Examination of Witness

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 13th February 2020.

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Professor Keevil:

The previous speaker was very concerned about the carbon footprint, and he rightly commented that the world needs NPK. The UK, if it needs NPK, has got to import it, and that means a very high carbon footprint from shipping, so that is in a way counter-intuitive.

For hundreds of years, the UK has been very good at crop rotation and the recycling of animal and human wastes. My research team has previously done work for DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency, looking at how safe composted animal manures and treated human wastes are. Our research shows that if they are treated properly, they can be recycled safely to land. That is a valuable source of NPK.

In terms of ecosystems and services, we are looking for balance and harmony. If anything, I would support more the view of the Soil Association. I think we can live in harmony, but we need to get that balance. For example, there has been a lot of concern about the availability of bees to fertilise plants. If everything was converted over to woodland, would we have sufficient banks of wildflowers to support essential insects to maintain the ecosystem? The plant life in the UK needs it; certainly, agriculture needs it. We need that balance. I think there is a role for farming in the UK.

On the impact on the environment, we still have green pleasant lands, and when you speak to visitors who come to the UK, a lot of them comment as they fly in that it is a pleasure to see well-kept farmland alongside woods, which I think is a good thing.