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AgriCulture Live Podcast Transcript - Episode 1

AgriCulture Live - Episode 1 with Mike Panteli from Engage Crop Solutions
“The Challenges of Climate Change on Agriculture”

00:00:03 Rebekah

Hi. So welcome to our series Agriculture Live. So today we're joined by Mike and we're going to talk about the challenges of climate change on agriculture. So firstly, Mike, would you like to introduce yourself, tell people where you work, etcetera?

​00:00:21 Mike

I'm Mike Panteli, I work for and Engage Crop Solutions. I'm (apologies), I'm an accountant by training, but I've spent my last 25 years, 30 years in small tech companies, now in Engage Crop Solutions - we're a plant nutrition and bio stimulant company.

00:00:38 Rebekah

OK, fantastic. And So what does your company do in terms of you know, the biostimulants etcetera?

​00:00:46 Mike

Well, we predominantly sell in the UK and Southern Europe and we have probably about a portfolio of 20/30 products, but the main products are plant nutrition and biostimulants. So - what you would call dual purpose products, they are nutritional products, but they also help with some biological stress situations. Our flagship product which we're promoting and we've got a couple of projects on the go right now is called Aqualatus. And it fits nicely with our discussion because it's a water saving technology and we've seen quite a bit of uptake in parts of the world that where there's a lot of water stress.

​00:01:27 Rebekah

OK, fantastic. So what makes you guys stand out from your competitors would you say?

00:01:34 Mike

I think it's the product range, but I think it's also focus on particular issues.  So as the company name is we're a crop solutions based company and we don't sell products just for the sake of it. There has to be a reason and there has to be a return for the grower as well. But in the last 12 to 18 months like I said before, we focus significantly on Aqualatas. So we've got interest now from places like Central America and the Middle East and North Africa and other parts of Southern Africa.

​00:02:10 Rebekah

Fantastic. That's good stuff, exciting times at your company it sounds like - excellent. So today we're going to be talking about the challenges of climate change on agriculture. So can you tell our viewers really about the effects of climate change currently?

00:02:27 Mike

We all talk about agriculture and how it's going to change. And we always forget that it's a key resource. Without food, nobody lives and we've got a growing population, whether it's in the Far East or in Europe through migration or what have you so we need to feed more people, and how do we do this? At the same time, we need to do this more sustainably. Up until the last few years, some of the practices haven't been sustainable, but there's been a lot of  pressure to change that, to give something back to the land. We can't keep poisoning the land and hoping that's gonna feed us in the future. Added to that we've got all the climate change issues and a lot of it is around changing weather patterns and the impact of that. So you look at crop yield changes and a lot of people focus on the crop yield reductions. But there are instances where, for example, there's extreme heat  coming in, say Central America and America where they grow a lot of corn and this is starting to be a problem for corn growers in in those regions of the world. The reverse of that, we're seeing more heat in Europe. So that makes it easier to grow wheat. So the forecast is wheat yields are going to increase between now and 2030/2035. So there's pluses and minuses, an area which is close to engages heart is water scarcity, water resources. You look at the UK where you look at all that rain and you think that we wouldn't suffer from water scarcity, but we do in agriculture. Agriculture uses about 70% of our fresh water resources worldwide and and there's a limited amount of fresh water and also the distribution isn't quite right and because of the changes in temperature you've got a lot of pest and diseases that are either coming, new ones that are coming, but also my migratory as well,  a lot going on for a farmer to deal with.

​00:04:42 Rebekah

Yeah, I was gonna say to you, you know, do you think that agriculture gets like most of the rap in terms of climate change or do you think it's well justified? What are your thoughts?

​00:04:55 Mike

I don't think it's right in parts. I see where you're coming from in parts and it's well justified because of practices in the past, but like every industry you evolve and you evolve not only from your supply base but you involve with your customer base. And like I said before you can't keep applying stuff that kills the land, you can't keep applying stuff that's not sustainable. You can't keep sending bottles all over the world that aren't recyclable and boxes. All these things are  changing. Supply chain specialist now are looking at how environmentally friendly you can make supply chains and bringing product in from overseas. Is it environmentally friendly or not? I also think that farmers in particular are under a lot of pressure and a lot of it is not of their doing and some of it is climate, but also some of it is policy, governmental policy or even some,  you know, commercial policies - don't help our farmers. In the UK on average we grow 60%-70% of what we require to feed the population of the UK. That varies depending on crops, on serial crops we supply most of it. On horticultural crops we don't.  Can we help our farmers do better? Yes we can. Can they use sustainable growing practices? Yes they can. Have they got the financing or the financial infrastructure to help them do that? That's very immature, that needs to be looked at. Examples are you've got greenhouses now, glass houses that from an energy perspective a self sustainable. Why aren't we growing more product under glass greenhouse where we can, you know, like the Dutch and a lot of a lot of that is finance and  unwillingness to do that. So there's a lot of things that go on within the agricultural world that can be improved, and it's not all just down to the industry itself.

