The 1947 UK Agriculture Bill heralded 70 years of agricultural innovation singularly obsessed with the pursuit of yield at the expense of all else. It required and perpetuated a scientific mind-set brilliantly equipped to plunge deep to find solutions to single issues, but seemingly unable to appreciate how the dots joined up to form the big picture. Whilst many corporate interests in the supply chain have reaped the benefits of this approach, the farmer unwittingly became enslaved by the system, pounding a treadmill of ever-increasing turnover, and ever-decreasing profitability and control. And the environment certainly fared no better.
72 years later, the opportunity to reshape the future of food and farming, has energised a generation of progressive-minded farmers across the whole spectrum of UK agriculture. Farmers who understand that the inherent interconnectedness and complexity of food production systems working in harmony with nature and people, require innovation to spring from an altogether different mind-set. It is a mind-set that seeks to intelligently blend scientific and technological innovation with the wisdom inherited from our forebears. History shows us that only when knowledge and wisdom are combined does our decision-making create a legacy of good outcomes.
Knowledge is knowing that animal protein is a highly effective growth accelerator. Wisdom is knowing not to feed it to herbivores.
Knowledge is knowing how to increase stocking density beyond that which your farm can naturally support. Wisdom is knowing the health of your farm and profit margins will be better not doing so.
Knowledge is knowing that grazing ruminants produce CO2. Wisdom is knowing that a single metric never tells the whole story.
Knowledge is knowing how to create global food production systems that enable us to export our pollution. Wisdom is knowing that wherever in the world it occurs, pollution is always local.
The past should teach us the folly of believing we can exploit nature through quick-fixes and sticking-plaster science. Yet, in our quest to build a knowledge-based farming system, (literally) rooted in sound agroecology principles, scientists and technologists are our partners. Our forebears are our conscience. Government can be our catalyst by providing significant, sustained funding for relevant agricultural research in support of sustainable food and farming. Above all else, all of us together need to keep a clear eye on the big picture, for 70 years hence our grandchildren will be our judge.