Growers urged to exploit economic changes as demand for food escalates

Growers must learn to exploit the world's changing economic circumstances - which, for horticulture in northern and central Europe, could prove to be favourable.

This was the claim of English Apples & Pears chairman and past NFU president Sir Ben Gill at Prognosfruit 2008.

Sir Ben predicted: "By 2050, world food demand will have doubled as a result of a 50 per cent increase in world population and in those with a wealthy lifestyle."

He said that the added pressure of bio-energy production on top of this increased demand means that in 40 years' time the world would have to triple its total food production from a shrinking area of cultivatable land.

Sir Ben warned that this situation should also be seen in the context of the era of cheap food that has been enjoyed by UK consumers for decades.

This deflation in prices for food has been achieved due to the stable prices going to farmers and growers - but with the recent dramatic increases in oil prices, coupled with climate change factors, Sir Ben said this was all set to change: "The pressures for change are without recent parallel. Within 10 years the consumer will not be able to assume a given right to all the attributes of cheap, safe, consistent quality food produced to a high environmental and welfare standard."

He emphasised that people would have to choose only two or three of these attributes and that politicians must face up to the hard decisions. However, he added that it is not necessarily "doom and gloom" because rising oil prices may be the best thing that could have happened to growers - who must think now to head-off the food crisis, not wait and do nothing.

Leaders, both nationally and locally, must be prepared to take unpopular decisions, he said. Farmers and growers must react by delivering dramatic yield increases. He suggested GM technology could be key to this, while also minimising the unit carbon footprint.

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