Sunday, 26 November 2017

Thats another fine mess we've got ourselves into ...

What mess? 

Actual real people working in the countryside, a rareish site nowadays. We have a local marine base nearby, and the scary Chinook (?) helicopters often seem to divert their flight path to take in this holding ... Someone told me, that they do that because it's good practice for locking onto targets for battle scene scenarios... I don't know how much real truth there is in this macabre motivation, they're most likely just after an eyeful of the hot totty that works here, but if true, i'm not at all happy with aiding and abetting the military machine .

The rather large mess we've made of our system of producing and consuming food.

We can't continue doing it the way we're doing it. its just not sustainable.
But what can we do about it?

I've been involved in many discussions over the last few years, both in real life, and online, regarding how we move from our present, planet trashing, methods of agriculture towards a system that regenerates, whilst feeding our population (not just the lucky few) in a wholesome, satisfying way.

This isn't about self denial, or taking the pleasure out of food. 
On the contrary, good food should be at the centre of our civilisation, its what binds us all. 

The cultural differences in how we produce, cook, and eat food are fascinating in themselves.

But we all eat, (three times a day, if we're lucky) so the cumulative effects are massive, and current methods of purely profit driven modern agriculture are not sustainable in any way, not to the planet, nor to society.

The case against industrial agrichemical aggro'culture' and the harms that it causes have been made countless times over. 

The evidence of degredation in terms of soil loss, climate change, ecosystems breakdown, human health, and destruction of food cultures, is well documented.

But we seem unable to acknowledge this, or prepared to do anything about it.

I guess farming, and food production for most of us, is just seen as something that goes on 'over there' which results in us having this food 'over here' on our plates, or on the supermarket shelves.
Government departments, and officials, are by their very nature, bound up in city and office life. 

And if they think about farming and the countryside at all, they perhaps view it as a nice green, and fluffy thing happening somewhere else, its somewhere to go and recreate in at the weekend .... Hmmn

But we can't continue in this way. 

For example...

Between 2010 and 2015 there has been a 9% decline in birds living and breeding on the UK's farmland.

I've compiled just a few extracts from various online discussions around this subject... 

Firstly in direct response to the above....

All produced here, and in no way a chore to consume.
On birds, or rather their decline..

And lo, it did come to pass...
All the eco-mageddon that us tedious hairshirted greenies have been predicting for decades.
Gives absolutely no satisfaction in being right though.
We could maybe turn this round, if we stop dithering and waiting for 'further evidence' of the harm done...
Put the need for decent nutritious food for everyone at the heart of government policy making. Instead of worrying about export markets.
Shorten supply chains, so that good quality food, grown in a sustainable way, need be no more expensive to the consumer than at present, if a fair share of that money goes back to the farmer or grower, instead of the multiples, so that the supposed custodians of the countryside can be just that.

Supermarkets mainly supply cheap agri-industrially produced, over-processed calories, great for their profits, pretty much pants for public health, and ecology.
I was at a conference just lately where some high up defra officials were suggesting that we really need to combine our efforts around farming. ecology, and rural regeneration to get ourselves out of the mess we've made.
Well no sh*t guys...
 Alternative methods of farming folk have been saying the same, since forever, and been derided as 'starry eyed dreamers' unrealistic, and standing in the way of progress.
Progress it turns out is a race to the bottom in terms of poor food quality, soil degredation, ecosystems breakdown, and an ageing and dispirited farming population.  With very little opportunity for new entrants who might like to help turn things around, but whom have almost zero opportunity so to do...
There are plenty of people out here with ideas and energy to make things better. But this will require the behemoth of industrial agriculture to be dismantled.
 To allow a return of mixed, integrated farming systems that give proper weight to ecology, and social goods, and are not all about profit for the few.

