Nature before profit.. Or say goodbye to profits and life as we know it!
In many people’s eyes, to farm is to be at one with nature. To work the land is to truly understand it, to care for the animals is to truly love them… Unfortunately, that is not really the case. Farming is actually one of the biggest polluters and destroyers of biodiversity. It is responsible for a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions, large scale deforestation and regular use of pesticides & fertilisers also destroy entire local and international ecosystems. Farming is also a big producer of plastic waste through bailage wrapping, and the cherry on the top, is that farming is the biggest cause of antibiotic resistance in the wild and in humans.
Ah, I hear you say! if only farming was like what it used to be back in my days… Well actually back in the days, farming was much, much worse… Even in the UK. From the 50s onward farming had been on a downward spiral of environmental destruction. Overstocking and unnatural feeds led to the proliferation of diseases (resulting in Mad Cow, Foot an Mouth); hedgerows and forest habitats were cut, pesticides decimated bees and many other invertebrates, rivers were killed through poaching and nitrification. Back in the day, you did not go to the recycling center to dispose of your plastics, engine oils, medications, pesticides; you just buried it all in your fields or dumped it in the river. In the last farm I managed, I spent month disposing correctly of decades worth of chemicals and buried plastics, and the same again at Elevage Jolivet.
Things have been getting slowly better though. Tight regulations on land poaching, fertiliser spreading and pesticides has brought rivers back from the brink. Environmental subsidies schemes as helped farmers in keeping hedgerows healthy and promote biodiversity. Legal duties on waste disposal is also helping in ensuring plastics and old tires do not end up in the countryside. More efficient tractors are helping reduce CO2 and other noxious gases been pumped into the environment. Although livestock themselves, are the biggest producer of greenhouse gases in farming through burping out methane. The next big issue being tackled is now the use of antibiotics.
Things are not changing as fast in the rest of the world, although ground reclamation (cutting down forests) due to agriculture is down across the globe, Antibiotics are still used extensively in the USA for example and rivers in China are notoriously polluted. The international transport of food is also incredibly polluting. Just the five largest ship in the world produce more C02 in a year than all the cars in the world produce in the same time frame! Air freight is no better.
So yes, things are getting better, but there is still a long way to go. Technological advancements and international regulations are helping, but a cultural change in the general public is needed to really push the environmental agenda and also reduce food wastage. Farmers would have a easier time looking after the environment if they were not messed around by supermarkets and by stupid requests as to how a “carrot” should look, resulting in thousands upon thousands of tons of food not being sold every year!
At the other end of the spectrum, it would help if those said to be protecting the environment did not use “fake news” or dodgy science to advocate an extreme view. For example, I recently saw a photo from PETA of a calf being shot with a bolt gun, with the tag line, “bye bye little baby”. Only problem was, it was not a bolt gun but a de-horner, a standard procedure, carried under anaesthetic to remove the horn-buds from a calf so he can go play with his fellow calves without injuring them!
In an ideal world, people would shop local, buying fresh produce from small scale producers in a “short circuit” system. This is a system pushed by the French government. This does work well in an economy already based on small to medium sized farms where locals still have high levels of disposable income, it is not however going to feed the world. Large scale farms are here to stay. There is simply to many mouths to feed, and in most of the world, this needs to be done cheaply. There is no reason why these farms cannot lead and innovate when it comes to the environment though. It is really in their interest to do so, as there is a real risk ,that within our lifetimes, antibiotic resistance or destruction of biodiversity could lead to the end of farming and a very hungry and sick world population. Genetically Modified crops are hailed as the way forward, but I am undecided. The question is, what is better, the use of pesticides or the us of GM? I don’t know the answer to that. There is a risk with GM however, that we will not know the answer until it is too late, which is exactly what happened with the introduction of pesticides from the 50s to 70s.
So, here at the farm, protecting nature and the environment comes joint first with animal welfare. Our profits are used to maintain as many of the wildlife habitats as we can. We have designated areas where we do not clear or graze. These include woodlands, wildflower meadows and wetlands. We maintain all the dry stone walls (great snake and lizard habitats) around the fields as well as the hedgerows. We use scientifically proven methods to maintain biodiversity by spreading fertiliser correctly and maintaining grazing methods that support wildflowers, who in turn support bees and insects. Our many Facebook and Twitter updates should show you how excited we get when we spot wildlife! Farming was a promoter of biodiversity, but we have to go back 100s and 100s of years, where agriculture helped create these habitats such as dry stone walls,hedgerows and wildflower meadows.
One of our first jobs on the farm was to clear a natural spring. It had been completely destroyed some decades ago. Barbed wire, fencing and a couple of trees had just been pushed into it. Some plastic had also been abandoned there for some reason. As a result the spring had turned into a smelly bog. The team went ahead and cleared it up to re-create a lovely natural pool of clean water. Now aquatic plants are growing within again, and I have already spotted 3 deer drink from it, a frog burying itself at the bottom to hibernate and a couple of Fire Salamanders walk to it to get ready for mating. It might not be much, but it all adds up. If we can do that on our small farm, imagine what good large farms could do!