Brexit could boost British farming


As Kim Wilkie (below) says, government can never quite come up with the right legislation to protect against war, weather and pestilence, but then neither can an unregulated market. Agriculture cannot be treated as a purely commercial industry because too many other natural factors are at stake and the timescales are millennial.

He says that priority must be given to reviving the soils we have exhausted over the past 50 years. Treating arable land as an inert substrate for chemicals to boost crop production has proved to be a very short-term solution.

Drenching farmland in artificial nitrates not only kills the organic life of the soil, it is an inefficient way of getting nutrients into plants. As more and more nitrates are then needed to make the impoverished soil grow crops, the indigestible quantities are washed out into watercourses and pollute rivers and aquifers.

The fragile soil, deep ploughed and no longer bound together by organic matter (the life in the soil), also washes away into the sea. The Environment Agency estimates that across the UK, 2m tonnes of topsoil are eroded every year.

Combined with sensible farming, such as nitrogen-fixing crops and minimum tilling of the land, a return to mixed farming (rotating arable cultivation with cattle and sheep pasture grazing) does seem to offer a way of growing enough protein to feed the planet while at the same time restoring a healthy and stable environment.

Wilkie continues by pointing out that in the British Isles grass grows particularly well and livestock, grazing on pasture outside rather than on corn in sheds, is an efficient method of converting photosynthesising plants into protein. Co-operating with the land in this way continues a natural environment that has evolved with man since the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago.

The old argument is that we can only feed the world if we pursue intensive chemical agro-industry. New understanding of soil science suggests that we can actually only continue to produce enough food if we change our farming practices and reverse the depletion of our soil.

All farming needs to work harmoniously with natural systems. Attitudes to agriculture are buffeted by fears of starvation on the one hand and the desire for cheap food on the other. War, weather and pestilence haunt productivity.

Brexit has precipitated a complete review of subsidies. Housing demand is putting major pressure on the rural South East and particularly the greenbelt. Free Trade in chlorinated chicken looms ominously over agricultural integrity and food health. Where will it all end?

The first indications are it might go in some surprisingly good directions. The emphasis may shift from volume annual yields to long-term productivity. Farm support may be targeted towards methods that work with the health of soil and water. Chemical nitrates and pollutants may be taxed. Market gardens may reappear around our bulging urban edges.

*Kim Wilkie studied modern history at Oxford and landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, before setting up his landscape studio in London in 1989, combining design with running a small farm with rearing longhorn cattle. 






Clarification to the mailing list and visitors to the website


The earlier post was placed as ‘devil’s advocate – the views of Ian Potter – not mine!  We do need to hear such views in order to enter into dialogue.

A Bournville reader commented, “Arguments about veganism need to be treated on their merits irrespective of the interests of producers – compare coal and coal-miners”. He continued: “At random I pulled up this from the web but no doubt one could find others

Had I been presenting my own views (predominantly vegetarian) I’d be recommending locally grown, seasonal, organically produced food. Pulled from the web:

A Moseley reader comments on the last paragraph:

The fact is that some farmers need to wake up and smell the coffee and realise how they treat their animals, and how their farm looks to the general public are all important for the image of dairy. 

He writes:

“I was in Devon last week. The state of some of the meat and dairy cattle and the conditions they’re kept in is pretty poor. The rubbish that farmers leave lying around is dreadful: Rusting metal, old barbed wire and wrecks of farm machinery. A walk in Worcestershire had the same results.

“I reckon livestock should have to travel no more than 10 miles by transporter to an abattoir.

“Poultry farming is a scandal. Pig farming, too.

“A high percentage DON’T play the role some claim as stewards of the countryside”.


Ed: I visited many farms in Lancashire in my youth and found all well-kept. Have standards slumped? More recently I visited a few in Warwickshire. Also good.





Vegan activists and dairy farmers are advised to face certain facts


Today’s report about the banning of a vegan group’s advert linking cow’s milk to cancer recalls a recent article by Ian Potter, ‘a renowned commentator within the dairy industry’. He focusses on ‘vocal vegans’, activists attempting to convince as many people as possible that consuming milk and dairy products is not necessary, not natural, and cruel. They also proclaim the virtues and health benefits of plant based milks and, he adds. “like all zealots they refuse to listen to any balanced arguments”, using celebrities to endorse them.

He reminds those preaching the need to adopt a purely plant based diet about the thousands of counties/countries/peoples/races across the world who depend on livestock, or meat, or hunting and herding to survive, and thrive, citing Dan Murphy who charges vegan activists with, “avoiding mention, much less criticism, of the many millions of indigenous people and traditional cultures around the word that are dependent on hunting and herding for their sustenance, not to mention their very survival”. Murphy asks four questions:

  • How about the Inuit tribes, the native Siberians, the Laplanders and other populations living in the Arctic regions? They’re supposed to start living on avocados, coconut milk and processed seitan, all of which are derived from crops grown thousands of miles from their homelands?
  • Or what about the Maasai tribespeople living in Kenya and Tanzania? Do animal activists realize that there are upwards of 1.5 million people of that heritage living in an area that extends across some 62,000 square miles, the size of Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire — combined?

