Agriculture Is Centre Stage As Food Demands Increase

The final meeting of the winter season for Fermanagh Grassland Club focussed on wider national and global implications for grassland farmers when the speaker was Professor Nigel Scollan, Director of The Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University, Belfast.

Professor Nigel Scollan (right) Director of the Institute for Global Food Security, and guest speaker at Fermanagh Grassland Club with Guy Benians

He outlined the work of the Institute as well as referring to food security and 21st century societal challenges, UK food security, the global demand for livestock and challenges in livestock systems, the environment impact, especially from methane as well as working towards net zero.

The Institute addresses key international challenges with world-leading excellence in food integrity, agriculture and climate change, nutrition and preventive medicine and data innovation and enabling technologies.

The three main aspects of the work of the Institute of planetary health, food systems and human health are all interconnected.

Already some ground-breaking reports have been produced including the Food Fortress report leading to the formation of the Food Quality Assurance Scheme and tackling food fraud.

Professor Nigel Scollan (left) Director of the Institute for Global Food Security, and guest speaker at Fermanagh Grassland Club, chatting with club member, Alan Warnock, Enniskillen

The Institute works in partnership with many corporate and scientific companies leading to world class excellence. For example, the Institute has achieved first in the UK in the field of agriculture, food and veterinary sciences, first in the UK in agriculture, fourth in the UK in food science and ninth in the UK in biological sciences.

Professor Scollan, a native of Fermanagh, has a background in animal science and worked closely with grass breeders in Wales where high sugar grasses were produced and he matched high performance levels from beef cattle. After 23 years in Aberystwyth, he moved to his current role in 2016.

Professor Scollan, discussing food security, says it is much more than just increasing production but also about producing the right safe and nutritious food that meets people’s dietary needs.

He illustrated with a chart how farmers and growers will be challenged to produce as much food in the next 50 years to meet the growing world population, as they did in the last 500 years.

He said it is estimated that by 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach 9.8 million with almost 70 per cent projected to live in urban areas.

To compound this, Professor Scollan says that climate change may reduce agricultural production by two per cent each decade while demand increases by 14 per cent. Around 40 per cent of the world will develop unfamiliar climates. Yet most of the increased food production will be taking place on marginal and more fragile lands, where yields are variable.

Another 21st century challenge is to look after the two billion overweight people and another two billion undernourished. Because food has a profound and critical role in people’s lives.

Poor diet accounted for 22 per cent of deaths and 15 per cent of disability globally according to a study published in the Lancet.

Another problem of 21st century living is that 25 per cent of our food is wasted and there is the also the problem of food fraud.

Professor Scollan said food demand would be met by producing more responsibility and manage demand.

Referring to the World resources Institute view of creating a sustainable food future by 2050, Professor Scollan said they would need 56 per cent more food to feed nearly 10billion people by 2050 without expanding the area of the world managed for agriculture and saving forests. This food can be produced by lowering emissions by adopting innovative technology such as improved livestock feeds, producing plant based food and breeding resilient crop breeds.

Professor Scollan chatting with club members (from left) Ivan Kettyle, Maguiresbridge, Gary Giles, Monea, Mervyn Simpson, Brookeborough

Within the UK, improving the farming industry’s resilience relied heavily on government policy and so the National Farmers’ Union is urging the UK government to promote domestic food production and put British farmers first when negotiating trade deals.

Professor Scollan said that from a consumer point of view, they looked at food through the environment/climate, welfare, health and integrity.

He said that in future food will be labelled with environmental scores so they can make more sustainable buying choices.

In terms of agricultural emissions by type of greenhouse gases, the UK Climate Change Commission recorded the following;

56 per cent – methane

31 per cent – nitrous oxide

12 per cent – carbon dioxide

1 per cent – other

Within agriculture, the largest percentage of 47 per cent is enteric fermentation, 25 per cent from soils, 15 per cent from manure and waste, 12 per cent from mobile machinery, 1 per cent from stationary machinery and three per cent from others.

So Professor Scollan said that in terms of Net Farm Zero when a farm business’s emissions are equal to sequestration, was it achievable and how do they get there?

He highlighted the work of the ARC Zero project where seven farms involved in a project by calculating gross emissions, gross sequestration and net carbon position, soil fertility and soil, nutrient and pesticides run off risk maps which involves partners such as AFBI, AgriSearch, Devenish, QUB and SRUC.

For all farmers, one of the exciting projects is the soil nutrient health scheme, which has begun in Co.Down and Armagh and will be continuing in Fermanagh this coming winter.

Professor Scollan chatting with club members (from left) Robert Kettyle, Lisnaskea, Rodney Willis, Derrylin and Neil Brown, Macken

Professor Scollan highlighted the targets set by the United Kingdom and Ireland to achieve cutting methane emissions by adopting various practices such as designing feed systems to produce quality animal products in a sustainable and efficient manner. He said rumen microbiome was central to planetary health. He said it was proven that healthy animals had a lower environmental carbon footprint.

He said achieving targets would involve essential relationships between academia, government, industry and producers and agriculture was at the heart of these issues.

Earlier in the evening, Mr Guy Benians, a Club member and soil scientist, outlined the work of fertiliser trials he had completed on some members’ farms. He said sulphur was an essential nutrient to grow grass, giving up to 40 per cent increased yield and the other necessary element was beneficial but remained a mystery.

(Source – Impartial Reporter – Farming – Brian Donaldson – 16/05/2023)

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