All posts by PeterT

Future Of British Farming Outside The EU

 Six game-changing ideas for the future of UK farming policy  ()

 

Today, Monday 20 March, we have launched a new report, setting out six proposals for domestic agricultural policy after the UK leaves the EU. These are game-changing ideas that have the potential to transform farming and land use at the scale and pace required to meet multiple challenges – from tackling climate change and nature degradation to supporting rural livelihoods and improving public health. Every farming practice we talk about here already happens on the ground in the UK, but is currently the exception rather than the norm.

Our proposals are:

  • a national agroforestry strategy
  • investing in soil
  • a tipping point for organic
  • a good life for farm animals
  • support for farmer innovation
  • making the most of public procurement

 

There is a growing consensus on some of the key principles that should underlie new policy:

  • We need to maintain high environmental and farm animal welfare standards.
  • Public money should pay for public goods such as clean water, farmland wildlife, carbon storage and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Government should maintain the overall annual farm payment budget of around £3.2 billion.
  • We need a joined up approach that looks at land in the round – farming, forestry, water, wilderness – taking account of public health, food poverty and international development.
  • Policies must work for farmers and growers, and help them move towards sustainable business models.
  • We need a renewed focus on supply chains to improve resilience, farmer incomes, and environmental sustainability.
  • Public participation in debate and decisions on the future of farming is critical.

What we really need now are some game-changing ideas – ideas that have the potential to transform the UK’s farming and land use on the scale and pace required.

Our report proposes six such ideas:

Proposal 1: a national agroforestry strategy

Agroforestry brings trees into fields. They can be in neat rows through crops, dotted through pasture like parkland, or planted closer together to provide cover for plants or animals.

Agroforestry is game-changing because it can increase yields and farm profitability, boost resilience through diversity, and deliver big environmental benefits at the same time. At scale, it would dramatically help mitigate soil erosion, nitrogen leaching, and biodiversity loss while increasing carbon sequestration. 

To deliver these benefits, the government should work with the agricultural, forestry and land use sectors to develop a national agroforestry strategy. This should include: 

  • A target of agroforestry on 50% of all farms by 2030.
  • Clear ownership and accountability within government.
  • Capital grants and maintenance payments.
  • Fiscal measures and procurement policies to grow the domestic market.
  • Incentives for longer term farm tenancies.
  • Investment in research, knowledge exchange and advice. 

Proposal 2: investing in soil

The fundamental importance of soil health to farm productivity, food security, climate change and public health has been neglected by government for far too long. Recent statements from UK ministers on soil health are welcome, but have not been matched by action.

The government’s existing soil health commitments provide a starting point for a new UK policy framework: the global 4 per 1000 soil carbon initiative, aiming to increase soil organic carbon by 0.4% each year; and the aim for all English soils to be managed sustainably and degradation threats tackled successfully by 2030.

Strong policies to restore and protect soil health in the UK’s post-CAP agricultural framework should include:

  • Soil stewardship payments to incentivise farmers to increase the organic matter in the soil – including through existing farm assurance schemes such as organic and LEAF.
  • Regular soil organic matter monitoring and reporting by farmers to form a well-maintained national database, alongside investment in soil health research, data collection and monitoring.
  • Encouraging soil health improvement by making it a requirement of tenancies that soil health is not degraded during their term.
  • A nitrogen budget for each nation of the UK – following Scotland’s lead.
  • Modelling and piloting of new mechanisms to lower nitrogen, such as fiscal measures.

 

Proposal 3: a tipping point for organic

The public benefits delivered by organic farming have been well documented by independent research over decades. They include more wildlife and biodiversity, healthier soils and carbon storage, flood protection, clean water, lower pesticide and antibiotic use, more jobs and healthier food.  

While only 3% of farmland in the UK is organic, British consumers are demanding more organic produce, with the UK organic food and drink market seeing four years of successive growth. With organic farmland more or less stable, much of this growth is being met by imports, particularly of raw materials for animal feed.

In some other countries, organic farming accounts for up to a fifth of production, and sets new norms for policy, business and the public. Reaching such a tipping point would be transformative. We propose an organic strategy for England, developed by government in partnership with the organic sector, which includes:

  • An expansion of organic promotion and marketing – including opportunities for export.
  • Maintaining, improving and expanding the organic conversion and maintenance payments, as currently operating under Countryside Stewardship for England.
  • A particular focus on increasing production of home-grown organic fruit and veg and animal feed, to meet demand and reduce the high reliance on imports.
  • Better procurement policies (see also Proposal 6).
  • Assessing the expansion of organic and other certification systems as a gateway to automatic eligibility for farmers to receive payments.
  • Research, innovation, knowledge sharing through ‘field labs’ and farming advisory services.
  • Encouraging agricultural colleges to offer more courses in organic and agroecological farming practices alongside new organic apprenticeships.
  • Maintaining the legal base for organic standards, ensuring alignment with the EU organic regulation.

