Dale Farm CEO: ‘The UK must feed its own people’

The UK government must pay serious attention to the issue of food security, according to Dale Farm Group CEO Nick Whelan.

“Becoming overly reliant on food imports is not sustainable,” he said.

“Many of the countries with food surpluses at the present time will have problems of their own with issues such as water availability and soil degradation down the track.

In such circumstances, exports from these parts of the world will dry up. And where would the UK be then?

Whelan added: “Meanwhile, there is tremendous potential for the UK to increase its own food output levels on a wholly sustainable basis.

Whelan sits on the UK’s Food and Drinks Sector Council, within which he has a specialist interest in production agriculture.

He said that the focus of agr- research undertaken in the UK must be long-term in nature and better reflect the needs of farmers on the ground.

“We also need to encourage more young people into production agriculture. The industry must be seen as one which can deliver excellent career prospects for the brightest and best young people in the country.

“Today, professions such as medicine and the law are go-to options when it comes to parents encouraging their children to follow rewarding careers.

This must change: agriculture must become part of this mix.

In order to achieve this Whelan stressed the need for farmers to receive sustainable prices on an ongoing basis.

“The utilisation of new technologies will also be important in this regard, as will the issue of ensuring that young people get access to the land which they need to develop profitable businesses,” he explained.

Better use of data will be critical for agriculture into the future. Farmers must be in a position where they can make decisions based on real-time information.

Whelan confirmed that recommendations from the Food and Drinks Sector Council will be presented to the government in London within a matter of weeks.

He added: “A comprehensive report will follow, which can then be discussed at farmer level. But the bottom line is that we must take the required steps to improve agricultural productivity across the UK in a sustainable manner.

“The world’s population is set to reach 9 billion people over the coming years. Long before we reach that point the world may well have run out of the soil and water resources required to feed a global population of this size.

“This is the key weakness of the UK following a cheap food policy. Given this scenario, the UK must put in place structures which ensure that its farming industry has the wherewithal to address the food security challenge on its own door step.

“The primary responsibility of Government is that of feeding its own people.”