National Federation of Young Farmers' Clubs

Fun, Learning, and Achievement

28 July 2010

Agriculture & rural affairs committee chairwoman Katherine Sealy reports back from this year’s Prince of Wales Food and Farming Summer School, where she joined a select group of industry experts for talks and discussions centred on the true cost of food and the future of the industry.

“This was no ordinary summer school! Where else, other than at this summer school at Cirencester’s Royal Agricultural College and the Duchy Home Farm, would you find yourself amongst a group of 30 people including a Defra director; senior horticultural research scientist; professors from food policy, soil science, wetlands and water science, agriculture and land use backgrounds; farm managers and supermarket directors?

“We listened to papers delivered by experts on agricultural production techniques and how the pressure of climate change and resource protection will affect future production and diets. We learned how science is shaping future crop varieties and how weather patterns will change, influencing what is grown and where it is grown. We visited the Duchy Home Farm, near Tetbury, on a farm walk; got soaked on the trailer excursion and toured Shipton Mill to learn about traditional milling techniques.
“Professor Tim Lang suggested that agriculture is caught in a dilemma: should it pursue the ethological and environmental route or the biotechnological route? We learned about the influences on food dynamics and distribution and the concept of “embedded water”, which is how much water is used in the production, packaging and transport of a product. It was proposed that our diets as consumers are going to have to be more sustainable; otherwise all the good from sustainable methods introduced into the supply chain could be undone by consumers.

“Future water management decisions are going to change the shape of the countryside as more farmers are encouraged to link their growing decisions with available water resources. It was suggested that this could mean water prioritisation, rainwater harvesting techniques and mechanisms introduced to reward or compensate farmers for safeguarding water. We heard how previous water mismanagement decisions will have to be rectified and how farmers will be encouraged to get “more crop per drop”.
“The concept of food miles was challenged by Professor Gareth Edwards Jones, who suggested that it was an unreliable concept due to emissions from transporting the food from where it is produced to where it is sold. He proposed that it is philosophically impossible for local food to always be best, since our actions as consumers - how we transport and prepare (and waste) the produce - can undo all the good from the concept of local food.

“We learned that 70,000 premature deaths would be prevented if we ate our five-a-day fruit and vegetable servings and recommended levels of salt, sugar and fat. In contrast, one billion people go to bed hungry. The Government’s Food 2030 challenge recognises that demands for more food can be met, but not by the “business as usual” approach. It will take a combination of agronomy, genetics and ecology, to double production yields in the future; as plant breeding alone will not suffice.

“We were invited to Highgrove for a gala dinner with our host HRH Prince Charles, who was interested to hear our experiences and discussions over the three days. I was lucky to sit on the top table next to Alex James, the former Blur band member who is now an organic farmer and cheese maker in the Cotswolds, and the Bishop of Liverpool, who spoke after dinner.

“The summer school closed with an open discussion involving Prince Charles which concluded that knowledge transfer and information exchange are going to be key methods of informing the farming communities and food producers of the future.

“Agriculture is at the centre of society’s most important debates on the future; and influences, or is influenced by, soil, water, carbon, people, science, waste and health. The challenge is to remain in control of our destiny, and positively influence and manage our future by taking responsibility now.”


 

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