Farming boss calls for move to more US-style mega-farms
The president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) has advocated controversial "super- farms" as part of a solution to ensure that demand can be met while animal welfare is maintained.
Peter Kendall argues that the UK should follow the example of the US, where thousands of pigs are reared on farms, instead of the 100 to 150 typically seen in Britain.
He believes larger farms are more profitable, and better positioned to invest in areas such as equipment and expertise to ensure higher animal welare.
However, the issue is said to have "polarised" opinion.
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Mr Kendall told the Guardian: "The challenge of feeding everybody with the constraints of climate change and weather shocks is so great we'll need a complete rethink."
He was speaking after a report showed that farmland scarcity in the UK was reaching the levels seen in China.
Two applications for super- farms are pending in the UK – one in Wales, which would hold up to 1,000 pigs, and one in Derbyshire, for 2,500.
Critics claim injuries could go unnoticed and disease could be rife, and they highlight the impact of slurry on the environment.
Mr Kendall said the UK was about 62 per cent self-sufficient in the food it could produce overall and 40 per cent self-sufficient with regard to pork – so there was "plenty of scope" for big producers with room for smaller ones as well. He said: "I want to make sure we're not importing food that's produced to lower welfare standards and therefore driving our farmers out."
But Mr Kendall said he did not believe larger farms would become the norm in the UK, partly because of a lack of available land.
He added: "This is about a few experimental versions, so we can see whether it lowers greenhouse gas emissions, see whether it's welfare-friendly, see what the impacts are on the environment."
Jeff Thomas, from St Just-in-Penwith in Cornwall and president of the Devon Cattle Breeders Association, said: "Farming seems to be becoming polarised. On one hand you have the large turnover highly commercial big businesses and on the other you have producers working for niche markets. They can both be good outlets.
"The greatest pressure at the moment is in the middle ground, particularly people milking small herds of dairy cattle who do not have the economies of scale, nor niche customers. The niche will always be there because people are willing to pay a little bit more for a top-quality product – but the simple fact remains you cannot sell a lot of it."
Anthony Gibson, former regional director of the NFU in the South West, said: "I am much more keen on the concept of super farming rather than super-farms. "