Climate change could increase global demand for British food, George Eustice suggests

Climate change is likely to result in higher global demand for food produced in the UK, Environment Secretary George Eustice has suggested.

Speaking at the Country Land and Business Association conference, Mr Eustice said farmers and food producers have “a vital role to play in delivering our food security”, adding that the experience of the Covid pandemic “has taught us that domestic food production matters”.

Mr Eustice added that countries which import all or most of their food “tend to be characterised by higher prices and less consumer choice - hardly a model to follow”.

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He added: “More importantly, climate change is a new factor which changes the context considerably.

Environment Secretary George Eustice.Environment Secretary George Eustice.
Environment Secretary George Eustice.

“One of the first effects to present itself is likely to be water scarcity. More specifically, the availability of agricultural land with access to water.

“Some parts of the world where crops can be grown today, may find it harder to grow crops in future.

“We also have a growing world population set to rise to nine billion by the middle of this century.

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“The temperate regions of the world will therefore need to produce food for markets both at home and abroad and the market signal for them to do so is likely to be strong.”

Mr Eustice also used his speech to set out further details of the Sustainable Farming Incentive which will be rolled out next year.

Farmers will receive payment for taking actions which generate environmental benefits, such as improving grasslands or soils.

With nearly 1,000 farmers signed up to a pilot version of the project, the new scheme will now be rolled out to farmers who farm more than 5 hectares of land and are eligible for the Basic Payment Scheme next year.

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Mr Eustice said: “It focuses on soil health because the health of our soils is critical to improving both biodiversity, water quality and the production of a healthy crop.

“We will pay a more generous payment rate than previous EU schemes. There will be fewer rules and more trust. We will never address the complex environmental challenges we have unless we incentivise changes across most of the farmed landscape and that is what we aim to do.”

The Sustainable Farming Incentive will bring together a wide range of actions that farmers can take to deliver improved outcomes for the environment into a set of universal standards.

Initially, farmers will be able to select from three standards – Arable and Horticultural Soils, Improved Grassland Soils, and Moorland and Rough Grazing.

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Farmers will be able to access up to £58 per hectare for improving soils from next year.

As the rollout progresses, it is intended that the Government will include further standards to deliver wider environmental outcomes, such as improving hedgerows and combining trees or shrubs with crop and livestock farming.

Mark Tufnell, President of the CLA, welcomed the new details on the Sustainable Farming Initiative.

“Today is a major milestone in the development of England’s new agriculture policy. The Environmental Land Management schemes have the potential to be the most progressive and environmentally responsible schemes of their kind anywhere in the world.

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“The detail announced of the Sustainable Farming Incentive, a key pillar of ELM, fires the starting gun on our transition towards a more sustainable and resilient farming sector, that will feed the nation as well as deliver further environmental benefit.”

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