The future is not what it used to be

This item first appeared in 2008

The future is not what it used to be - William Hudson

Our job at present seems to be to second guess the future. We know that climate change will alter the way that we live our lives. So, a reality check seems to be a way of pulling the issues together. Peak oil, food safety, environment, well-being, food supply chain and apocalypse theory - we have known about these problems for a long time. Scientists warn but politicians and the media ignore!

Peak oil is a fact. While the energy industry continues to try to convince us that there is a never ending supply of non-renewable hydrocarbons we now know better. We also know about the damaging effect of greenhouse gases. We now have to react accordingly.

Food safety is now becoming a major issue. We are concerned about our health. We are getting more concerned about shortening our life-span and having painful debilitating ailments because of it. There is a growing mistrust of the food manufacturing industries. We are told that we should eat less meat, more beans and plenty of vegetables. This will increase the health of the nation.

It is now realised that agriculture creates 18% of CO2 while transport contributes a mere 2%. We are running out of phosphates. The Nitrogen price is related to oil prices and one of the worst makers of greenhouse gas. We have to look at better farming methods, stop clearing the rainforests and increase soil carbon sequestration.

We have to understand the importance of well-being and the contribution that horticulture makes to this. Flowers and the countryside are significant contributors of well-being to our society.

Are we victims or beneficiaries of globalization? Does the small producer still have a place? Imports of meat, fruit and vegetables are compromising UK production of these commodities. Middle men and retailers do not pass enough money back to the primary producer. Are we happy to import so much of our food?

Many intelligent people are now thinking about apocalypse theory. Can we sustain our society and our economy? The knock-on effect of oil will impact upon everything from the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the houses we live in and the way we move around the planet.

We have known about these problems for a long time. Henry Ford wanted to run his Model T cars on ethanol. He said that running them on petrol would cause too much pollution. We have controlled London smog and acid rain. We have made our rivers clean again. Thus proving that we can change the way we live in the environment.

Scientists warn but politicians and the media ignore. We have seen time after time that doing the sensible thing is compromised by politicians, the vested interest of an industry or the media's desire for a good story. It seems that the only way to get a point across is to get a celebrity involved. While society is comfortable, it does not want to change the way it lives.

We are in a period of rapid evolution. We do not know where it is leading us. We will chase ideas that will not work. New technologies will emerge to solve the problems that confront us but the driver may not be money, it may be survival! We may have to stop doing some things that we have always taken for granted.

Many say that our institutions are failing us. Our political system means that bad news won't get votes. Big business creates more problem than it solves. Colleges are only motivated by ‘bums on seats’ and money. Individuals apparently cannot change anything. We do not yet know what sustainable food production is really all about. Growth has been the economic driver of the world’s economies; but we are now seeing that this may not work anymore.

So what have we got to do? There are opportunities in change. We can displace imports. We can influence public health by producing proper food i.e. fruit and vegetables. We can influence public well-being with flowers and the countryside. We are the industry and we will be heroes. Sadly our horticultural industry has been hijacked by the marketing agents and the multiple retailers.

Our educational institutions could be trying to understand the problems of the day. They should be motivating young people. They should be involved with cutting edge technology and be better engaged with the industry. The Eden project has a lot to offer to get this message out. Eden is fresh and young and has the ability to tell a different story.

Should we support and retain UK agriculture? Are you happy to import? The Treasury says we are rich enough to import and we should not worry about relying on imported food. A healthy countryside is the by-product of sustainable agriculture. Meat-eating in the quantities we are used to causes too many problems to the environment and to public health. As fertilizer becomes more expensive, we must consider reintroducing mixed farming to our agriculture.

Do we need to reconnect the consumer with where food comes from? We need to re-establish food culture and educate that good food brings public health. A respect of food will bring about respect for the place that food comes from.

Change management is difficult. Businesses can be profitable while still doing the wrong thing. We need new and dynamic champions of change; this will require vision, investment, thought and knowledge.

It's our turn now - we must tell the story well. A new body should seek to enquire, inform and to put into practice a sustainable approach. As well as running our businesses we now have a planet to save.

William Hudson,
February 2008

William Hudson has been involved with horticulture for many years. He has developed specific expertise with innovative soft fruit production systems and an astute view of the ways in which existing food distribution and marketing systems have damaged British production.

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