Farms must change or we will starve

Agricultural expert fears a food crisis

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

A radical overhaul of food production is urgently needed or the UK will face food shortages, so a farming expert has warned.

Dr Howard Lee, who runs the sustainable land management course at Hadlow College near Tonbridge, in Kent, UK, said that in as little as five years we are heading for “serious food scares”.

“We are going to be facing some potential food shortages and we really need to start doing something radical,” he said. “The degree I’m running produces graduates energised to make phenomenal changes. We need to overhaul food production.”

He said the UK needed to improve its domestic food production: “We need to be more self-sufficient but levels have been dropping over the years. Most British politicians are beginning to realize this really is a crisis. It is one of the many problems we face but one of the most critical”.

Droughts & Floods

“In a few years imports will be affected by all sorts of issues. For example, the fruit and vegetable market will find various problems because they are transported by diesel and the price of oil is going back up and it is expected to keep going up. This will impact on the feasibility of moving produce.”

Dr Lee’s warnings come as the Government published its UK Climate Prediction 2009,which forecasts that unless emissions are significantly reduced, average temperatures will rise by three to five degrees Celsius by the 2080s.

Rainfall will reduce by 50 per cent in the summer and increase by 30 per cent in the winter. There will be more summer droughts and more flash floods.

The report predicts the damage already done means temperatures will be 2C warmer by 2040. And the South East will warm more than other parts of the country.

Dr Lee said: “Climate change and freaky weather is very bad news for agriculture. “We will not have some glorious Mediterranean climate, it will be hot but there will be more flash floods.”

To cope with a reduced availability of fertilizers and pesticides, which rely on minerals and fossil fuels, the cereal farms of eastern England would have to reintroduce livestock so natural waste would make it easier to build up soil fertility.

He said farmers would have to adapt but not enough was being done to help them reduce their reliance on pesticides and fertilizers.

Dr Lee said people in urban areas, 80 per cent of the population, would suffer from the affects of food shortages first.

“There is enough being done”, he said. “The Mayor of London’s food guru is pushing for rooftop production in London, but that needs to be rolled out more aggressively. Areas around towns and cities need to be redeveloped as market gardens to feed people in cities.”

Climate change and a growing global population, which is putting pressure on land for housing and infrastructure, means less land is available for food production.

Dr Lee believes the answer is education, he said: “We need to train people to tackle these issues, but we need to be radical now because for far too long we have been drifting along and not changing anything.

“We have not been doing enough and now it is reaching crisis point.”

There are several flaws with the climate predictions of the government and that is that it is based on computer modeling and computer modeling works on the GIGA principle of “garbage in garbage out” and like most – or should we say all – computer modeling is based on the data that is put into the model in the first place.

All those predictions are, thus, just theories and predictions and nothing more. What is fact and not theory is that Mother Earth has been throwing wobblies and tantrums like this rather frequently and if this is another one of those scenarios we would better look at adapting our ways than playing at being gods and being able to change the course of what is happening.

Therefore we must change agriculture in a way that Dr Lee envisages to a much more sustainable way again with, for instance, once again livestock running on arable farms in order to reap the benefits of the manure, and maybe even go way beyond what Dr Lee envisages.

Maybe an idea would also be to have farms again in the style of the Amish in the USA. No longer huge agro-industrial complexes but manageable small and medium family farms and smallholding where horses are used to plough, etc., as they once were.

This would do away with the need for diesel and other fossil fuels to power things and in addition to that the horses would provide another good fertilizer source.

The Amish are, according to independent studies conducted, the only farms that actually turn a profit and the Amish also know, with the use of horses, to make marginal land productive. Maybe we could learn a few things from them.

Just some food for thought – in case we get short of the other kind.

© 2009