Farmers have a key role to play

PUBLISHED: 10:46 27 April 2007 | UPDATED: 22:44 28 May 2010

I bet a lot of farmers in and around the Fens have been both nodding sagely and sighing with exasperation this week following news that Britain could soon be facing food shortages. All right, so we re not going to starve to death in the next couple of yea

I bet a lot of farmers in and around the Fens have been both nodding sagely and sighing with exasperation this week following news that Britain could soon be facing food shortages.

All right, so we're not going to starve to death in the next couple of years, but researchers believe we could be facing a major crisis within 25 years.

Why? Because of the growing demand for biofuels. It seems that this predictably increasing demand, along with a rising population, will lead to food and fuel competing for land.

Professor Bill McKelvey, chief executive of the Scottish Agricultural College in Edinburgh, has been widely quoted in national newspapers and via the airwaves, stressing that in 25 to 50 years' time we may well no longer be in what he quaintly terms "a food secure situation".

As we have become used to hearing and reading about climate change and carbon footprints we have come to accept (at least most of us have) that the use of biofuels is one of the weapons to employ in what could develop into a battle to save the planet.

So clearly the Government will have to deal with this problem. And I trust those who will be called upon to make the key decisions will realise our farmers have a key role to play here.

But judging by the way the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs looks after our agricultural industry I'm not anticipating dynamic progress.

Our Government seems always to be trying to confirm our prejudice that it has little understanding of, or interest in, rural matters. This was highlighted last year by Defra's mishandling of the farm subsidy payments which forced many farmers to the brink of bankruptcy.

We also remember how the Government also helped make farming enterprises unviable by its handling of the foot and mouth crisis a few years ago.

Biofuels have been an option worth pursuing for several years; yet we've still had acres and acres of set-aside land. And much of the minuscule contribution we have made in this sphere has been exported to Europe.

So I guess our farmers will just shrug and expect more ineptitude, more set-aside and more foul-ups when every acre is needed to head off the scenario of doom heralded so graphically by Professor McKelvey.

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