Last week's prediction that food prices will rise after poor UK harvests due to the recent wet weather has set the alarm bells ringing amongst the general public at a time when finances for many families are already stretched to the limit.
The British Retail Consortium said that food prices were already being driven up after a rise in grain costs following the worst drought in 50 years in the US and a heatwave in Russia. The problems faced by farmers in the UK and the global increase in wheat prices have now added to fears over increases in food prices.
But what measures could have been taken here in the UK to protect the interests of farmers affected by the bad weather? Actually, that's a short term issue. The Government and the agricultural sector can come up with measures to protect the immediate interests of farmers, such as through improved insurance schemes, but what we're interested in at Coventry University is how to prevent these incidents happening over the long term, by building the resilience of our natural agricultural resource base.
Whilst we can't control the weather, per se, both the droughts and the floods that we've experienced this year have been exacerbated by the way in which we manage the hydrological cycle on farms and across landscapes. Water needs to go somewhere, and when it's not available we need to have stored it.
The UK is one of the best endowed countries in the world in terms of precipitation, so drought and flooding shouldn't be a major issue if, for example, we have set up appropriate-scale water storage mechanisms across the landscape, if we have developed soils with a greater soil-water retention capacity (i.e. soils with more organic matter), and if we have management systems that can hold water in the landscape rather than allow it to run-off.
We have the technical knowledge to do this - here at Coventry University we have worked for decades in dryland regions of the world and learned from these, and are also supporting experts from those regions - including Australia - to share their knowledge with land users in the UK. This approach, of building resilience, takes a while, but it's an investment in order to avoid these problems reoccurring year after year.
At Coventry University we have established what we are calling a "Grand Challenge Initiative" around Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in collaboration with leading organic agriculture charity Garden Organic.
We are looking at the need to create 'resilient' food systems worldwide, and while at a local level sustainable approaches to food systems are being applied, there are barriers to these being adopted more widely - primarily a lack of knowledge and access to information, and also a lack of resources and technology.
We are absolutely committed to finding solutions to this challenge through the creation of resilient food systems which, at a UK level, can support and develop British farming and encourage sustainable food production.