The worrisome estimates arrive from a research report co-ordinated by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, titled ‘The Best Use of UK Agricultural Land’, published in a joint effort with Asda, Sainsbury’s, Nestlé, BOCM PAULS, AB Agri, Yara, BASF and Volac, as well as the English NFA and Country Land and Business Association.
Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership programme manager Andrew Montague Fuller, who authored the report, warns of hard-hitting decisions that may be made on future land use. The report criticizes the government’s lack of rational vision on how to make the most of farm land. The aim of the research was to comprehend amount of additional land required, and give a simple and straightforward vision for UK agricultural area use nearby a set of principles to guide decision-making.
"It is clear that more research is needed, and that business, government, farmers and landowners need to work together to ensure we can meet these growing demands, while also protecting the environment,” says Fuller. “In this initial analysis, we identified a significant gap between additional land demand and potential supply, as well as a worrying lack of clarity about what agricultural land is expected to deliver.”
With the population expected to surpass 70 million by 2030, and additional demand for living space and food will pose a significant impact on land usage. To top it all, the government is currently committed to using bioenergy crops such as miscanthus as a renewable source of energy, limiting stock of land for food.
The report quantifies various 'supply-side' measures that could help to take care of additional demand, including enhancing yields and decreasing food waste, while highlighting the need to see how land area might be utilized for multiple purposes.
However it cautions that these activities may not be sufficient to close the gap, in which case difficult decisions will need to be made.
Asda's sustainable business director Dr Chris Brown said: "Businesses need clarity to inform supply chain choices and guide investment decisions. We would highly recommend this report to industry colleagues, government departments and key farming organisations and strongly support the further development of its analysis and joint vision of how UK agricultural land needs to be optimised."
The report predicts that all of the factors mentioned in the report will necessitate an extra seven million hectares of land by 2030. However, there are a number of factors that will counterbalance it, including a decline in the 19% of food and drink that are subjected to waste in the UK. Along with increased yields and reductions in meat consumption that will enhance land for farming, there is likely to be an overall two million hectare shortfall.
Volac's head of corporate communications Andy Richardson said: "I hope the vision proposed in this report is a catalyst for greater action and integrated thinking on land use. Lack of leadership in this area has the potential to compromise our future food and energy security."
English NFU chief land management adviser Dr Andrea Graham added: "While there are complex trade-offs and tough choices ahead on land use, this report shows that agricultural land will need to be multi-functional, delivering a range of goods and services."