Agricultural research flagged as key for European food role

Academic tells CropWorld conference that agricultural development in the UK and on the Continent is being stifled.

Europe can play a lead role in global food production, but needs "a revolution" first, economic consultant, lecturer and author Sean Rickard told the CropWorld conference last month.

"Europe will become more important due to climate change, but the increase needed in production is phenomenal," he said.

"We can only get out of rising demand for food by implementing new technologies. These have the potential to turn this industry on its head over the next 20 years - and they will need to."

However, agriculture policy in Europe is still driven by obsolete concerns, Rickard claimed. "Whatever they propose for the Common Agricultural Policy, it will hold back the development of agriculture.

"We are paying inefficient framers who will never solve the problems of food security, while holding back more efficient ones. But its 50-year legacy won't be abandoned overnight."

This has led to neglect of the Continent's research capacity, he added. "We thought the problem was over-supply, and that farmers are there to protect the countryside. The UK used to be in the vanguard of agricultural science, but spending on research has dried up over the past 20-30 years and we badly need to reverse that. I would scrap farm subsidies and put the money into research and development."

This should be driven by the need to get more output from less land, energy and water, and that will mean bio-technology, he said. "The industry should be in the vanguard, arguing for first-class, hi-tech, industrialised farming."

In this context, Rickard described organic farming as morally impossible to defend. "A small minority is holding back the whole industry."

Scientist's view

"We know we can feed nine to 10 billion people, but we will need at least 50 per cent more food in the next two decades. There is no single formula for that and no technology should be ruled in or out.

"In Europe there has been complacency for the best part of 30 years. We have lost capacity, motivation and training." - Professor Ian Crute, Chief Scientist, Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board

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