22/11/2018 - There is more to the environment than global warming (Letter published in Farmers Weekly):
Of course climate change is an ecological and humanitarian catastrophe in the making. Its powerful and destructive effects are already being felt by farmers across the world. For example, the serious droughts hitting the whole of Europe and Australia this year.
Whilst science can rarely prove definite correlation, there is clear evidence, and a general consensus in the science community, that the primary cause of climate change is mankind’s industrialisation and consumerism. At the heart of this we find meat production, said to account for up to a third of greenhouse gases.
The answer is simple then. Let’s all turn vegan and cut global emissions by a third! Well, let’s hang on just a minute. There is more to the environment than just global warming.
Livestock agriculture in the UK plays an essential role (if done responsibly) in promoting biodiversity and protecting the British countryside. Without livestock farming maintaining permanent grasslands, many species of fauna and flora would lose their natural habitats. Furthermore, livestock farming tends to be less dependant on pesticides than its cereal producing counterparts.
Only farmers can manage the UK countryside effectively at a reasonable financial cost to society. If we take what is on offer to us, such as Countryside Stewardship options, we can maximise our positive impact on the environment like no other industries can. We can also still do a lot to reduce our CO2 emission and footprint dramatically by convincing consumers to eat local, reducing our dependence on imported soya based feeds and modernising our machinery to name just a few.
So come on farmers, let’s show vegans that not only we are able to dramatically reduce our climate change footprint, we are also an essential link in preserving biodiversity and combating many other environmental issues.
15/10/2018 - The future of droughts (Letter published in Farmers Weekly):
A couple of weeks ago I was making my way back to the UK from France for the first time in 5 weeks. I knew it had been sensationally hot and dry out in the UK, but as the ferry approached the UK coastline, I was quite shocked by what I saw on land; dead, yellowing, burnt grass everywhere. As I drove around the Hampshire countryside over the next few days, the sights remained the same. As I spoke to local farmers, they all told me the same story: We are using winter hay stocks to keep the livestock going over the summer. At least though, copious rain in the winter and spring meant that no restriction on water use was necessary… This time.
Out in the Limousin region of France, famers are very much used to this. Every spring, they take an early cut of hay to feed the animals through the summer as the only rain comes from the odd thunderstorms, and temperatures reach above 30 throughout July and August. Over the last 4 years however, the summers have been getting dryer, hotter and longer, and farming through the season is becoming increasingly challenging. Water is essential in the region not only for livestock, but also for crop irrigation.
With scientists in consensus that these Europe wide heat waves will be on the increase in lengths, intensity and frequency in the future, and most likely influenced by manmade climate change, the farmers of the Limousin have started to plan for the future. Early hay stocks are increasing, and most strikingly, savvy farmers of the region are no longer investing in land, but purchasing lakes and waterways to guarantee their water supplies of the future.
I think it may be time for UK farmers to think strategically to guarantee their business viability in the decades to come. The abundant lush grass and unlimited fresh water access they have come to expect, may very well not be guaranteed in the future.
18/01/2018 - Avian Influenza outbreak (letter published in Farmers Weekly):
Avian Influenza is back this week. A group of wild birds have been discovered dead in Dorset, analysis showing the H5N6 strain of flu as the cause. As always, the government has reacted by initialising mandatory biosecurity measures such as footwear and vehicle disinfecting.
Biosecurity will only yield limited results once an outbreak occurs. This is especially true in the case of avian flu as migratory birds can travel such long distances with complete impunity. Just like the last one, this outbreak will simply run it’s natural course over the winter/spring before returning in force next year. This cycle is now the new constant in the UK. With each year the flu returns, it brings increased risks of new mutations and strains. It will not be long before a strain hazardous to human health arrives in the UK, and when it does, it will be the start of livestock culling.
Ideally, biosecurity measures are there to prevent outbreaks not combat them. These must be carried out all year round. It is simply best practice. It is not up to the government, but up to us, as farmers, to work together and ensure good biosecurity is at the forefront of livestock farming. Good biosecurity measures will protect your profits and your business. So why are so many farms not implementing such measures? I have been to too many farms where biosecurity is seen as just the latest fad, a time waste, a big expense and not the farming thing to do. Farmers see biosecurity as a restriction on their activity and a threat to their way of life. In my experience, smaller, independent farms carry the most guilt, even thought they are the ones less able to absorb the costs of any livestock losses. I hear to often the dreaded phrase “we never bothered with that before and nothing happened”. But things did and do happen: Avian flu, TB, foot and mouth, mad cow. With climate change more risks are on the way; for example BTV is moving further north and is now endemic in Europe after originating in Africa. Even less serious infections that eat away at farm profits such as lameness in sheep or pneumonia in calves can be prevented with good biosecurity measures. So yes, it is a pain to disinfect your boots every time you go in with animals, and suppliers might look at you a bit strange when you insist on cleaning their vehicle wheels before they come on site. But, by doing so you are not only protecting your own farm, but also the farms of your fellow farmers. Let’s work together and really push biosecurity before avian flu is back next year.
Past researcher projects from myself can now be downloaded at the links below - more to be added soon: