Sustainable methods vital for agriculture

THE European Commission’s Mike Hamelll gave the keynote address at this week’s Ulster Grassland Conference and he came to Belfast with a very clear message: “Future food security and the adaption of sustainable production methods are two sides of the same coin.”

Speaking to Farming Life after the event he made it clear that the farming industry throughout Europe must buy into the principles of resource recycling, encouraging biodiversity and ensuring that food production and environmental protection go hand-in-hand.

“Global warming is a reality,” he added.

“Weather patterns, such as those witnessed in 2012, may not be untypical in the future. And farming must prepare for these circumstances. Climate change will bring with it a greater risk of both droughts and floods. Both of these extremes will lead to enhanced levels of soil erosion, as will reducing the level of biodiversity found within the rural environment. Insects, fungi and bacteria all interact within soils to maintain their inherent productivity. So our ability to produce food in the future is inextricably linked to the farming practises we follow today.”

Mr Hamell went on to point out the absolute necessity for agriculture to make best use of the inputs it requires to grow crops.

“Improving water quality is an absolute priority for agriculture and mankind as a whole. The good news is that the introduction of legislation, such as the Nitrates’ Directive, is having a positive impact in this regard,” he further explained.

“Nutrient recycling represents another key challenge for agriculture moving forward. Natural reserves of crop inputs such as phosphate and potash are fast running out. Our only option, in this context, is to make best use of these nutrients and recycle them effectively. This means making improved use of slurries and farmyard manures. And this is a good news story for farmers as it will put less reliance on very expensive artificial fertilisers.”

Significantly, Mr Hamell does not believe that the current CAP reform proposals, which contain a very strong greening element, constitute a series of measures specifically devised for farmers in mainland Europe, the implementation of which will significantly curtail the potential for agricultural growth in this part of the world.

“This is not the case,” he stressed.

“The challenge of conserving water and maintaining water quality may not be as great here as is the case in other parts of Europe. However, the threat posed by ongoing soil degradation is a challenge that confronts farmers around the world.

“We must act now to solve this problem. Every field has its own conservation value and farmers must act to ensure that the value of this resource is maximised.”

Mr Hamell concluded: “I think there is more than sufficient regulations in place to allow us achieve these objectives. In any event it’s in farmers’ own commercial interests to ensure that the principles of sustainable production are implemented with all possible haste.”


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