The annual Oxford Farming Conference got underway this week with the publication of a study that has revealed how Britain's farmers hold the key to unlocking the solutions to some of the country's bigger problems such as mass water storage, flood defence and even social care of those in need. The report, commissioned by the Oxford Farming Conference, reflects on the wider contributions UK agriculture makes to society beyond the usual measures of GDP and food production.
- Highlights of the study’s statistics include the following:
- Of the UK population, 100% eats food from UK farms. In statistical terms 78% derives all their indigenous food and 63% of all their food from UK farms.
- Approx. £2,532 million spent on ethical food from UK sources (2.6% total food spending); 160% growth in last 10 years. Red Tractor scheme assures 78,000 farms.
- At least 850 farmers markets, 4,000 farm shops, 600 PYO and 80 CSAs in the UK.
- UK farmland biodiversity ‘valued’ at £938.1 million.
- Up to 19.5% of adults made an amenity visit to farmland in the last seven days.
- At least 7% regularly watches or listens to a farming-themed TV/radio programme.
- At least 7% of UK population are members of a landscape preservation charity.
- 5.5% ride horses over farmland.
- 0.69% is employed in agriculture.
- 0.24% has visited an 'Open Farm Sunday' farm.
- Home owners are willing to pay £113 on house prices for 1% more local enclosed farmland and £166 for uplands, and £2000 per year to live in house with access to high-nature areas.
- Scientific evidence of health benefits of exposure to nature; people 1.2-4.0% happier on farmland than in town.
Elsewhere in the conference environmental campaigner Mark Lynas has called for farmers to be free to choose what kind of technologies they want to adopt and demanded that anti-GM protestors stop hijacking future food production. Mr Lynas admitted that after studying the science he had completely changed his position on GM, from being a sceptic to favouring it. He claimed "there is rock solid scientific consensus around the world backed by science academies" in support of GM yet this is ignored because it conflicts with the vested interests of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The GM debate is finished," he said. "We don't need to continue to discuss it. You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food."
Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness also called for a holistic approach to agriculture and the environment that takes the benefits of research work to farm level. Mrs McGuinness said there was a "defect" in our system of research and advisory services to farming across the EU. "Currently we have farm organisations talking about farming, non-governmental organisations talking about biodiversity and environmental issues, with too little discussion between these groups about the way forward,". She said that "We need a holistic system of advisory services for farming which incorporates all of the environmental issues of concern, translating research into workable solutions at farm level. While it is taking shape in some member states, it is absent in many."