4: Feeding Britain

See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth. Be patient … 1

Amid sunflowers and grasses wafting gently in the Lincolnshire breeze, the man who invented the bagless vacuum cleaner gestures around surrounding fields to highlight the latest in farming technology. On a bright summer’s day, Sir James Dyson barely stops for breath: the future of farming, he enthuses, will centre on research, science and “developing new ways of doing things, [creating] new machines”. As such, expertise built around consumer durables, and the new world of artificial intelligence (AI), will prove transformative in reworking the land to achieve a goal central to the country’s resilience, yet side-lined by successive governments: greater self-sufficiency in food.2

“We should be growing our own food; we shouldn’t be importing it … terribly important,” insists Dyson, warming to a theme which you might think is – but, alarmingly, is not – a top priority for government. ‘We shouldn’t give up …’3 Yet, up to now, it seems that – shamefully – governments have. We grow barely 60% of our own food.

The engineer-turned-inventor and multi-billionaire points over a hedgerow, in a short film, to 15 acres of six-metre-high glasshouses stretching as far as the eye can see: protection for the first strawberries, with other fruit to follow, bucking the seasons with a crop ready for market in November and March. Nearby, two power plants, known as anaerobic digesters – fed on maize from surrounding fields, rather than from organic waste – provide the energy for one of the country’s largest farming operations.

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