Risks needed to boost food production, former NFU leader says

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Farming needs to take risks to increase food production to help Britain become self-sufficient, a former National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president has said.

Lord Plumb said investment, skills and management are also required as the UK looks to raise food production from around 60 per cent in the coming years.

The Conservative peer drew on the words of Winston Churchill, who noted after the Second World War that the UK could “ill afford” to produce enough food for 15 million people when the population was 30 million.

But Lord Plumb also reserved praise for the industry and the Government, insisting incentives were on offer to transform farming.

Speaking during a debate on the role of agriculture and the food industry in the UK economy, the peer said: “Self-sufficiency is estimated to be 60 per cent – 60 per cent for all food produced in 2013 and 73 per cent for indigenous-type foods.

“The first time I heard Winston Churchill speak he said, many years ago: ‘Thirty million people all living on a small island where we produce enough food for, say, 15 million, is a spectacle of majesty and insecurity this country can ill afford’.

“It makes you think, no different today.”

He said the population had doubled while Britain produced 60 per cent of its food, while he also noted imports exceed exports.

The peer said: “In money terms of 2013, the deficit in 1990 was £10bn. In 2013, it’s £20bn, so self-sufficiency at 60 per cent has to be improved and improved considerably to play an even greater part in the economy.

“This, of course, requires investment, it requires management, it requires skills and it takes risks – risks which have to be taken in farming, in particular, for growth.

“In the United States their self-sufficiency in food is 130 per cent, in France it’s 120 per cent, in Germany it’s 93 per cent and a country like Japan is deeply worried at the moment of a level of 40 per cent and they’ve set a target of 50 per cent by 2020.”

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