Energy and water fears block EU food expansion

Europe’s need to increase food production is being blocked by energy and water constraints, political, food and farming leaders were warned yesterday in Edinburgh.

The last time Europe needed a major food production boost there was surplus farmland, plenty of water and lots of cheap energy. Today none of these factors are available and, as a result, the consequences for the EU’s food growth requirements are dire.

That was the warning given to by Scottish MEP George Lyon, leader on agricultural issues for Europe’s Lib Dems.

“In the 1950s and 60s unused land was put into production, poor land was improved, lots of water was used for irrigation and energy, which was dirt cheap at the time, was thrown at the problem,” he said. “The challenge today is to achieve the same output boost while trying to reduce the amount of energy and water used in production and doing so without any new land being available.”

Speaking ahead of a two-day ‘Greening’ conference in Edinburgh involving UK environment minister Caroline Spelman, Scotland’s rural affairs minister, Richard Lochhead and Mr Lyon himself, the EU farm leader said that agriculture was already using 70% of available water while the only way to bring new land into food production would be to chop down the rest of the rain forests in South America.

“How to develop more sustainable intensive agriculture, producing more food but using fewer inputs, especially energy and water, is the ultimate $64,000 question,” he said. “Frankly, we don’t have the answer to any of that at present.”

Then, choosing his words carefully, Mr Lyon added: “Some would argue that GM is one part of the solution. If you look at Canadian farmers, for example, they’re now extensively growing GM Canola and achieving big fuel reductions as a result. The GM route allows them to use smaller tractors and machines, because they don’t have to keep spraying and grubbing the land; they have less soil loss, because they can use non-ploughing techniques, and they don’t have to apply the level of pesticides and insecticides which they used to. That’s adding up to a huge reduction in energy.

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