Shocking as it may sound, insects will prove the path to sustainable food stocks, argues Dorset farmer and writer Andrew Livingston.
This new year means British agriculture takes one step closer towards the Nation Farmers’ Union (NFU) aim of all farms being carbon neutral by 2040. It’s clear that in its goal of achieving ‘net zero,’ farming practices that have been used for centuries need to be replaced with more sustainable methods of producing the nation’s food.
Over the next three months, I will explore how agriculture will start to look.
Farming for yields
There is a reason why some farming traditions haven’t been changed for centuries; it’s because they achieve the highest possible yield, from either crop or animal. Admittedly, some traditions already look archaic and have been replaced with new scientific methods; for example, ploughing has now become an obsolete practice.
Arrow straight and paralleled ploughed fields looked great, but were not only destructive to the habitat below the surface, but soil being broken and turned released huge amounts of carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere.
Today, technological advancements are used such as seed drills and minimum tillage cultivators.
A new delicacy
Changing the way we farm is fine, but we still need to produce the same amount of food. The world’s population is expected to reach over 9.7 billion by 2050, so how can you feed everyone while protecting your environment? One answer, entomophagy, has been consumed all across the globe, and particularly in densely populated countries. Entomophagy is basically why I don’t ride bikes without a face mask – it’s the process of eating bugs!
For thousands of years in Asian, African and South American countries, the consumption of insects is considered a delicacy. I have never dabbled, but the critters are renowned for being full of protein while being more efficient than conventional livestock, as they can better utilise energy from plants and add weight more easily.
Steak v beetle stew
Right now it may seem ludicrous to replace your fillet steak with a cricket curry, but farming insects has many positives. For starters, insect farms don’t look like your everyday farm; there is an insect farm in the centre of London. Bugs and insects don’t need fields or natural sunlight: they are grown in tanks that can be stacked on top of each other to most greatly utilise space. If you can’t envisage yourself chowing down on bugs, then fear not. The insect’s role in farming in the future is expected to be as additives for feed for livestock. Local protein from insects has many benefits – currently, a fifth of the soya imported from Brazil is a result of deforestation.
It is also cheaper than soya, while allowing us to be more self-sufficient and rely less on imports and fluctuating global prices.
Morrisons has already begun utilising insects into the feed to hens, aiming towards carbon neutral egg production. However, it will be a few more years till bugs and flies are the norm for birds across the UK. We can all thank the humble chicken for consuming the bugs and flies that we really aren’t quite ready to eat ourselves.
by Andrew Livingston
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