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

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

 

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk