The Future of Farming
Come the sweet o’ the year, when streams begin to melt and tumble down the hoary hills
and clods to crumble underneath the current of west winds,
it’s time again to put the bull before the deep-pointed plough to pull his weight
and have the share glisten, burnished by the broken sod.
There’s the crop, which twice has felt the touch of snow and twice of frosty weather,
that is a beggard farmer’s prayer come true.
That’s the one to fill his sheds until they’re fit to burst.
And yet before we take our implements to unfamiliar territory
we must work to ascertain its changing weather and wind’s moods,
to learn the ways and habits of that locality –
what’s bound to flourish there, and what to fail.
Virgil, Georgics, Book 1, l.43-51
Despite being close to two thousand years old, Virgil’s Georgics still communicates a great deal about our work with the land. Even this little passage communicates the change of seasons, the beginnings of a new farming cycle, and even a nod towards the difficult financial circumstances of farmers! Today, farming constitutes a vital industry in the UK, making huge contributions to the economy and accounting for a significant proportion of land use, to say nothing of its importance for food security in the country. As an example, cereal production alone was valued at £3.2 billion and accounted for 3.2 million hectares of land in 2016.1 For all of its importance Farming in the UK, and worldwide, now faces a number of challenges. These include climate change, changing diets, and, for the UK at least, changing economic and political relationships. In addition, science continues to develop new technologies and approaches in topics as diverse as plant genetics, disease resistance and pest control, to name just a few.
Following Virgil’s advice to ‘learn the ways and habits’ of the world before farming, the AFTP has a number of modules dedicated to the topic of food and farming across its diverse portfolio. Global Food Security, for instance, will introduce you to the topic of food security in a global context, including different food systems and the ways in which food security is evolving in response to changes. On a smaller scale, Plant Breeding offers participants a chance to build a comprehensive understanding of selecting, breeding, and producing a crop species. Using the latest research from a number of fields, you will explore each stage of bringing a variety to market, from genetics to trail design to legal regulations.
Addressing another use for crop farming, Silage Science, will help you to develop a robust understanding of modern forage and grain ensilage systems that includes silage biochemistry and microbiology as well as current and future developments from a number of different areas. Finally, Upland Farming provides an overview of the various upland farming systems in use in the UK. This will include a detailed assessment of land use biodiversity, and ecological impact, as well as more a more general analysis of the production and marketing of food produced by upland systems.
Migrant labour shortages has had a devastating effect on fruit and vegetable crops, the Financial Times reports.
Farmer’s Weekly publishes a fascinating analysis of what interest rate rises mean for farmers.
Australian agriculture has huge room to expand its production of biofuel and other energy sources, The Conversation suggests.
1. Virgil, Georgics [trans. Peter Fallon] (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2006)
2. Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2016 [report available here]