  • Why such a large area? Because much of the climate in that region is semi-arid, making cultivation of conventional row crops nearly impossible, and cattle herding a necessity.
  • And how about the ultimate irony, the native tribes of the Amazon Basin in South America? While animal activists (properly) decry the encroachment of those tribes’ traditional rainforest homeland, I’ve yet to hear a single one connect the reality that those who insist on vegetarian diets are encouraging substitution of animal foods with plant proteins such as soy — the cultivation of which is the reason Amazon tribes have been displaced!

Potter asks if these and other subsistence farmers are now supposed to abandon all that and listen to grandiose vegan townies sat on their backsides on comfy sofas thousands of miles away in London? 

Cruelty cases fuel the vegans’ publicity because they are convinced that dairy cows are mistreated and abused. Nuffield Sponsored Scholar Tom Levitt focussed attention on the calf culling issue in an  article for The Guardian, Now this comment won’t be popular, but we need to re-think the treatment of bull calves because headlines like this do nothing to promote sales of our valuable product. It’s almost inevitable that more retailers and processors will impose blanket bans on the culling of calves at birth – a month later came news that a such a process may be underway.

Ian Potter advocates a pragmatic approach

It doesn’t matter that we may not think there are ethical issues about killing bobby calves and that it is just a result of market forces, or that we don’t accept the stresses on world resources from meat production is a growing concern. Others DO care. And DO act. Greenpeace, for example, is calling for a decrease in dairy production and consumption for a healthier planet and, unless we do, they claim we are putting our health, our children’s health, and the health of our planet at risk.

Anti-dairy groups and activists are unlikely to disappear into the sunset and could explode in numbers, so it requires a total industry buy-in, because if we ignore it we will simply get bitten more frequently, harder, and in more sensitive places.

The fact is that some farmers need to wake up and smell the coffee and realise how they treat their animals, and how their farm looks to the general public are all important for the image of dairy. 

Ian Potter’s article may be read here: May 2018






Dig deep for fair pay on farms: Felicity Lawrence







Advice from Ireland: “We must change our ways to make emissions fall and farmers’ incomes rise”


“The present system is not serving family farmers well. Young people are leaving the land in droves. For the second time in five years Ireland has had to import fodder to feed its animals. Farmers’ incomes are on the floor while everyone else profits from their work. We are overstocking our land and pushing an intensive model that is damaging our soil”.

So writes Eamon Ryan in the Times (left), an Irish Green Party politician who has served as Leader of the Green Party since May 2011 and as Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources from 2007 to 2011. He believes in a green future for Irish farming and rural life and in family farmers as the ‘frontline heroes’ in meeting the great environmental challenges we face.

We must change our ways to make emissions fall and farmers’ incomes rise

Forthcoming changes to the Common Agricultural Policy will allow us to make these reforms and pay farmers properly for doing the right thing. We should start by ensuring that we put a price on the carbon that stays stored in fields, bogs and trees. It is a chance to direct money to the least advantaged parts of our country.

We have an obligation to slow runaway climate change and can face these challenges knowing that the evolutionary leap we need to take will also be the best way to provide for the people of rural Ireland.

Farmers will become experts in planting and maintaining a new national forest, where native trees are grown in a way that allows for natural seeding, extraction and regeneration. It will be full of biodiversity and a great addition to the Wild Atlantic Way. The forest can be a park for locals and visitors alike, far better than the dark and impenetrable coniferous plantations that are clear-felled every 35 years.

Those farmers will also be paid for restoring the quality of our water. By monitoring everything that is done on the land, we can find solutions to the floods and droughts coming our way with climate change.

The prime minister rejected a citizens’ assembly recommendation last week that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture should be taxed, and the revenue generated be used for climate-friendly farming policies. The governing party. Fine Gael, is all about supporting big business, so it is happy to protect the status quo.

At some point, though, farmers are going to realise that they are not being well represented. The best plan is to go green.

Ryan’s recommendations are relevant even to those who leave the European Union.





March visitors


People from six countries visited the site in March.

There were twice as many visitors from the USA as from the next largest, UK


France has announced that at least half of all food bought by the public sector must be organic or locally produced  

In February, as sales of organic food continue to rise in France and are reaching ‘record levels’ in England, the French Agricultural Minister Stéphane Travert announced the new rules as part of measures to boost the French farming sector, and to improve diets.

Britain’s organic market celebrates sixth year of growth

The Organic Research Centre has shared news of the Soil Association’s 2018 Organic Market Report which reveals that the UK organic market is now worth £2.2 billion, growing 6% in 2017. The market has had six years of steady growth, with organic accounting for 1.5% of the total UK food and drink market.

