Farm productivity must improve considerably over the next decade, and beyond – a major challenge to British farming, according to a major report published today.
Farmers in the UK face significant competitive pressures due to the growth of major players such as Brazil and India, it says.
But climate change may have a more benign effect, and in tight global markets this could reinforce the position of UK farmers as part of the solution to some of the big world challenges.
"Power in Agriculture" was unveiled at the Oxford Farming Conference this morning, a 60-page report commissioned by the conference's council from a team at Scottish Agricultural College to examine where the economic, political and natural resource power currently lies in world's agriculture, how that might change – and what it could all mean to British farmers.
As might be expected, the United States and the EU top the power index used by the report's research team by some margin, but it highlights their potential vulnerability in terms of natural resources in the future. And it highlights that British farming is more exposed to trade, corporate, political and resource threats than the rest of Europe
It states: "Because of its size, the UK may not be well endowed with natural resources, and therefore its position as an agricultural player depends on its ability to become significantly more productive. This requires a focus on policies that boost productivity, such as investment in research and development."
The report will be used throughout the two-day conference and form the basis of a debate tomorrow morning when farmers from Suffolk, Sussex, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Australia will speak. Cedric Porter, chairman of the 2012 Oxford Farming Conference, commented: "Much has been said about feeding a world population of over nine billion by 2050 and a UK population of 70 million by 2030, against the background of a changing climate. What this report seeks to do is to show where that food will come from and what resources will be needed top produce it."
The event, one of the world's major annual farming conferences, will be addressed today by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman and by her Labour Shadow, Mary Creagh.
Westcountry involvement sees the appearance this evening of Andrew George, MP for St Ives, who will be opposing the motion in the debate in the Oxford Union: "This House believes British agriculture could thrive outside the EU."