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A panel of agricultural experts speaking at the annual Three Counties Farming Conference in association with Bruton Knowles voted unanimously that genetically modified crops were the answer to feeding the world. Chaired by BBC Head of Rural Affairs, Tom Heap, the panel discussed the contentious subject, followed by a lively Q&A from the audience.

Ken Nottage, CEO of Three Counties, said: “Each year the Three Counties Farming Conference brings together the agricultural community from far and wide to discuss real topics facing farmers today. This year’s conference examined the hot topic of GM crops, a subject that is particularly poignant at present in the light of Brexit and the resulting potential change in legislation we may see. This year we were delighted to hear from a panel of such pedigree, each of whom offered helpful insights on the issue. We hope all those who joined us found the event enlightening and thought provoking.”

New for 2016 was the introduction of afternoon workshops from a collection of top names in the industry – the workshops included the likes of Ali Capper from NFU looking at the impact of Brexit on the Farming World, Keith Wellings from the Rural Payments Agency delivering an update on the Basic Payment Schedule and Farm491 looked at agritech innovators and how to apply technology to agriculture, to name but a few. The afternoon conference also welcomed Nuffield Scholars Chris Lloyd who gave a talk on improving financial management for smaller farmers and Michael Miller, who investigated grass management relating to all-winter grazing.

The evening conference commenced with the presentation of the Young Agricultural Entrepreneur of the Year Award, supported by Three Counties, Harrison Clark Rickerbys, Bruton Knowles and Agrii. The well deserving winner for 2016 was Lewis Steed of The Dartmoor Shepherd who was presented with a cheque for £3,000.

BBC Head of Rural Affairs and Countryfile presenter, Tom Heap then kicked off this year’s hot topic: ‘Feeding the world – Is GM the answer?’ The debating panel consisted of leaders in their fields including Graham Brookes, Agricultural Economist and Consultant from PG Economics Ltd; Helen Ferrier, NFU Chief Science and Regulatory Affairs Advisor; Mark Lynas, Author and Former Anti GMO Activist and Professor Denis Murphy from the University of South Wales.

Professor Murphy’s pedigree is long and impressive; he is currently, amongst other posts, an advisor to the UN-Food & Agriculture Organisation, an advisor on GM oil crops to the EU Chemicals Agency and acts as an expert witness at UK Parliamentary Committee level.  Professor Murphy shared his view that Britain is vastly out of line with the rest of the world when it comes to policy and opinion on the use and regulation of GM crops, but this skeptical attitude is starting to change.  He feels GM crops can improve food quality, are disease resistant and can cope with climate change.  On an island where the population is growing but the available land to produce food isn’t then something has to change to cope with demand.

Professor Murphy stated that developing biological solutions could reduce dependence on chemical interventions and that: “scientific farming is the key to our survival in the face of the many challenges of the 21st century.”

NFU’s Helen Ferrier then took up the debate stating that “regulation has been a barrier” and that GM can improve resilience and competition in farming using science and technology and that there is a need for robust policies that enable and accommodate change.

Mark Lynas has a unique take on this issue having once been an Anti-GMO Activist.  He agreed with the rest of the panel that this GM is a polarizing issue but that the positives cannot be denied.  He believes that farmers should be given the choice and that the environmental community has the whole issue back to front.  There are 850 million malnourished people in the world and with dwindling resources GM can literally help feed the world.

Graham Brookes explored where and why farmers use GM crops based on findings over the last 18 years.  There is currently a 50/50 split across developing and developed countries.  His findings showed that there is no denying the results when comparing the yield gains against the cost savings.  GM technology shows a reduction in production risks, a decreased need for insecticide use and consequently more environmentally friendly farming methods.

One of the main focuses for The Three Counties Farming Conference is its support of farmers at the start of their careers. Students from a number of the areas leading agricultural schools were in attendance including Hartpury College and The Royal Agricultural University.

The Three Counties Farming Conference took place on Thursday 17 November from 2pm. For more information please visit www.threecounties.co.uk/farmingconference or call 01684 584924.

 

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