Dixon on ... exploiting export opportunities

"Food can always be imported". This pompous political mantra has disappeared in the four short months since May. Asian embargoes on rice exports, the biofuel fiasco and droughts in key geographical areas are forcing European food security into politicians' consciousness.

Localised production is a major element in food security. This changed thinking is most apparent in Brussels. Agri-food production has joined the demands for energy conservation and the mitigation of climate change as a major policy thrust. Requirements for new crops, new cultivars, better husbandry and reduced losses from pests and pathogens - before and after the farm gate - are top priorities. This is the message given by Timothy Hall, the head of the EU Agriculture Unit, to delegates at the recent Plant Pathology Congress in Turin.

European governments, particularly in France, Germany and Italy, recognise the economic and social profits from localised horticultural production. In their eyes, "home-grown" produce comes from both trans-EU and nationally local sources. They see the advantages of exploiting individuality, seasonality and weather patterns across the Continent.

The diversity of Britain's horticulture should increase with global warming. Conceivably, we should join our neighbours as an exporter of high-quality, high-value horticultural products to the mainland. We should use robotics to solve labour shortages. Britain leads in logistical and IT skills, and the entire chain from seeding to harvesting and marketing is ripe for automation.

Britain's last food security crisis, 70 years ago, rapidly mobilised home-growing. Back then we were an island fortress. Now we have huge opportunities as an exporting trader. This requires business acumen and political drive to mobilise capital, land and labour. Success offers handsome rewards and secures our own food security.

- Professor Geoffrey Dixon is the managing director of GreenGene International

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