Ladies & Gentlemen,
You all face a difficult decision here tonight. No, I am not talking about the European Elections, the right decision on that is staring you in the face!
No, the decision to which I refer, is how you are going to face the future and the farming challenges it will undoubtedly bring.
We have reached what is called peak oil: that means that there are no more major oil reserves to find. It is down hill from here as oil stocks dwindle and competition increases. 95% of the food we eat is oil dependent - as a fuel, for fertilisers & so on.
The world will be a very different place in 20 years time. By 2030 you will not be trying to decide whether you should be putting red diesel or white diesel into your farm vehicle; because there will not be any diesel, red or white.
Along with diesel, will go plastics and pharmaceuticals, including fertilisers & pesticides, made from oil-based products. There will, ofcourse, be new products made from different materials, but by that time the level of Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will have long assuaged any doubts about global warming.
The Chinese proverb talks about being condemned to live in interesting times. But changing & interesting times, give changing & interesting challenges. Are you going to complain bitterly about the changes being forced upon you, o r will you embrace those challenges and be innovative as British farmers have been over the ages?
Fashions will change. Some old practices will make a comeback, like rotation cropping and fixing nitrogen in the soil by natural means. Food production will change. Because of the shortages of artificial additives, organic farming will inevitably become more popular. Some crop yields may be down, but added value will be up and costs reduced.
The cost of producing organic food could be vastly reduced. Currently organic food is too expensive because the government is not serious about supporting it & it does not reap the economies of scale. But we are also paying hidden costs for intensively produced food through cleaning up pollution, ill health and other damage to the rural environment.
As the NFU manifesto suggests, investment in publicly funded agriculture science is an essential element of this farming evolution & must be supported. But for us that means improving organic yields, re-introducing traditional varieties & researching alternatives to chemical pesticides.
The rising cost of international transport will make import of the current vast array of out of season & exotic vegetables unviable. Improvements to farming techniques should increase the options for farmers who embrace the future and learn to live in this brave new world we are seeing being developed.
70% of global freshwater is used for agriculture and yet glaciers that feed the rivers are melting and aquifers becoming depleted.
Shifting weather patterns means that rain becomes less predictable & flooding more likely.
75% of global fish stocks are exhausted or over fished.
4.6 million hectares a year of rain forest are cut down to make way for farming - a lot of it to produce feed for cattle.
10 million hectares of farmland a year are lost to salination and erosion
We applaud the NFU climate levy scheme that has reduced CO2 emissions for the horticultural business, but is this enough?
Next year the government is introducing the Carbon Commitment Allowance scheme, where large organisation will have to pay £12 for each tonne of CO2 produced. International agreements beyond the EU will that before 2020 a similar scheme will apply to farming?
After all, food and agriculture account for around one third of greenhouse gas emissions.
There is increasing concern about food safety, fuelled by BSE & other outbreaks. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), pesticide residues and chemical additives threaten to damage our health and wreck ecosystems. There is increasing opposition to the cruelties of factory farming and current levels of meat consumption are not sustainable. Obesity is on the rise in the UK, while people go hungry in countries growing ‘cash crops' for the West.
These trends must be reversed. Safe, good quality food, produced by sustainable and humane farming methods can be available for all. But this cannot be achieved if priority is given to the profits of agribusinesses, supermarkets and large food manufacturers.
With the use of the Internet, Farmers’ markets and origin labelling, farmers are in a better position to cut out the middleman, to fight against the increasing power of the supermarkets. However, the Green Party agrees with the NFU that there should be a proactively enforced supply chain code of practice.
You know that we could grow a lot more food in our country than we do. As the import of food becomes more expensive, we certainly don't need to import large quantities of the same food we export; this “food swapping” makes no sense and will be curtailed by cost. Much imported food comes from developing countries. To benefit the people in those countries & to be fair to British producers, it must be on the basis of fair trade not free trade.
Fair Trade is not possible within the EU given the different ways the Common Agricultural Policy is interpreted in different EU countries and the distortions it creates in the world market. Frankly we believe the CAP is a busted flush and should be scrapped completely: to be replaced with measures that promote sustainable regional and local self-reliance.
The Green Party does agree with the NFU that only areas facing real challenges to sustainability should be designated Less Favoured Areas.
We need more organic as well as local production - to reduce wasteful transport, provide local employment, and strengthen links between producers and consumers.
Most food produced in the developing countries is already organic. It is multinationals selling fertilisers and genetically modified seeds for massive profits that threaten traditional, local food security.
We do not yet know what the long-term effects of GMOs are, but the risks to the environment and our health are irreversible, so we must ban the production and import of GM food (including animal feed) and progressively eliminate pesticide, antibiotic and other drug residues.
Our agriculture policy seeks to pursue an ecologically sustainable and fairer society .We recognise the fundamental importance of those who work on the land. But industrialised farming depletes resources, pollutes soil, air and water. The result is loss of biodiversity, increased disease and overproduction. The health of growers is threatened and the food created is perceived to be unhealthy by consumers.
So, this is the decision you have to make: face the future and elect the Green Party to work with you to get the right polices for the future. Or bury your head in your fertiliser bag and vote for the old Grey parties who will do too little too late.