This little farmlet does make a modest living, and is very productive for the acreage, whilst being stuffed full of bugs n birds.
 { in response to someone suggesting that maybe we need more regulation , rather than bribes, or subsidies for farmers}
 A lot of farmers are not even covering the cost of production.
Agri - environment schemes tend to benefit the larger landowner with the time and wherewithawl to implement them, and to do the necessary form filling, and hoop jumping.
We have done lots of tree planting, and other ecologically beneficial things here, but most of it is costly in time, and finances to us.
It does mean there are a lot of bugs and birds hereabouts, but bugs n birds, don't pay bills...
We do it mostly cos it seems like the right thing to do. But we have recieved zero pounds support for our efforts.
Holdings under 5ha get no financial support whatsoever.
There is presently no upper limit on area payments. So if you own a lot of land you get a lot of money, in return for ?

 Yes you guessed it, you get paid for the privilege of being rich enough to own it... No wonder the price of land has skyrocketed in the last ten years.
It's a great investment, if you have spare money to spend.
Maybe payments need to be based on supporting productive farmers producing wholesome food, in a way that doesn't trash ecosystems, and that enhances the fabric of rural life.
How we achieve this is complicated, but it could be done.
One of the major problems is that this will disrupt the business as usual system of land ownership and control.
Who has the most power to change things?
The very same people who are quite happy to see business as usual continue ...

{ In response to an understandably, weary sounding dairy farmer, who felt he was being attacked for not doing his bit for wildlife, whilst feeling totally underappreciated for his food production labours,} 

 .... I was sticking up for you.
I am well aware of the woeful situation in the dairy industry, and dairy farmers being nailed to the floor in terms of milk price, by contracts such that Arla or the big multiples operate.

As someone from Farmers for Action was saying only the other day, you guys need to work together, to stop yourselves being shafted. And get the public onside too.
The public really needs to care about how their food is being produced, and by whom, and not to just hope that everything is OK; it really isn't
There's way too much power in too few hands , the bully boy multiples and big processors need regulating, and the consumer needs to be there to support the farmer, especially the small, to medium scaled independant farmer
And yes when we Brexit there will be even less regulation, allowing most likely low quality milk powder, and products onto the UK market.
The UK public claims to care about animal welfare, and the environment, but when they get to the shelf in the supermarket, this is conveniently forgotten.
Operating under WTO (World Trade Organisation) conditions, will most likely be a death knell for the home dairy industry, which in many cases is only keeping going because of EU area payments.
And under present market conditions, there's never any money left over for reinvestment in essential infrastructure.
I do know how much it costs to refurb a milking parlour
I have spent periods in my farming career milking cows for other farmers, I know how much hard work and dedication it takes, and the pride that farmers generally take in animal welfare and keeping the farm in as good a state as is possible, whilst still having to pay the same ol drear bills that everyone else does.
Support should be given to productive farmers. (Which isn't always the landowner - but they usually get the dosh) Farmers should be paid fairly for their quality produce - cut out or at least massively regulate the profiteering middle man.
The Groceries Code Adjudicator should actually have some teeth to ensure this.
And a simplified form of payments made to encourage practices beneficial to wildlife.
Without it requiring a full time paid farm staff member to oversee.

Followed by this
When I was at agricultural college thirty years ago we were fed such gems as
"Soil is just the substrate in which you stand plant roots, whilst you feed them with chemicals"
"The farm is just a factory floor for production like any other industrial unit."
"FYM ( farm yard manure) has very little plant feeding capacity compared with this bagged nitrogen, and now lets do the lab tests to prove it."
{Absolutely no mention that the atmosphere is full of Nitrogen ( for free!) and that if you use that FYM and other amendments wisely the soil and its life will feed the plants just fine.}
This and many other exciting modern methods, which bypass natural systems were promoted , and still are , only now its biotech, and GM - which is not the exact and controlled science that its proponents would like to suggest - i've spoken to ex- GM scientists who have some terrifying 'cock up' stories to tell..
Trying to farm in a ecosystem, and bank balance friendly way is extremely difficult in todays climate. Even if you have a good solid direct sales customer base, thirty years of hands on experience, and lots of willing help.
Not all of us can supplement our income through 'doing the right thing' for a short while, then writing nice books about it, although i did enjoy John Lewis Stempels offering, [ someone mentioned {The Running Hare, which I read sometime last year... as it wasn't the usual rural fantasy, harking back to the never really existed good old days nonsense.
But he did inherit his farm so presumably he has no mortgage to pay on it?
Don't blame the farmers, so much, they've been shoved about, being told what to do by various bodies, 'we know better than you' experts and commercially interested agri-business salespeople.
They are operating in a market that has commodified food, and like anyone else they need to make a living, and don't wish to be derided as backward thinking, alternative crackpots.
Now of course they're shoved about by supermarkets, who dictate prices. Most consumers have no real idea of the larger environmental and social costs of the cheap convenient food theyre buying.
Until more people take a real interest, buy accordingly, and tell government that they give a sh*t about these things, then nothing will likely change.