​00:07:03 Rebekah

What do you think are the main policies that are damaging to farmers?

00:07:07 Mike

I think it's the absence of policies. I think it's the absence of a a clear strategy to to help them grow crops but also help them grow in a sustainable manner. And I think I think it's financing, but I think it's also especially for UK fine farmers, it's also the ability to compete on equal grounds. For example if you look at the horticulture industry in the last maybe 12 to 18 months, they've been hammered through cost increases, especially around energy prices. So you can imagine that effect it has. You know we've heard some growers have stopped growing particular crops, others to be fair have expanded because they found ways around it. But also we don't help our growers in terms of competition.  They bring crops from overseas where we can actually grow crops in the UK. That's just an example.

00:08:01 Rebekah

So why don't you think that we grow more crops in the UK? What do you think the reasoning behind it is?

​00:08:07 Mike

Some of it is obviously weather and and now we're growing crops in the UK that we never used to do. I mean if you look at the southern part of the UK, they're growing a lot of grapes for wine. That was unheard of 10/15 years ago and now some of it even rivals some of the French ones, which is brilliant. But you look at, say, some of our crops say like fruit and veg,  which is high in its cost base. And farmers have found that a struggle this year, in the last 18 months, mainly due to energy prices. How can we help them with that? Will that carry on and is the government helping them from a financial point of view, are they grants to build massive greenhouses, sustainable greenhouses? Are there grants to help, you know, circular economy? All these things need to be looked at, you know, and a lot.

00:09:03 Rebekah

They were willing to do a lot with regards to renewables. But like you say, it needs it in more places, doesn't it?

00:09:11 Mike

Yeah, yeah. And and some of the people always say, oh, we grow sustainably. We need to do more organic growth growing. Yes, we do. But it's not a single answer.  Agriculture is such a complex beast you need multiple solutions to solve the problem. Organic is brilliant because in theory, it's healthier than inorganic growing, but then it's got supply issues, it doesn't last as long, you can't ship it, you can't keep it on the shelf as long, so then it causes waste issues. So there's pluses and minuses to everything.

00:09:48 Rebekah

This is obviously a big thing in terms of climate change, isn't it?

​00:09:52 Mike

It is, yeah. And food waste in terms of planning of supply chains. If you don't plan your supply chains properly, you either don't make enough food at the right time or you make too much. And if you make too much, what happens to it? You know, there are instances where growers just plough it back into the field because they've got too much produce for the market. And that's just it. In terms of a society, it's criminal. We shouldn't be allowing things like that to happen.

​00:10:23 Rebekah

Especially when people are hungry and so on like.

​00:10:26 Mike

Yeah, exactly. Right. Or people can't afford to buy. You know, there's people in our society and here we are in in a modern society and we're looking at some, some of our population, they can't afford to buy fruit and veg. And then the other side of the coin, there's growers that get rid of it because they can't afford to take it to market. And it's just,  it's crazy and there's a lot of, don't get me wrong, there's a lot of good work that's been done in terms of new crops and new methodologies, get finding ways around banned pesticides. So a lot of pesticides have been banned. So growers are trying to find ways around it. Substrates, certain substrates have been banned like Peat. And there's a lot of pressure to stop using peat and agriculture. Well, that's being brought on without really having a substitute in place. So people are trying to find their way around it to carry on with the good work that that growers are, you know, doing. So there's a lot of positives, but also a lot more can be done.

​00:11:28 Rebekah

Yes, I agree. So what do you think about, you know, farmers themselves, the general farmer, what can they do on their farms to help with climate change, would you say?

00:11:43 Mike

Um I think, well again farming is is varied. So if I if I take livestock, they are struggling because if we're predominantly a meat eating population and we still are - although that's changing. And what can they currently do to make things more efficient. There's quite a few technologies that help them manage their capital more sustainably both in terms of food, but also in the cattle health and those technologies are out there right now and some of them are UK technologies. So you know, again, promoting UK innovation. In terms of cereal crops, a lot of them, a lot of the growers are starting to look at ways of applying products that are sustainable that aren't harmful to the environment at the same time they're having to cope with banning of pesticides. So for example, oilseed rape, we grow a lot of good quality oil seed rape in the UK, but because of the prevalence of cabbage stem field flea beetle - a lot of them are stopped growing it because the beetle actually decimate the crop.  Are there alternatives to help them tackle that particular problem and in a sustainable way? There probably is. There is. And so that's another example. The horticultural boys, the fruit and soft fruit top fruit, again, they're doing a lot in terms of sustainable growing. They could do a lot but a lot of their challenges are really market forces. If the market forces were more in their favour, they'd be able to do a lot more sustainably because at the end of the day, whether we like it or not, a farmer has to make money. And if if he or she makes money, right, commercially successful, then they can invest more money into sustainable growth. You need that first before sustainability actually is beneficial to the grower.