 

Proposal 4: a good life for farm animals

Insisting on a good life for all farm animals as a core part of post-Brexit agricultural policy would be game-changing. It would mean switching to better farming systems, not just making tweaks, also brings benefits to public health through dietary changes.  

The Farm Animal Welfare Council defines three levels of welfare: a life not worth living, a life worth living, and a good life. A good life involves more than simply being free from pain or disease. It means ensuring animals have the choice to feel the sun on their backs and to follow their urges to care, graze, root and play.

The scale of indoor, intensive farms is increasing, pushing out smaller family farms to make way for industrial systems that affect local communities and the environment as well as the animals themselves.

We propose that the UK sets the ambition that all farm animals should have a ‘good life’ within ten years. Hand-in-hand with stronger regulation, this will require public investment to help farmers adjust their infrastructure and businesses. This will require:

  • Defining a good life by urgently supporting the development of a rigorous framework that can score farms, supply chains and assurance schemes against the tiers set out by the Farm Animal Welfare Council.
  • Mandatory method of production labelling to empower consumers, level the playing field and allow more farmers to shift from volume to quality production.
  • Banning the routine, preventative use of antibiotics in livestock farming and strict targets to reduce farm antibiotic use 50% by 2020, and 80% by 2050.
  • Incentives and funding to make the transition to extensive, high welfare farming systems, ensuring such systems are the most attractive option for farmers and investors.

 

Proposal 5:  back farmer innovation

The success of UK agriculture post-Brexit will depend on innovation by farmers. Policies should recognise and support this.

The starting point is that thousands of UK farmers already investigate, experiment, design and develop. Helping them share the risk and increase the rigour of this would benefit all of agriculture, at relatively low cost.

The UK spends around £450 million a year on agricultural research and innovation. Only a fraction of this, perhaps as little as 1%, goes to practical projects led by farmers. We propose:

  • A dedicated farmer innovation fund with a budget of at least 10% of the UK’s public agricultural research and development budget.
  • Innovation support services to help farmers apply and make the most of new funds, building on experience from other countries of doing this through the European Innovation Partnership (EIP-Agri), and of home-grown initiatives such as Innovative Farmers.
  • Rewarding practical research by incentivising individual researchers and institutions to pay more attention to the impact of their research, for example, through awards schemes for researchers working on farmer-led projects; training; and involvement of farmers and practitioners in reviewing research grant applications.

 

Proposal 6: making the most of public procurement

Making the most of public procurement could have a transformative impact. The UK public sector serves some 3.5 million meals each weekday across settings as varied as schools, nurseries, care homes, hospitals and prisons. In total, the public sector spends £2.4 billion each year procuring food and catering services across the UK.

While the cost of sourcing higher quality ingredients is perceived as a barrier, this can be counterbalanced by re-formulating menus. 71% of public sector institutions meeting Food for Life Served Here criteria report the implementation was cost neutral and 29% report overall cost savings. Research by the New Economics Foundation demonstrated £3 in social return for every £1 invested in Food for Life, with most of the benefit experienced by local businesses and local employers.

The UK could improve the health and food habits of the next generation by further upping ambitions for school food. It could also help drive demand for food that meets the highest standards, helping to achieve economies of scale in processing and lowering consumer prices. Government should help make this happen by:

  • Implementing the Balanced Scorecard approach across the whole public sector – not just central government.
  • Requiring public procurement decisions to place a weighting of at least 60% on quality, with price not to exceed a 40% weighting.
  • Comparing the cost-effectiveness of delivering public benefits through direct agri-environment payments to farmers compared with growing the demand for assured products such as organic through public procurement – with a view to topping up public catering budgets where cost is a genuine barrier.
  • Using schemes such as Food for Life Served Here for independent verification, to increase the uptake of assurance schemes and grow the market for more sustainable farming and food.

 

Let us know what you think about these proposals. 

Download the report summary here or the full report here.