Someone asked what if anything was being done to address the shortfall in British grown fresh produce.
I directed them to some of the solutions being offered here.

Smaller scale regenerative agriculture, has often been derided as 'playing at farming', or irrelevant, or uneconomic, or unproductive, especially in our get bigger or get out system of 'aggro'culture.
Well it isn't actually so in reality.
Natural systems self regulate and keep themselves. within sustainable and workable bounds, if they are over exploited, or over worked then the system collapses. Its basic physics and biology, when you think about it.
And so it is, with the way agriculture needs to re-culture itself.
Most people instinctively know this, and are drawn towards more diverse, interconnected ways of working, that doesn't exclude the natural world from having its fair share of space and resources..
Yes these ways of working can be more complicated, and require more skilled, people to operate them.
But isn't fulfilling, meaningful, useful work what many people crave?
Aren't we aiming to create more jobs?
Not to say it isn't hard graft sometimes, but if the workload can be shared, and more of that profit margin can go back to the farmer or grower, then it doesn't have to mean much higher prices to the consumer.
Produce from this farm is sold direct to the customer, they get a good deal and get very fresh veg. The business makes a modest living and employs local people too.
Plus, i spend absolutely zero on gym fees :)

Growing and farming on a more human scale , means that people from non traditional farming backgrounds are more likely to want to get to get involved. Voluntary work, and training experiences, can turn into job opportunities. and encourage new entrants to consider farming and growing as a valuable, and valid career option..  

Arising from a question as to whether organic food production can reasonably be expected to feed our population 

In the long run organic growing is more productive, in all senses of the word, if done properly.

But it is generally more labour, and skill intensive,
Its about using methodologies that build soil in the long term.
People want cheap food,

The supermarkets with their overarching power, and market control, mean that producers are running at very slim margins. With very little wiggle room left for such niceities as wildlife conservation, or worrying about rural jobs.
Those 'bogoff' offers are funded in the main, by the producer not the supermarket for instance.
On average only 8% of retail price goes to the primary producer.
Most farmers are relying on area payments (CAP money) to continue farming, as the cost of production is just about met by farm gate prices.
Farmers have been instructed ( by banks, and society in general ) to run their business like any other - short term profits, or at least bills paid ( if they're lucky)
they have not been encouraged to farm for the future health of the environment or soil health.
This situation will continue so long as food is seen as just another commodity, rather a central underpinning element of human health, society.
Current agricultural practices have a massively debilitating effect on the environment, and human health.
Until this is recognised and we are collectively willing to act (and buy) accordingly this will never change.
The trouble is government ministers, and officials are by their nature urban creatures.
Farmers, and rural folk in general are often seen as somewhat backwards, rustic props to their bucolic fantasies about the countryside, and what its for..

Taken a couple of years back, but you get the idea... Compact, purposeful, productive, and profitable.

Feeding the local community with wholesome food that it wants and needs. Making room for wildlife and people,  and generating a livable income ... What is not to like?  So why is there not more of this kind of thing going on?

i have paraphrased the interjections from various interlocutors, and even edited some of my own responses so as to avoid so much repetition 
{and corrected any spelling and grammar mis-usages that makes me unhappy. :-) 

There's lots more, to be compiled and edited at a future date, the debate is unfolding, but the public need to get involved, and show that they care about this stuf ... On top of having to care about everything else that needs attention.

But food, and how it's produced is a pivotal issue, we notice pretty quickly, when enough of the decent stuff isn't there. 
Lets not find ourselves in that situation.

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