Pressure on land could ease in future

THE amount of the Earth’s surface used for agriculture will decline as farmers become smarter, according to American researchers.

Experts from New York’s Rockefeller University announced an area twice the size of France may be able to return to a more natural state as increased yields and decelerated population growth reduce the burden on farmland.

The study stands in contrast to projections put forward by the United Nations which show increased demand from the biofuel and livestock industries, twinned with the effects of climate change and shifting consumption patterns, will increase pressure on farmland.

The UN said more land will be converted to grow food and fuel by the middle of the current century, but the Rockefeller team disputed the theory.

Director of the university’s Program for the Human Environment and lead author of the study, Jesse Ausubel, predicted 10 per cent of the arable land currently in use could be returned to a more natural state by 2060.

Improved yields, new technologies and innovation at farm level will ease pressure and free up land, he said.

Mr Asubel said: “Happily, the cause is not exhaustion of arable land, as many have feared, but rather moderation of population and tastes and ingenuity of farmers.

“Importantly, sparing land usually means sparing water. And substituting bits or information in precision agriculture can also spare inputs of energy and nitrogen and other materials.”

He said precision farming techniques, including better weather forecasts, closer spacing of plants, better and more judiciously applied fertilisers, would allow spared land to become habitat for wildlife or ‘carbon orchards’.

Side story

FOOD production is not keeping pace with demand, according to the Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) president, Emyr Jones.

In his New Year message, Mr Jones said the potentially ‘terrifying’ implications had been recognised around the globe but were still to reach the Westminster Government.

He said politicians seemed ‘unable to learn from the lessons of living-memory’ and were more concerned with EU membership than the details of the CAP.

“While the prospect of another war on our doorsteps seems far away, population growth and food productivity, coupled with rising energy costs, climate change and a host of other challenges, mean that what we now face is unprecedented,” said Mr Jones.

“The Welsh Government and others are, to their credit, arguing such points while the UK Government continues to sleepwalk into the biggest emergency we have ever faced.”

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