This year’s Sentry Conference was entitled Farming for the future, post Brexit. An interesting thought since farming has always been about the future; what will the price for wheat be by the time I have a crop to sell? What will the weather be like; what about disease pressure, will all the strategies that I have used to limit blackgrass work this year, and what impact will all this have on the quality and yield of my crop at the end of the year?
Last year, another variable has crept into our thinking; the referendum decision to leave the European Union sent the pound spinning against the Euro, a useful fillip to farmers whose economic problems had been made worse by the strength of the pound for a number of years. But what will happen looking further forward?
In previous articles for the Sentry Conference, we have expressed concerns regarding the way that European policy was threatening our ability to help farmers grow a readily available supply of safe, high quality affordable food for UK consumers. Sadly, we continue to see restrictions on neonicotinoid seed treatments despite ample evidence of the harm it causes farmers across Europe trying to grow oilseed rape. The rules on GM authorisation continue to be ignored by the European Commission, making access to animal feed more difficult, and there remains no clarity as to how exciting new technologies in the area of innovative plant breeding will be regulated. Add new legislation on whether pesticides should be banned even if they might be endocrine disruptors and the on-going fiasco surrounding glyphosate, it would appear that rather than promoting Farming for the Future, the European Union is condemned to being some sort of museum of agriculture entitled Farming from the Past.
As a company dedicated to innovation, we believe that such a dogmatic approach to producing our food is totally counter-productive.
Post-Brexit, there is an opportunity to re-think British agriculture. We know from recent surveys that 96% of people believe that the UK should grow its own food, and that 95% of people feel that farmers are important to the UK economy and our way of life. So why not re-look at current European legislation on all aspects of farming, refocus pesticide legislation to reflect whether a product is likely to cause harm rather than whether theoretically it could; and recognise that GM crops have been successfully commercialised for over 20 years without one single substantiated health issue.
The UK has historically taken a lead in the area of plant science and Bayer continues to invest accordingly; for example, we currently fund 20 PhDs in UK universities and research institutes. We continue to develop our chemistry portfolio and have just launched Hamlet, a new blackgrass product, and Ascra Xpro, a new wheat fungicide. We continue to develop new oilseed rape varieties and are identifying new wheat varieties, both as potential National Lists candidates and as future parents for our hybrid wheat breeding programme.
We do this because we are committed to supplying British and Irish farmers with the very best tools that we can. We do this because innovation is our lifeblood. We do this because we believe in farming for the future.