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More needed to promote sustainable food production, Hutton scientists say

Farming (c) James Hutton Institute
"We also need to understand human behaviour and that is why the James Hutton Institute uses both social and natural sciences to try and understand what might be better ways of managing our land.

More needs to be done to promote sustainable food production if we are to solve the apparent conflict between the interests of nature and those of modern agriculture, according to researchers at the James Hutton Institute. This warning comes in response to the publication of the State of Nature 2016 report, which indicates that many wildlife species are under threat as a result of intensive food production.

The Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme, in which the James Hutton Institute takes part, focuses on many areas related to sustainability. For instance, the Institute is researching how agricultural management at the field, farm and landscape scale can be adapted to benefit important groups such as insect pollinators and the natural enemies of crop pests. Scientists at the Institute are also looking into how best to improve habitat networks.

The Institute also feeds results from its upland and lowland experimental farms into sustainable farming practice, and actively shares these approaches with others in the sector through its role as a LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) Innovation Centre. Some of that new and innovative practice informs agricultural policy, but solving the sustainability conundrum will require more than policies, says the Institute.

Euan Caldwell, Head of Farm, Field and Glasshouse at the Institute, said: “At the root of the divergence between food production and sustainability is people’s desire to have cheap food. Cheaper food means smaller margins for farmers who then have less scope to invest in non-essential activities such as those that benefit biodiversity or the environment. Sustainability isn’t only for the farmers – consumers have to play their part, too. Policy needs to help lead the move away from a race to the bottom on price as well as steering industry behaviour to practices that are more rather than less sustainable.”

The State of Nature Report for 2016 highlights the continuing decline of many species at both the UK and Scottish level. It highlights intensive management of agricultural land as the most significant cause of decline, but drainage, urbanisation and abandonment of traditional management have also had negative impacts.

Euan Caldwell sees a policy opportunity: “There is room for improvement in the current structure of agricultural subsidies.  They could be fine-tuned to incentivise higher value habitat creation, for example. At the moment low incentives tend to steer people to do only the minimum to comply with regulation."

The report also shows there is good data for only a few species concentrated in a few groups, such as birds, butterflies and vascular plants, and it reflects on the mixed effects of climate change as some species have expanded northwards or shown better winter survival.

As part of the Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme, the James Hutton Institute is researching how agricultural management at the field, farm and landscape scale can be adapted to benefit important groups such as insect pollinators and the natural enemies of crop pests. Connectivity between habitats and other aspects of landscape structure is important, and research is ongoing on how best to measure it.

The Institute is also looking at how agri-environment funds could be managed in the future to better target the money available to areas and species where it will have the best effect. Scientists are also working on identifying gaps in the current agri-environment scheme and in developing new management options.

Positive action for some species means working across land ownership boundaries. Hutton researchers are working to understand what potential there is for collaborative action and what barriers there are to collaboration.

Professor Colin Campbell, Chief Executive of the James Hutton Institute, commented: “The State of Nature report brings out the pressing need to adapt our systems of production and take a more holistic approach. However, we also need to understand human behaviour and that is why the James Hutton Institute uses both social and natural sciences to try and understand what might be better ways of managing our land.”

More information from: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).


Printed from /news/more-needed-promote-sustainable-food-production-hutton-scientists-say on 18/07/19 04:14:18 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.