NEATLY packaged rows of food on supermarket shelves may be ‘lulling us into a false sense of security.’ That's the consensus of many experts within the farming industry and why they believe food sustainability must be called into question. 

In 2020, only 54 per cent of grains, meat, dairy, vegetables and eggs were produced in the UK and only 16 per cent of fruit. Although food production has since increased to 58 per cent, experts are concerned whether the country could cover the 42 per cent shortfall if imported food failed due to disasters or climate change. 

Head of sustainable farming at Sustain, Vicki Hird said: "I think it is a critical issue and people have just begun to realise how fragile our supplies are. I have been talking about it for 30 years. 

“We must look at the long-distance transport of food, the complexity of the chains, and the very low rewards that farmers get.”

Salisbury Journal: Image: Vicki HirdImage: Vicki Hird (Image: Vicki Hird)

Food production has already been impacted in some EU countries this year which led to empty salad and vegetable shelves in UK supermarkets. 

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The Sustainable Food Trust suggests that by transitioning to sustainable and regenerative farming practices, it is possible to tackle the climate crisis, nature and public health crisis and Britain could grow and produce sufficient levels of food for consumption.

Even so, we would need to eat less, waste less and eat differently.

The Farm and Land Use Team's, Karen Fisher Msc, said: “The transition for farmers is likely to take seven years and so, the ELMs project is a big investment, but some farmers are changing a quarter of their land at a time, then, half and then, eventually, will transition the whole farm.”

Karen admitted that if food imports were to suddenly stop, the UK might have only sufficient food to last for the next few months only. 

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Farming is an integral part of the Wiltshire Landscape, and according to some farmers in the area, there should be a greater investment into growing our own food but there is some good news. 

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has set up various schemes to help farmers and the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMs) is one scheme which significantly reforms agricultural policy and spending.

The aim of the scheme is to farm with nature in mind.

Wiltshire farmer Andrew Reis is on the ELMs scheme. and admitted it was a huge commitment and would not have been possible without grants or subsidies.  

He said: “I have been farming for 35 years. We form part of a cluster group in Wiltshire working to see whether we can farm profitably and sustainably.”

The focus now is on improving the soil, reducing soil erosion, and reducing insecticides used. It is about regenerative farming.

Andrew said: “We are in the midst of this transition and subsidies are based on environmental outcomes and soil regeneration has a big role to play in that. The new methods are time-saving and there is no need to plough. The ethos is on leaving roots to reduce soil erosion and to reduce any reliance on insecticides.”

Eventually, crop yields will improve and produce will be healthier to eat.  

Andrew added: “I feel really enthusiastic about the future of farming, but one concern is that there seems to be a greater emphasis on regenerating nature more than on food productivity.”

Salisbury Journal: Image: Annette J BeveridgeImage: Annette J Beveridge (Image: Annette J Beveridge Newsquest)

Salisbury MP John Glen said: “This is a really important subject. We all need to be sure we have enough food coming into our supermarkets. There have been some challenges this year, some of which have been related to weather events, some relating to the cost of energy in some sectors.

“What is really important is that we get behind our local farmers who do such a brilliant job producing produce locally and of course, they are businesses that need certainty in how they are going to work."

He added: “My principal thought is that farming is about food production. We have a mix across the Salisbury constituency which represents a small number of people but it is fundamental to our way of life.”