In 2017, the amount of farmland in conversion to organic rose 22% as farmers responded to the rise in demand for organic produce.






Britain’s organic market celebrates sixth year of growth


The Organic Research Centre has shared news of the Soil Association’s 2018 Organic Market Report which reveals that the UK organic market is now worth £2.2 billion, growing 6% in 2017.

The market has had six years of steady growth, with organic accounting for 1.5% of the total UK food and drink market.

In 2017, the amount of farmland in conversion to organic rose 22% as farmers responded to the rise in demand for organic produce

And with payment windows now open for Countryside Stewardship in England and the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme in Scotland, the amount of farmland being converted to organic is expected to keep rising, particularly in light of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan which calls for agriculture that supports the natural environment.

Key trends highlighted in the report include:

  • Supermarket sales of organic grew by 4.2% in 2017
  • Independent retailers increased sales of organic by 9.7%, and sales for home delivery, including box schemes, grew by 9.5%
  • Sales in foodservice (which includes catering and restaurants) grew by 10.2%
  • Dairy sales increased by 3.1%, and still have the highest share of the organic food and drink market at nearly 29%
  • Sales of meat, fish and poultry grew by 4.1%
  • Fresh produce, up 6.5%, had the highest value growth, equating to over £20m in sales

Millennials are now said to be the biggest customer group

Adam Wakeley of Organic Farm Foods said: “Organic fruit has been a star performer over the past year, and we’ve certainly seen all of fresh organic produce grow. One reason is down to an evolving consumer profile – millennials are now our biggest customer group, and they show a huge interest in food provenance and health. They understand that having food grown in an environmentally friendly way is a good thing. We believe their attitude is here to stay and will continue to drive growth in the future.”

This year has seen booming sales in independent retail and home delivery. Expanding online ranges and growing interest in box schemes, means that these areas are now growing at a faster rate than supermarket sales and between them account for almost 30% of the organic market.  Logo:

For some farmers these alternative routes to market, coupled with the increased consumer interest in food provenance, have been crucial to their success.

A press release on 15 March 2018 records that the English Organic Forum has written to Environment Secretary of State Michael Gove as he prepared to address the Prosperity UK Green Brexit Conference in London on Thursday 15th March.

The English Organic Forum represents organic organisations and businesses including: Abacus Agriculture Ltd.; Biodynamic Association; EcoS Consultancy; Future Sustainability; Garden Organic; Institute of Organic Training and Advice; Land Workers’ Alliance; Organic Arable; Organic Farmers and Growers CIC; Organic Food Federation; Organic Growers Alliance; Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative; Organic Research Centre; Organic Trade Board; Soil Association; Triodos Bank; SA Cert Ltd.; UK Organic Certifiers Group.

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The English Organic Forum letter emphasises that the UK is lagging behind its major European competitors in the development of organic food and farming. It sets out why stronger support for organic farming would be a significant opportunity to deliver both economic and environmental benefits, consistent with government policy aspirations.

Nic Lampkin, chair of the forum and director of the Organic Research Centre, says: “The UK needs to up its game and focus more on organic food and farming if it is to reach its ambition for a new agricultural policy that delivers public goods as well as economic benefits. Organic food and farming is closely aligned to the Government’s key aspiration of a ‘Green Brexit’. We would like to have seen more focus on organic, with all its benefits, in the consultation proposals on future food and farming policy.”

Adrian Blackshaw, chair of the Organic Trade Board says: “Many EU countries have seen 20% market growth rates in recent years, with market shares approaching 10% of food sales. Clearly we have some catching up to do just to satisfy growing consumer demand.” Organic farming accounts for 6.7% of farmland under production in the EU (UK 3%). Italy, Sweden and Austria are between 15-20%. President Macron has declared a target of 22% of French farmland to be organic by 2022 and the German government coalition agreement includes a target of 20% of German agriculture to be organic by 2030.

Roger Kerr, CEO of Organic Farmers and Growers, was surprised that organic wasn’t more widely identified in the consultation documents. Organic production is backed up by a legal regulation with annual inspections, certification and verification. With this robust approach Defra can have confidence in organic food and farming delivering both economic benefits and public goods for all.”

The 2017 Out to Lunch report found that organic food had doubled on the high street, with twelve out of the twenty-five restaurant chains surveyed using organic ingredients – up from six in the previous report.

Helen Browning, Soil Association chief executive, said: “Trust is something that’s increasingly important: people want to understand where their food has come from, how it has been produced, and more and more shoppers want to buy local and British. The customer is increasingly interested in the provenance and traceability of their food, and this is an area organic can really deliver on . . . And the growing recognition of organic food and drink in restaurants and cafes creates opportunities for organic farmers to access new markets here at home.”