Category Archives: Agricultural land

A farmer reflects: “corporate leviathans threaten the rural economy . . . export expertise not food”

 

James Odgers’s letter to the Financial Times addresses the assumption that all economic growth must be good. He opens:

“Unbridled corporate power is at the heart of an ever-fiercer anger felt by many, and by millennials in particular, who view the growth and influence wielded by large corporations as malignant rather than benign. They place less emphasis on mere profit and more on the need to belong, to be part of a community”.

As a small-scale farmer in the south-west of England he is seeking to establish a sustainable model of farming post-Brexit that allies share farming with mutuality and stand in direct opposition to ever-larger farms selling to the multiple retailers.

He and others similarly placed have been amazed at the lack of political opposition to the proposed tie-up between Asda and Sainsbury’s as the competition authorities seem to be craven when faced with the power of these leviathans of commerce and ruefully reflects:

”The rural economy has been almost wholly destroyed by what is clearly an oligopoly and yet we are told that there is sufficient competition between these vast concerns to meet the needs of consumers”.

In another interview Odgers, from Stream Farm, Broomfield, points out that whilst prices in the supermarkets increased by 50% over a recent period of 7 years, the price at the farm gate rose only 12% and every new supermarket store that opens results in a net loss of 226 full, local livelihoods – mostly small-scale family businesses that have had to be closed – and the local communities have suffered accordingly.

His mission: to establish as many basic farming businesses as possible on the land and hand them on to those who want to farm, perhaps have tried and failed in the past, and to encourage them to earn a livelihood and by helping each other to produce the very best food.  So far 8 businesses have been set up: beef, lamb, chicken, pork, rainbow trout, apple juice, honey and spring water, still and sparkling.  He is keen to start on vines and perhaps crayfish. To read in more detail use this link.

Share farming is a microfinance model in which a farmer (often referred to as the owner) with land and fixed equipment enters into an agreement with another farmer (operator) who provides labour and machinery. The profit from the agreement is split between the two or an alternative compromise is reached. It gives each farmer the opportunity to run their own business and earn a livelihood from their share of gross income and the owner recovers, slowly, the costs of capital invested.

We could feed ourselves in this country and help the poor in other parts of the world if all farming were to be organic, if we took out the profiteering supermarkets, and farmers were paid a fair price for their produce.

  • It need be no more expensive for the consumer – our Dexter beef box is at least £60 cheaper than the equivalent cuts in Waitrose.
  • If we stopped wasting as much as we waste and demanding out-of-season and perfect-looking produce, there would be more food than we need.
  • If there were large numbers of small farmers helping each other as happens at Stream Farm, communities would be enhanced and the countryside would become vibrant and would require many more farmers.
  • And if we stopped pouring onto our land and into our animals chemicals that have no place to be there, we might all be a sight healthier too!

It is expertise that we should export from this tiny island of ours, rather than feeling we have an obligation to feed the world by unsustainable farming practices that are causing an ever-greater environmental deficit.

 

 

 

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Brexit could boost British farming

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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. 

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/bde16d6a-2772-11e8-9274-2b13fccdc744

 

 

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Clarification to the mailing list and visitors to the website

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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 https://nutritionfacts.org/2015/02/17/organic-milk-and-prostate-cancer/

Had I been presenting my own views (predominantly vegetarian) I’d be recommending locally grown, seasonal, organically produced food. Pulled from the web: https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/organic-milk-is-healthier-than-conventional-milk-study-says/

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”.

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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.

 

 

 

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

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“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.

 

 

 

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March visitors

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People from six countries visited the site in March.

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

 TOP POSTS IN MARCH WERE RELATED TO THE GROWING TAKE-UP OF ORGANIC FOOD

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.

