Deep, usually clay-rich soils are known to grow the best crops of wheat.
In the UK, 85% of that good quality land is currently used to grow animal feed.
The remaining 15% is used to grow milling or bread (and biscuit) quality crops
From this 15%, an astonishing 75% of all our bread and biscuits are produced.
These figures suggest that a 5% increase in the area of good land sown with milling wheat, the UK could be entirely self-sufficient with its production of bread & biscuits.
In order to continue this story of sufficient yields and remarkable progress since the 1950's, we have to recognize that current levels of production are far too dependent on oil-based fertilisers and pesticides, each of which contributes in some way to climate change or kills our birds and insects.
It is not all bad news, because we know that without using any pesticides or artificial fertilisers, we have organic farming systems, aided by modern machinery and new technology, which would enable the UK to be more than self-sufficient in milling wheat tomorrow. This becomes a perfectly possible goal if we were to raise the existing percentage of good land sown to milling varieties from 15% to 40% (or possibly 35%).
In other words, 1) If we ate less grain-fed meat, 2) Reduced the amount of good land being used for animal feed and 3) Encouraged the conversion of many more farms to organic agriculture, we could achieve self sufficiency in the UK's production of bread and biscuits. We would also be farming with much more consideration given to the health of our soils and to nature.
Bread and nature are two of the most vital ingredients in all our lives, and nobody can justifiably say this is not a realistic and sensible way to progress. Our government ministers have to start looking at new ways of encouraging the uptake of organic systems.
We need radical new incentives and finding the best ways to cause these changes must surely include mechanisms that reflect the true costs of oil-based fertilisers and pesticides. In the shorter term, we need to find an effective way of rewarding farmers who convert to organic systems and reduce their carbon footprint. In the longer term, the application of some form of Trade-able Energy Quotas (T.E.Q’s) will surely have to play their part in reducing our dependence on oil.
Philip Trevelyan. (Yorkshire Organic Millers).