Hilary Benn: We must produce more food – without risking farmers’ futures

Share
Related Topics

I want British agriculture to produce as much food as possible. No ifs. No buts. The only requirements: that consumers want what’s produced and that the way it’s produced sustains our environment and safeguards our landscape.

This is not about targets for production or self-sufficiency. We are a trading nation. Some of the food we grow, we export; nearly £12bn worth in 2007. And the food that we import is really important too.

It is about productive, efficient farming. It is about the higher-yielding seeds, better irrigation and more sustainable use of fertilisers that have transformed agriculture in parts of the world.

Norman Borlaug – the man who brought these technologies to the developing world – made the point that if instead of rising, yields had stayed at their 1950 levels, then by the end of the century just gone we would have needed an extra 1.8bn hectares of land to grow enough grain for the world. That’s an area about the size of South America. It shows why improving yields is so important.

But, as we all know, intensive production does not come without a cost. We are taking three times more water out of our rivers today than we did 50 years ago. 60 per cent of our ecosystems are now being degraded or used unsustainably. The ripping out of hedgerows did real damage.

And yet, as we all know, the soil, the water, the air, the plants, and the forests are the very foundation on which our food – and therefore our existence – depends.

So in meeting demand today, we must ensure that we do not destroy our ability to feed ourselves tomorrow. It’s not about either environmental sustainability or production. It has to be both.

We are also working together to see how we can best retain the environmental benefits of set aside, while settling on a better approach for farmers.

I know it’s controversial. I know that some may think that there isn’t a problem to solve. So let’s go back to the start and ask ourselves why the way in which you farm is so important.

And the answer is simply because it really does deliver important environmental benefits – and over time these benefits will be vital to maintaining levels of production.

The Environment Secretary Hilary Benn was speaking to the National Farmers’ Union earlier this week

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The law is too hard on sexting teenagers

Memphis Barker
 

Obama must speak out – Americans are worried no one is listening to them

David Usborne
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game