It has been evident for some time that those who would want to see a switch away from a greater emphasis on environmental issues in relation to agriculture and a restoration of a productionist orientation have seen food security as one of their best cards.
In part this is because food supplies are getting tighter. Supply has been affected by growing demand for biofuels and other non-food crops. Demand is being stimulated by a growing and more prosperous world population.
So could 'the UK run short of food in the future' as is argued by regular Farmers Weekly contributor Hugh Brown (who combines farming with working full time for Capital Radio). This shows a not unsurprising lack of faith in the price mechanism for a farmer.
If the supply-demand balance alters, prices will go up and this will encourage more production. Of course, the land supply is not infinite, but there is plenty of land in the world, not least in the Global South, that is not being farmed as efficiently as it could be (without having an adverse environmental impact). Of course, climate change is a big uncertainty, but this shows why it should be a priority in decisions about farm policy.
Brown concentrates a lot on his fire at Defra, and it is certainly a department that has had its problems. From a farming perspective, of course, it no longer acts as the voice of the farmer in the way that MAFF did, but that was one of the reasons for setting up Defra with a new mission.
Brown argues, 'If we do start to go short of food and need to start planning seriously about how we feed the nation, it would be somewhat of a contradiction to have the same department both try to encourage the growing of food, while the other part of the department is trying to nail down environmental regulation, potentially curtailing food production.'
His solution is to give the food part of Defra its own department, presumably a Ministry of Food Security, so that 'it might be able to work more effectively in planning ahead.' The shadow of Stalinist five year plans dies hard in some areas of farming. That is not to say that we shouldn't continue to fund work that is concerned with diseases and pests that affect plants and livestock and hence undermine production.
However, given the challenge of climate change, not to mention various pollution issues, farming needs to be guided by an effective environmental policy, but also one that provides farmers with incentives for maximising environmental benefits.