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Changes in food culture could open new opportunities for farmers


At the beginning of July, Professor Michael Winter presented the inaugural Nuffield Farming Lecture, promoting the opportunities for UK farmers to improve the health of the nation by adapting to changes in food culture.

The Exeter University academic argued that in order to meet the needs of the modern consumer, agricultural policy must change.

“Following the publication of the government’s ‘Health and Harmony’ report, I believe nutritional security needs to be included as a ‘public good’, and should be rewarded with payments in a post-Brexit strategy,” he said. “While many individuals are adopting healthier diets, and more are following trends such as veganism, the population as a whole still doesn’t eat enough fresh produce. To overcome this, I’d like to see grants paid to encourage farmers to switch to producing nutritious foods such as fruit, vegetables and legumes. But there are major barriers to entry for those looking to diversify into horticulture in terms of skills and also infrastructure requirements, such as storage facilities and specialist machinery,” explains Professor Winter. However, the large trade deficit in UK horticultural produce highlights the need for development in the sector. Grants should be made available to help growers transition into horticultural production.”

Professor Winter pointed out the need to facilitate new entrants to the industry, while not forgetting the requirement to upskill current farmers. “The Prince’s Countryside Fund is already doing fantastic work to train dairy and livestock farmers, but this could be rolled out further to help maximise profitability and resilience in more of our smaller farms.”

He concluded the lecture by stressing the importance of a joined-up approach from food and farming and health policy makers, to those in related industries, right through to food processors and farmers at the start of the supply chain.

“While changes in agricultural policy and farmers themselves can play a huge part in driving change, food choices will always come down to the consumer, so it is imperative clear messages about food, cooking and health continue to be driven by the food industry, and health and consumer groups.”