Industrial Farming

Easter will long be gone when you read this but, as I write, it is Good Friday and it is damp and cold. Last episode I confidently predicted spring, triggered by the annual appearance of our nesting duck. Since then our Chestnut tree leaves have just broken their sticky buds and the Wheatear has appeared on its way from North Africa to the Arctic Circle. Spring is still coming but has had a serious wobble in the last few days; nature seems to have pulled the duvet back over her head for a bit more shut eye after an initial look out of the window. I don’t blame her though. Roll on warm, sunny, scented, bee humming spring days!

Field work on the farm is up to date, given the late season, thanks to high capacity equipment and a willingness to work long hours in the short weather windows presented recently. Crop growth will ‘explode‘ once the air and soil temperatures rise.

In late February we visited ‘The Real Van Gogh; The Artist And His Letters’ exhibition at the Royal Academy. It was a fascinating, if overcrowded, experience and showed the development of his self taught style alongside correspondence, mainly with his brother, as his art developed towards the famous pictures we most associate with him. I was interested in his early drawings made in Holland where his upbringing ‘taught him to observe and love nature and see in it deeper truths‘.

The text running alongside the artwork made some interesting statements; for example:

“From the outset, Van Gogh was attracted to simple folk who lived close to nature.“

“With these monumental figures of farm labourers at harvest time, Van Gogh achieved his goal of depicting the heroic quality of peasant life.”

Read today, these comments seem rather patronizing but no doubt at the time they may have been fair. It got me thinking about how those working on farms are perceived today by the ‘man / woman in the street‘ whoever he or she might be. The popular portrayal of life and work in the countryside by media savvy young farmers hides the reality of the understated, businesslike application of most farmers who form the quiet and unseen backbone of food production and countryside management in the U K.

Have you heard about the storm created by the announcement of a planning application being prepared by Nocton Dairies to set up an 8,100 high yielding cow dairy unit, eight miles south of Lincoln?

Somehow, in this context, big is seen by some as automatically bad with vociferous campaigners claiming there will be animal welfare and environmental problems; or that farming should return to small family run units. Presumably returning to the heroic peasant life of Van Gogh’s paintings

As an ex and profitable dairy farmer you will not be surprised to hear my views on this: but the constraints of space here mean you will have to wait for those in a later issue.

I was pleased to see the letter from John Chapman in the April issue in response to my comments on Climate Change. John introduces an interesting element which was not in fact implicit in my article, namely whether there are too many humans. This is a subjective topic, and I am not aware that there is a number which is commonly agreed upon that would be seen as either optimum or capacity. You could equally argue that the problem is more to do with inequality of wealth distribution and opportunity. It is a topic which can lead to all sorts of responses depending on whether you are living in relative luxury in the so called first world, or struggling to stay alive in the developing world. There need not be a direct correlation between numbers and waste if there are fundamental changes made to what creates waste and what is done with those waste products. I am not advocating a world population of 9 billion but I am advocating action that can conceivably improve the earth’s environment and increase its capacity to maintain life, rather than a tendency towards self satisfied complacency.

More to come in future issues on Industrial Farming and World Environmental Issues, interwoven with tales of the simple yet heroic peasant life down on the farm . . . .

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