Consumers would welcome anything that helps keep the weekly grocery prices under control as food prices continue to rise while incomes stagnate.

Farmers, also, have come under increasing pressure from volatile prices for their crops, the efforts of suppliers to keep prices low in the shops and the increasingly uncertain global weather.

At the same time they are asked to farm sustainably to protect the environment, produce more natural, chemical free food and equally to improve the yield from their land to meet the food needs of a larger global population.

In the UK, some East Anglian organic grain farmers have recently joined together in a contract with a company that needed a regular supply of food for its organically-reared pigs.

As one farmer said, it is very difficult to assess the market supply and demand particularly in the organic market and the arrangement they reached had several benefits.

It meant both buyer and sellers were no longer susceptible to the vagaries of the market and to stablise the prices right through to the retailer and share the costs. It also made it possible to make the whole supply chain from land to pig meat traceable and to reduce the carbon footprint by supplying to a local buyer.

It worked because all those involved knew each other and were in the same area, but there is no reason why the model could not be used by other farmers both in the UK and overseas.

Research in East Agnlia is also being carried out to identify the different genetic characteristics in various grain seeds. The aim is to find those that are better for growing in an area of increasing drought and are better protected against the new plant diseases that might arise. Cross breeding, for example, could then be used to produce a resilient variety suited to the local climate.

Other research that has been going on, mainly in the USA has been in providing better crop and land protection in a more natural way, as a substitute for the many now-discredited older generation of chemical fertilisers.

The range of innovations includes biopesticides, biofungicides and yield enhancers that are developed from natural sources and leave minimal residues in the land and in the crop. They will also help farmers to meet the growing demand for natural foods with less waste and less loss of the nutrition in their land

These new low-chem agricultural products are subject to careful testing and licensing before they are allowed onto the market and this can be an expensive and lengthy process, taking up to eight years in some cases because regulation is not yet standardised across individual countries, so they may need to be licensed separately in several places.

There are signs, however, that more effort is being put into innovation in the various aspects of food production to respond to the concerns of consumers on both price and food quality.

Copyright (c) 2011 Alison Withers

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