​00:13:42 Rebekah

Definitely. So what do you think are the biggest issues and challenges you know going forward in agriculture other than climate change at the minute?

00:13:52 Mike

Well in the UK it's it's a particular issue around there's a labour force issue and we haven't got enough people. I mean in my day, I remember as a student going in the fields and working, I don't know if people do that anymore and you've got a a big section of the of the population. So between May and September, October that aren't working, but why can't we use that that and that's a key growing season. Why can't we get students out there? We've restricted people coming into the country - that's in the horticultural side of it.  On the cereal side of it, there's seed supply, there's particular seeds that have been grown, in terms of managing the crop against pests and biological pressures. We could, we can help them with that. And there's a lot going on. If you look at, if you keep looking at the negatives of climate change, it's just a black hole. If you look at it as a challenge and an opportunity and there's never one answer to this. There's always multiple answers, right? If you look at it as an opportunity, then growers and importers and people like us that supply imports, there's all always a positive, a way of making things better. You just have to apply it and and have the will to do it.

​00:15:16 Rebekah

The thing is, it's like anything, you know, we have to adapt to change, don't we? And you know, there are negatives. You know, there can be job losses, you know, challenges for everyone. But then the positives is obviously these these emerging new green sectors. People that are entrepreneurial and can, you know, find these great new products or services that could help move us forward. It's just whether we're doing it quick enough, isn't it?

00:15:47 Mike

You look at vertical farming again that's part of the solution. You know can it be developed to a size where it could be you know mass production? That's probably the challenge. And if you look at people like Dyson with Dyson Farms, he's invested a lot of money. I know they've had to go through go through a growing phase you know get to know the industry trade phase. But he's invested a lot of money again in in a state-of-the-art technology. We need more of that, especially in the UK but broader field.  It's always going to be a small world and it's always going to be a case where we need to import food. Whether it's, you know, from Latin America or Africa or Europe and vice versa. We, (although it's not publicised a lot), we export a lot of food, right? There's a a lot of areas in agriculture where we do export, whether it's technology, whether it's imports, whether it's cattle, whether it's crop, whether it's seeds, blah, blah. But in our travels and our experience, you go to parts of the world where they're still growing in an old fashioned way, in a non sustainable way and you can see their people are crying out for help, they're crying out for technical assistance and that's been our experience in some parts of the world.

​00:17:09 Rebekah

And that's sad. You know, some of these developing countries, you know, where they haven't got the technologies and stuff and they're being hit by climate change and they can't actually make the money that they used to because of the changes that have happened, which, you know, as an industry we need to help now, don't we going forward?

​00:17:34 Mike

We do, we do. And again I'm talking from personal experience or company experience. So we visited parts of Latin America where you can see (and again this is because we're in this, this part of the industry) and we visited parts of Latin America where they have water stress, so significant water stress. And like I said I'm a commercial guy, but we go in, in teams where we take the technical team out there. But even to my untrained eye, you can see the crops are suffering through water stress. So the growers are accepting of technologies, they're accepting of new things to help them grow their crops and in a sustainable way, but also get as much out of their trees, out of their their, their bushes or their plants as they can. And especially now, a lot of them are looking beyond the home markets they're looking to export. And if they're looking to export, they have to abide by UK regulations or European regulations or American regulations, which is a higher standard. So they have to grow things of quality. So when we go and visit them, they're like sponges. They want to know, they want to see, they want to try and it's amazing the willingness is there. We as sort of more developed countries if you want to say that, need to help them, need to go out there because by helping them, selfishly, we're helping ourselves so.

​00:19:03 Rebekah

Definitely. Well, you know, it's a really, really interesting subject to talk about and I think there's so many elements, different farms to consider, different areas within climate change etcetera. But it's been really interesting to to hear your thoughts and talk with you today. So thank you so much for giving us your time.

​00:19:26 Mike

Thank you.

00:19:27 Rebekah

Thank you. I want to thank everybody who's obviously watched our chat today. If you have got an interesting topic in agriculture that you'd like to talk about and join me on this series, please get in contact with me via Agricultural Recruitment Specialists, which is And next Monday at 10:00, I'll be speaking with Mark Scott from Savills who will be joining us, where we'll be talking about working in the agricultural sector, which I'm really looking forward to. But thanks again, Mike.

​00:20:01 Mike

No it's been a pleasure. Thank you.

00:20:01 Rebekah

Pleasure. Thanks for your thoughts.

00:20:06 Mike

I noticed there's some questions coming through, so if people want to e-mail me later or e-mail you to contact me.

00:20:13 Rebekah

That would be great. Thanks, Mike.

00:20:15 Mike

Alright, no problem. Thank you very much.

00:20:17 Rebekah

Bye, bye.

​00:20:18 Mike


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