Minister outlines vision for UK's role in the 'sustainable intensification' of agriculture at Cropworld Conference

Britain should lead the way in the sustainable intensification of agriculture, minister Jim Paice told the CropWorld Conference last week.

The challenges of food security, climate change, sustainability and rising global population mean that "we need to invest in a wide range of technologies", he said.

He added that the Green Food Project, the first meeting of which in September brought together industry, environmental and consumer organisations, aims to increase domestic food production while improving competitiveness and environmental performance over the coming decades.

Applied research should aim to improve crop genetics, better manage pests and diseases and use resources more efficiently and sustainably, he said. "One of the challenges is to get knowledge transfer coordinated and brought together so farmers know where to go."

He envisioned a lead role for the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board. "I want it to be the main professional body on farming and the agriculture sectors, delivering a top-class service to those who pay the levy and offering a positive return on their investment," he added.

However, he warned: "There won't be any significant Government spending on research as the country is basically broke."

Paice praised UK top-fruit growers for their "fantastic" role in gaining market share in line with Government targets, from 24 per cent in 2003 to 37 per cent last year. He said the UK was "well on the road" to achieving the goal of 50 per cent market share set last year by Defra's Fruit & Vegetable Task Force.

GM has a role to play in developing the sector, he added. "We have to be cautious in our approach to each item - it should be properly tested for safety, then it's down to the market. But at the EU level, several countries are opposed to GM on principle."

He dismissed the EU's hazard-based approach to approving crop protection products as "completely wrong. We hope to get the commission to re-look at it".

Food project goals

Convened in response to the Government Office for Science's report Foresight: The Future of Food and Farming, the Green Food Project brings together Government, the farming and food industry, consumer and environmental organisations.

The brief is to consider how to reconcile the twin goals of increasing food production and enhancing the natural environment in England.

Policy reform delay

Agriculture minister Jim Paice admitted that Common Agricultural Policy reform is unlikely to be finalised by the end of 2013, as anticipated. "There are so many countries with different agricultural systems," he explained.

He said 2015 was a more likely date, adding that this could cause problems later for recipients of payments via the Rural Payments Agency.

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