Switching to organic farming could cut greenhouse gas emissions, study shows

Study also finds that converting conventionally farmed land would not overly harm crop yields or require huge amounts of additional land to feed rising populations

 
Employees work on a salad field on an organic farm in Brodowin, Germany
Employees work on a salad field on an organic farm in Brodowin, Germany. Photograph: Axel Schmidt/Getty Images

Converting land from conventional agriculture to organic production could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the run-off of excess nitrogen from fertilisers, and cut pesticide use. It would also, according to a new report, be feasible to convert large amounts of currently conventionally farmed land without catastrophic harm to crop yields and without needing huge amounts of new land.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that by combining organic production with an increasingly vegetarian diet, ways of cutting food waste, and a return to traditional methods of fixing nitrogen in the soil instead of using fertiliser, the world’s projected 2050 population of more than 9 billion could be fed without vastly increasing the current amount of land under agricultural production.

This is important, as converting other land such as forests, cerrado or peatlands to agricultural use would increase greenhouse gas emissions from the land. The authors found that an increase in organic farming would require big changes in farming systems, such as growing legumes to replenish nitrogen in the soil.

However, other scientists were cautious over endorsing the report’s findings, pointing out that the size of the world’s agricultural systems and their variability, as well as assumptions about future nutritional needs, made generalisations about converting to organic farming difficult to make.

Sir Colin Berry, emeritus professor of pathology at Queen Mary, University of London, said: “As for all models, assumptions have to be made and what weight you attach to which item can greatly change outcomes. The assumption that grassland areas will remain constant is a large one. The wastage issue is important but solutions, not addressed here, to post-harvest- pre-market losses will be difficult without fungicides for grains. Some populations could do with more protein to grow and develop normally, despite the models here requiring less animal protein.”

 

Les Firbank, professor of sustainable agriculture at Leeds University, said: “One of the question marks about organic farming is that it can’t feed the world. [This paper] concludes organic farming does require more land than conventional methods, but if we manage the demand for food by reducing waste and reducing the amount of crops grown as animal feed, organic farming can feed the world.”

He warned: “[These] models can only be viewed as a guide: there are many assumptions that may not turn out to be true and all these scenario exercises are restricted by limited knowledge [and] are fairly simplistic compared to real life, but realistic enough to help formulate policy. The core message is valuable and timely: we need to seriously consider how we manage the global demand for food.”

Even without converting to organic production, however, the US, India, China and Russia – four of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters – could turn into some of the biggest absorbers of carbon, through better management of their agricultural land.

A separate new study shows that these countries have the greatest potential for the sequestration of carbon dioxide through changing the way soils are protected, through better farming methods that can also help to preserve declining soil fertility.

Scientists said the potential of using soil as a carbon sink was equivalent to taking between 215m and 400m cars off the road, even if only small changes are made, of a kind which should be achievable on all farms. The study, published on Tuesday in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, and conducted by experts from the Chinese Academy of Science, the Nature Conservancy NGO, and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, found that farming crops differently could make a big contribution to achieving the goals of the Paris agreement on climate change.

Today’s intensive agricultural methods, involving frequent tilling of soils and the excessive use of chemical fertilisers, could be replaced with the revival of older methods such as the increased use of manure, cover cropping, mulching and growing trees next to cropland. However, the role of land management in preventing dangerous levels of climate change has often been overlooked at the talks, where discussions over the burning of fossil fuels have dominated. This is partly because of the urgency of switching away from fossil fuels, and partly because land management is a diffuse and diverse problem spread across the globe from small farmers to agri-industrialists, whereas fossil fuel sources tend to be larger and more monolithic, such as coal-fired power plants.

The results will be presented to delegates at the UN COP23 climate talks in Bonn on Wednesday. Nations at the talks are discussing ways to increase the commitments on emissions reductions made alongside the Paris agreement, and which scientists say are currently inadequate to hold the world to no more than 2C of warming, the binding target under the landmark 2015 accord.

Preserving the Harvest

 
Join us for a fun evening of preserving at South Square Centre in Thornton.  We will explore a range of techniques including lacto-fermentation, dehydration, pickling and jamming.  

We will concentrate on apples following our community fruit share, but will also look at other seasonal fruit and vegetables.

All ingredients plus snacks and drinks are included.  You are very welcome to bring along your own gluts as well.

Book Here

 
 

Visit Those Plant People – Saturday August 19th

Please join us for a visit to Those Plant People in Steeton on Saturday 19th August, arriving for 10am.

Those Plant People are Andrew and Pippa. They run gardening courses at Fern Cottage throughout the year to help you move from amateur to confident gardener. They also provide a gardening maintenance service.

