How quickly we have gone from a world that was running out of food to a world of plenty, writes Tony Gent.
It seems we are in an era of wheat prices of near £100 or £200 per ton, with the outlook for the foreseeable future nearer £100.
It seems that weather patterns around the world have been more favourable and harvests have been good, although I don’t think this is the whole story. Technology is improving, no doubt as a reaction to the previous period of high prices.
Also, reduced cultivation and No-till is bringing about a vast improvement in soil structure, allowing crops to cope with extreme conditions much better in the areas of the big tonnage producers of the world.
As an example Western Australia wheat yields were averaging 1.5 tons Ha which became unsustainable as climate conditions worsened. No-till conservation agriculture has developed with huge momentum and now they regularly achieve yields of 4 to 6 tons Ha. The same is true for both South and North America with other major areas quickly catching on.
Europe is very much lagging behind with this, and the result of increasingly intensive production is that soil has been aged in the UK, some estimate by as much as 5,000 to 6,000 years in the past 40 years. It is also estimated that between 1980 and 1995 18 per cent of organic matter was lost, with the result that most soils now contain less than 2 per cent when it should be 3 to 6 per cent.
So the question must be how we sort this problem in Europe and the UK with our very high cost structure and the rapid deterioration of soil quality.