18th March 2019

Farm News

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The short spell of warm weather in February was glorious and allowed some fieldwork to begin – mostly the first application of fertiliser in the form of nitrogen or sulphur. Both are essential nutrients that plants require to thrive and consequently yield to their potential. The sunshine was great but not enough to dry the soils in this Parish for cultivations and the planting of spring barley, beans and oats that will have to wait but with the day length increasing it will not be long.

One aspect of the current debate about food production that is overlooked is the relationship with our finite land area. The current Government policy is to reduce production on the existing national acreage by limiting the inputs that can be used and that obviously reduces the quantity of food produced nationally. This will have to be replaced by imported food which may be produced to the detriment of the local environment in that production area and or using production techniques that would be illegal in the UK – effectively we are exporting our food production to where we have no control over production standards.

Many fields now have grass margins around the edges which allow beneficial insects and mammals to use this habitat which is lower yielding. The aim is to concentrate production on land which is productive and allow the natural world to occupy the poorer areas. This widespread approach of farming sustainably has been practiced for years but is increasing annually and includes wildlife areas, low impact cultivations, careful monitoring so that inputs are applied only if thresholds have been passed – eg weed numbers and modern technology to aid accuracy.

If yields for all crops are reduced for example by 50% then obviously twice the acreage is needed to produce the same amount of food – unfortunately in this crowded island finding that land is not possible especially with the land areas now being built upon. A choice has to be made between UK food production vs imported food.

Profitable farms are thriving farms that can afford to invest in production and wildlife habitats, sustainability and public access need to be freed to do what they do best rather than being hobbled by bureaucrats. I have done a quick tally of the number of pages that have to be read and understood to complete the 2019 annual submission to the Government – 362 pages without going into any particularly obscure areas. If all the paperwork was included it would exceed 1000 pages. If farmers were allowed to get on with producing food and looking after the environment without answering lots of box ticking questions we would all be better off.

A partial list of the schemes and Regulations devised by Government that farmers have to adhere to – NVZ, ACCS, BCMS, FABBL, EA, BPS, Cross Compliance, Active Farmer Declarations, Field Data Sheets, Mid Tier Scheme, Higher Level Schemes, ELS, HLS, Land Use Codes, Ecological Focus Areas, Greening Regs, Crop Diversification – the 3 Crop Rule, Countryside Stewardship, Statutory Management Regs, IPM, Closed Periods, EAMUs, PA1 … PA11, Statutory Boxes, the abolition of Grandfather Rights – don’t ask!, Movement Records, CRD, HSE, Statutory Closed Periods etc etc.

Finally a few myth busting snippets –

  • 65% of UK Farmland is only suitable for growing grass and grazing livestock because it is too steep, wet or stony,
  • UK agriculture produces 10% of UK Greenhouse Emissions, transport is 26%, energy supply is 25% and business 17%,
  • Vegetarians say lots of water is used to produce beef – 85% of the water required to produce a kilo of beef is water falling on grass that the animal then eats – the rain will fall regardless and the grass grow,
  • grazing animals are blamed for greenhouse gas emissions. In the UK most beef and lamb systems rely upon grass as the feed – it is the cheapest – and the grass will grow regardless of the grazing animal. Once the grass has grown, if not eaten, it will eventually decompose releasing similar levels of greenhouse gases as the grazing animal but few humans eat grass so nobody has been fed and the end result is the same,
  • in 2017 there were 35,000 wildlife schemes in place on farms boosting biodiversity and enhancing the environment,
  • housing livestock in winter protects livestock and prevents soil damage in the wettest months (some believe animals should live outdoors 365 days a year),
  • as a nation the UK has the highest welfare standards in the world,
  • using a mobile phone has the same World Health Organisation warning of being possibly carcinogenic as glyphosate the widely used herbicide – whereas alcohol (and many other things) are probably carcinogenic.

This month’s question – should food imported into the UK match our standards of production, environmental stewardship, safety and welfare or is it OK to import food some of which would be deemed unsafe and illegal if produced in the UK?

Finally having hopefully raised a few issues I would like to invite, on a first come basis, Villagers to come on a visit to Hall Farm Grainstore, Holt Green, to look at what, why and how we look after the land in the surrounding area. The visit will include a tractor trip in a seated and covered trailer around some fields in mid spring growth to hear about the growing the crops, the countryside and hopefully see some wildlife with opportunities to ask questions. This visit will not be suitable for small children.

The proposed date is 2 pm on Saturday 11th May – max 60 people on a first come basis – please e mail wombatwidget@gmail.com or phone 564088 if you would like to book your place (s) to join us and leave your contact details so that we can confirm receipt of your application.

Julian Lewis

[Please note that this message is not posted on behalf of Bentworth Parish Council and does not necessarily reflect the Parish Council’s policy]

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