They also grow and supply their own hardy herbaceous perennial plants, grown and tested in their own borders, and use them in their garden designs as well as selling at specialist plant fairs all across Yorkshire.

Tea, coffee and cakes will be available, free to WYOG members.

Directions.
If you are coming from Keighley come along the B6265 through Utley. As you are entering Steeton there is a rock on the left with ‘Steeton with Eastburn’ written on it. We are the first drive on the left less than 100m past the rock. The drive is marked ‘Stiverton House’.

If you are coming from Skipton(A629) or Ilkley(A6034) take the turning off the roundabout signposted Steeton and Silsden train station and carry on up station road until the traffic lights. Turn left at the traffic lights along Keighley Road, the road bears to the right round a bend then it is the next driveway on the right. The drive is marked Stiverton House.

Please park in front of the main house or on the cobbled area.

If you are coming by train walk up Station Road to the traffic lights, turn left and walk along Keighley Road. The road bends to the right and we are the first drive on the right, marked Stiverton House. It is about 10-15min walk. 

The address is:
Fern Cottage
Stiverton House
Keighley Road
Steeton
West Yorkshire
BD20 6QR

If you get lost you can contact 
Pippa Chapman 07704178585

Look forward to seeing you there!

Bracken Hall Summer Events

15th July: The Bee Event – explore the hives, honey tastings & sales, bee-friendly gardening, wild bee info. 12-4pm
22nd July: Guided Walk. Crook Farm & Baildon Moor. 10am start at BH
26th July: Wild Wednesday!
NB Wild Wednesdays are particularly suitable for younger children (& those who like countryside crafting & activities). They run from 2 to 4pm
2nd August: Wild Wednesday! (see above)
5th August: The Big Butterfly Count. Ties in with Butterfly Conservation’s annual national survey. Experts will be on hand to help you spot & identify butterflies in the garden & in the treetops. 11am-4pm
9th August: Wild Wednesday! With added butterflies!
16th August: Wild Wednesday! 23rd August: Wild Wednesday!
25th August: Guided Family Walk. Meet at Bracken Hall at 10.30am
30th August: Wild Wednesday!
8th-17th September: Saltaire Festival. Special activities each Saturday & Sunday. 8th September: Bat talk then walk with bat detectors. 6.30pm.
All events are FREE! (But donations welcome)
Photograph this sheet on your phone so it’s always handy!
All children to be accompanied by a responsible adult
Bracken Hall Countryside Centre, Glen Road, Baildon, BD17 5EA Glen Road, Baildon, BD17 5EA
Follow us on Facebook, phone 07933 355 753, or visit http://www.friendsofbrackenhall.org.uk/ for updates
NB Bracken Hall is open every Saturday & Sunday, 12-4pm

Pesticides damage survival of bee colonies, landmark study shows

The world’s largest ever field trial demonstrates widely used insecticides harm both honeybees and wild bees, increasing calls for a ban

Honey bee pollinating on rapeseed
Bees that foraged a lot on oil seed rape were found to be particularly at risk from disease. Photograph: kojihirano/Getty Images
 Widely used insecticides damage the survival of honeybee colonies, the world’s largest ever field trial has shown for the first time, as well as harming wild bees.

The farm-based research, along with a second new study, also suggests widespread contamination of entire landscapes and a toxic “cocktail effect” from multiple pesticides.

The landmark work provides the most important evidence yet for regulators around the world considering action against neonicotinoids, including in the EU where a total ban is poised to be implemented this autumn. The insecticides are currently banned on flowering crops in the EU.

The negative impacts found varied across different countries, leading the pesticide manufacturers to question whether the results of the research, which they funded, were real. The new research is published in the prestigious peer-review journal Science.

Neonicotinoids represent a quarter of the multi-billion dollar pesticide market but have been repeatedly linked to serious harm in bees in lab-based studies. Bees and other pollinators are vital to food production but are in decline, in part due to loss of habitats and disease. But there had been few realistic field studies to date to address the role of the insecticides and only occasional evidence for colony-level harm in wild bees.

The new research took place at 33 large farmland sites spread across the UK, Germany and Hungary. Honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees living by insecticide-treated fields of oil seed rape were compared with those in fields where insecticides were not used in the year of the study.

The survival of honeybee colonies was reduced by exposure to the insecticides in the UK and Hungary, but not in Germany, where the bees foraged far less on oil seed rape and had lower levels of disease. The reproductive success of the wild bees was cut as the insecticide exposure increased in all three countries.

