Agriculture in the UK

I’ve just arrived in Washington, DC after spending the past four days in London, England at the second leg of the Nuffield Contemporary Scholars Conference.  We spent March 1st at New Zealand House – on the 18th floor with a panoramic view of the city of London.

london pana

We had many thought provoking speakers that really highlighted issues facing UK farmers.  For example, there are a number of charitable organizations in England that get involved in agriculture that are not necessarily farmer driven.  A couple examples are the Soil Association and GM Freeze heard from these organizations and learned about their goals for agriculture.  Although the views of these groups are often controversial and polarizing, they mostly want the same thing as everyone on the planet – a healthy, affordable food supply grown in a sustainable way.  The differences come in how the words healthy, affordable and sustainable are defined.   As farmers, we often are so caught up in our own business, we forget how those that aren’t farmers view our industry.  We should be ready and willing to talk about how we farm and the benefits that new technology brings to a more sustainable food supply.  I think a lot of issues around genetically modified crops and pesticides come up through the fear of the unknown.

On the evening of March 1st, the New Zealand High Commission hosted a reception for us that the Nuffield patron, HRH Duke of Gloucester attended.  He is the Queen’s first cousin.  I had a chat with him and upon learning I was a farmer from Canada, he was quite interested in the difference between genetically modified and non-genetically modified soybeans.  It appears that this issue is front and centre in the UK, even among royalty!P1080489

We had the good fortune on March 3rd to get into the English countryside and visit some farms.  We learned about the practical aspects of their farm subsidy programs.  UK farmers receive significant support from their government, but it comes with expectations.  Most of these expectations are around the preservation of a natural environment for wildlife and people.  For example, their programs include support for hedge restoration, land set aside for wildlife corridors, and winter feeding for birds.

P1080591A couple things I gleaned:

  • Lots of groups present VIEWS on issues, rather than FACTS.  It is important to understand the difference.
  • We’ve all heard of NIMBY (not in my backyard), but have you heard of BANANA’s ? Ban Anything Near Anyone Near Anywhere.
      One of the perks of being a Nuffield Scholar is that we become honorary members of the Farmers Club, located in the heart of London.  This members only club offers great dining and lodging in a historic building within walking distance of the British Parliament.  I was able to take full advantage of the privilege by having a breakfast meeting with a UK farm research manager and was able to learn about how their farmers are setting up research partnerships with government to advance their sector.




2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by D Whaley on March 6, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Hi Crosby.
    I’ve heard it’s very dry in parts of the British Isles. Is this affecting farm areas?



    • Posted by Crosby Devitt on March 7, 2012 at 10:02 am

      Hi Dave – I didn’t hear any discussion about it. We were close to London and they were just starting to apply Nitrogen to the winter canola and winter wheat and they looked good. Everything was just starting to green up and it was around 12 degrees C.


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