 

 

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Farming news from analysts and practitioners

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Professor Nic Lampkin, Executive Director of the Organic Research Centre,  responded to George Monbiot’s article, Insectageddon: farming is more catastrophic than climate breakdown:

“He is right on many levels, but what he does not state is that we already have an armoury of solutions to resolve many of the problems that are creating this potential ‘insectageddon’:

“At the Organic Research Centre, we undertake cutting-edge science on agroecological approaches, including the provision of habitats on farms to support insects including pollinators and pest predators, to resolve the environmental conflicts caused by unsustainable farming practices. Farming and wildlife don’t need to be separated – they can be integrated to mutual benefit, as they have been for hundreds of years in European agriculture giving rise to the insect and bird populations which are now in decline.

“Our work with farmers shows that many are already engaged in taking up the challenge for the benefit of providing quality food and protecting the environment.

“But this all comes at a cost. Funding for quality research on sustainable farming, focusing in particular on ecological rather than technological innovation and the means to deliver the results on the ground, is in short supply, especially when short-termism by policy makers is the name of the game. Depressingly, the environment is the ultimate loser and farmers get the blame.

“To implement these solutions, we desperately need the will of policy makers and consumers to trigger change”. http://slideplayer.com/slide/5857449/

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The road to food sovereignty

Pat Mooney, Canadian author or co-author of several books on the politics of biotechnology and biodiversity and Nnimmo Bassey, Nigerian architect and environmentalist activist, outline the concerns of three United Nations organisations in the New Internationalist:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QE4ubI5XkA4

Their solution for both climate and food sovereignty: “Dismantle the global industrial agri-food system. Governments must give more space to the already growing and resilient interlinked network of small-scale farmers, livestock-keepers, pastoralists, hunters and gatherers, fishers and urban producers who, our research shows, already feed most of the world”. The term ‘peasant web’ is used by the authors to include all these food producers.

The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC) has published a report: ‘Who Will Feed Us?’ (download link). Some remarkable statistics are given in the report and listed here.

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In Agricology, another organisation, farmers and researchers are sharing knowledge to work towards more resource efficient, resilient and profitable agricultural systems

Over 20 UK organisations are working (see here) on practical, sustainable farming, regardless of labels. Agricology is led by the Game and Wildlife Trust, The Daylesford Foundation and the Organic Research Centre.

A 2014 seminar covered the important role of earthworms in helping to improve soil structure; the improved drainage and cultivation implications of improved soil structure; the beneficial effects on soil structure and soil organic matter (SOM) levels of introducing cover crops into rotations; improving the farm drainage system and knock-on benefits in relation to drilling and improved black-grass control; the importance of waiting for soil to dry out before working it, avoiding compaction; and the impacts of increasing SOM on soil erosion, run-off and soil structure.

The first seminar in 2018 will cover:

  • Herbal leys and pasture fed livestock in arable systems.
  • Experimenting with ley species mixtures for dairy, forage, and soil health.
  • Integrating livestock to graze herbal leys, cover crops, and manage arable weeds.
  • Diverse leys and building soil organic matter.
  • Monitoring the impact of leys on soil health.

Their conclusion: “In response to increasing challenges including declining soil fertility, problem weeds such as blackgrass and increasing cost of inputs, there is a need to rethink the way we farm. Agricology supports farmers and growers to transition to more resilient, sustainable farming systems, bringing together research and farmer experience on agroecological practices (such as reduced tillage, cover crops and reintegrating livestock) to replace inputs with knowledge”.

 

 

 

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The World Must Detoxify Its Toxic Farmlands: Devinder Sharma

Plenary address at the 19th Organic World Congress, New Delhi, Nov 19-11, 2017

“Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us… this is a reality we have to face.”  Xi Jinping, President of China

The evidence is all there. With soil fertility declining to almost zero in intensively farmed regions; excessive mining of groundwater sucking aquifers dry; and chemical inputs, including pesticides, becoming extremely pervasive in environment, the entire food chain has been contaminated. Further, as soils become sick, forests are logged for expanding industrial farming, erosion takes a heavy toll[1] leading to more desertification. With crop productivity stagnating thereby resulting in more chemicals being pumped to produce the same harvest, the farmlands have turned toxic. Modern agriculture has become a major contributor to Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) leading to climate aberrations.

Read on here: https://foodvitalpublicservice.wordpress.com/world-must-detoxify-its-toxic-farmlands-devinder-sharma/

 

 

 

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