The UK Government’s Foresight Programme has released an in-depth analysis of the future of land use in the UK, examining the challenges faced over the next fifty years. The study, which was carried out over two years, examines the interaction of human use of land with natural processes, highlighting agriculture as ‘probably the single most dominant influence on the landscape’.
Agriculture occupies almost 74% of the UK land surface. Foresight’s report, ‘Land Use Futures‘ notes three main drivers of agricultural land use in the UK: agricultural policy, the conditions in international markets, and the technologies that markets and regulation introduce to the sector all play primary roles in determining what farmers produce on their land and how they produce it.
The report states that a rise in global population, strains on natural resources, climate change and changes in diets will put additional pressure on the land used in agriculture. The study highlights the importance for action to be taken to improve on agricultural productivity whilst reducing its impact on the environment.
The report offers the following recommendations for ensuring that the way agricultural land is used today can meet future needs:
Greater investment in science and technology, requiring collaborations among many public and private stakeholders, will help to accelerate sustainable practices of land use in agriculture whilst helping to improve the productivity of agriculture.
Maintaining high-quality farmland and supporting infrastructures such as land drainage systems will become of greater necessity in the advent of climate change and increased global demand for food and energy.
The multiple roles of agriculture that benefit society, other than food production, must be recognised, for example:
- Agriculture can generate positive environmental value, for example natural resource protection. Reward systems for land managers through environmental stewardship programmes should be redesigned to help reduce agriculture’s negative impact on the environment, and help promote the wider ecosystem services it provides.
- Agriculture can provide vital climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration, flood risk management and protection of biodiversity. New governance systems are needed to create incentives for low-carbon agricultural practices.