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Opinion: Regenerative farming can save the UK from food crisis

With the wet weather in the United Kingdom over recent months only recently punctuated by a burst of late summer sun, you might think the prolonged heatwaves of last summer are a thing of the past.

In reality, these conflicting conditions only serve to highlight the erratic weather patterns that are the new normal in the UK.

In over 30 years of working on farms, I have experienced first-hand the impacts of our changing climate on crops. Last year, Yorkshire experienced its second drought in four years leading to reduced crop returns and shortages on our shelves.

It is vital that farms are able to produce crops in a way that is more resilient to climate change

Combined with serious disruption in supply chains caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic, UK food security has become increasingly precarious. With food shortages more common and prices reaching record levels, families across the UK are feeling the effects.

Farmers agree that these weather events will continue to impact our food supply and food prices if we do not reform our current food system.

As someone who has farmed my whole life, I understand the challenges that farmers are facing in responding to extreme weather. The loss in yields not only affects consumers but farmers’ bottom lines. If the UK’s agricultural industry is to continue to thrive and feed the nation, it is vital that farms are able to produce crops in a way that is more resilient to climate change.

That is why I’m really pleased to see new research from the think tank Demos about how regenerative agriculture practices can help bridge the gap between commercial viability and protecting the natural environment.

Their report, Sowing Resilience, recognises agriculture’s complex relationship with climate change — it is at the same time a contributor, victim, and source of solutions.

This relationship means that, through agricultural innovation, we have the opportunity to contribute positively to the climate agenda and our future.

The report calls on the government to back policies which will upscale regenerative farming. It argues that regenerative practices are key to: farmers growing more resilient crops; stabilising yields and domestic food prices; and protecting the environment.

As a farmer who has felt the impact of drought-stricken soil, the report is a crucial roadmap to responding to, as well as mitigating the impacts of, climate change and food insecurity.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Science and Technology in Agriculture, which I chair, delivered its own report in July on how farming innovation can support net zero. It recommended that the government should help to scale several regenerative practices. As a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, I have also been part of inquiries into how poor soil health impacts food production, prices, and security.

Demos’ report builds on these existing studies, and provides the government with an action plan to ultimately scale regenerative agriculture and climate change resilience across the country, and to lead the world in transitioning to these techniques.

Regenerative farming is being adopted across the UK and the globe. From the ever-increasing numbers at the annual Regenerative Agriculture Festival, Groundswell, to the work of food producers like McCain Foods who are investing heavily in their growers’ regenerative practices.

As the war in Ukraine continues to rage and with further extreme weather events on the horizon, action must be taken now to improve UK food security for the long-term. For farms to be more resilient to climate change today, tomorrow, and in the future, they need a long-term plan — and it’s called regenerative agriculture.

About the Author: Julian Sturdy is a Conservative MP for York Outer


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