“We showed significant negative effects at critical life cycle stages,” said Prof Richard Pywell, from the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), and part of the research team. “If the bees are foraging a lot on oil seed rape, they are clearly at risk. This is a large and important piece of evidence, but it is not the only evidence regulators will look at.”

Bees and other pollinators are vital to food production but are in decline
Pinterest
Bees and other pollinators are vital to food production but are in decline. Photograph: Jeremy T Kerr/Science

Scientists not involved in the research backed the conclusions. “Together, the two studies make strong contributions to the growing scientific consensus about the harms of neonicotinoid pesticides to bees,” said Prof James Nieh, at the University of California San Diego. Addressing the differences between countries, Prof Jeremy Kerr, at the University of Ottawa in Canada, said: “Neonicotinoid applications are a kind of reproductive roulette for bees. Depending on local environmental characteristics, they can materially reduce survival prospects.”

The $3m cost of the research was met by Syngenta and Bayer, the companies that sell the two neonicotinoids tested, as part of a voluntary commitment to increase the available field data. But the companies were not involved in the designing, conducting or reporting of the study.

It found that the bees in Germany got just 15% of their food from the oil seed rape fields, compared to 40-50% in the UK and Hungary. “Clearly the bees in Germany are feeding on other flower resources in the landscape and are less exposed to neonics,” said Pywell.

The scientists also discovered that the wild bees were exposed to a neonicotinoid that was not even used in the trial and concluded the harm caused may result from “persistent residues in arable systems due to their widespread and often very frequent use”.

However, both Bayer and Syngenta expressed doubt about the “simplistic” interpretation of complex and “inconsistent” results. “We do not share CEH’s interpretation and remain confident that neonicotinoids are safe when used responsibly” said Richard Schmuck, director of environmental safety at Bayer CropScience.

Peter Campbell, from Syngenta, said: “The negative and positive results reported by CEH could easily be random, ie not real.” He said even taking the results at face value “demonstrates that neonics can be used safely or even with benefit to bees under certain circumstances, such as reported in Germany.”

But CEH’s Pywell said: “We stand by our peer-reviewed paper. We undertook the statistical analysis and reported the findings as we saw them and those are underpinned by the data. We are absolutely independent.”

A honeybee worker has a radio-frequency identification tag attached to its back
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A honeybee worker has a radio-frequency identification tag attached to its back that allows researchers to monitor when it leaves and returns to the colony, as well as when it is no longer active and presumed dead. Photograph: Amro Zayed/York University/Science

The second new study published in Science, carried out on corn farms in Canada, also found crops were not the main source of neonicotinoids to which bees were exposed. Instead, the contaminated pollen came from wildflowers, as has been shown recently in the UK.

“This indicates that neonicotinoids, which are water soluble, spill over from fields into the surrounding environment, where they are taken up by other plants that are very attractive to bees,” said Nadia Tsvetkov, at York University in Canada and who led the research.

“The detection of the potential long-term persistence of neonicotinoids in the soil by both studies raises the spectre of a reprise of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring,” said Prof Robert Paxton at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany.

The Canadian research also found that the presence of realistic levels of a fungicide made the neonicotinoids twice as toxic to bees. “The effect of neonicotinoids on honey bees quickly turns from bad to worse when you add the fungicide boscalid to the mix,” said Prof Valérie Fournier, at Laval University in Canada and also part of the team. Pesticides are not tested in combination by regulators and Kerr said: “This study shows that mixtures matter.”

 

New publication from Garden Organic – The Principles of Organic Gardening

What are the fundamental principles behind organic gardening? We know about not using toxic chemicals, but in truth there is more, much more, to creating a resilient and healthy natural growing space.

Garden Organic is pleased to announce the publication of a new booklet which neatly summarises the five organic gardening principles. Feed the soil, encourage wildlife, use resources responsibly, avoid harmful chemicals and keep your growing area healthy. Based on over 60 years of research, the easy to read Principles explains the thinking behind each of the above.

The booklet aims to help you your own growing methods, so that you can progress along the journey towards becoming truly organic. Based on the original Organic Gardening Guidelines, it has helpful Do’s and Don’ts, plus new sections and beautiful illustrations. “This should be a best-seller,” writes one member. “It is packed with important information.”

The Principles of Organic Gardening can be downloaded free of charge from gardenorganic.org.uk/principles. Alternatively, we can send you a copy by post, all we ask is a suggested donation of £2.50 to cover postage and package. You can do this here, selecting ‘Donation for Principles of Organic Gardening’ from the drop down options.

Posted: 
Monday, 5 June 2017

Your dinner is probably contaminated.