, it needs to strengthen it,” Mr Porter concluded.

The report was produced with the support of Lloyds TSB, Massey Ferguson and Volac. Copies of the report can be ordered via the OFC website