If only this were true

“Current industrial farming methods are now too detached from natural processes. But when farming practises draw on the principles of the natural world, there’s really no limit to the productivity gains that can be achieved. Conventional science clearly has a lot of catching up to do, especially in the area of soil fertility.”

Then we wouldn\’t have any problems, would we? We\’d all be using organic farming methods exclusively because this would have that greater productivity. No one would use artificial fertilisers or anything else because to do so would lower output.

Our problem is that these organic methods are actually less productive than the industrial methods. Which is why people use them.

It\’s analagous to all those numpties howling that renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels. If this were so then renewables wouldn\’t need any subsidies because we\’d all switch over to using this cheaper method. Exactly our problem is that renewables are more expensive.

13 comments on “If only this were true

  1. Crop rotation with one year in seven “fallow” grazing is better than monoculture BUT we get much higher yields with artificial fertilisers than by relying on legumes to fix nitrogen in the soil and putting a small herd of bison in an enclosed paddock is, prima facie, cruelty to animals.
    It seems that Mr Harvey is attacking a straw man: the farms around here do rotate crops and almost all use the fields for grazing as part of the rotation.

  2. I do like the idea of great herds of bison, though. We could have wallabies and llamas too. All we have to do is kill off all those bloody deer that pollute the countryside.

  3. “the farms around here do rotate crops and almost all use the fields for grazing as part of the rotation.”

    I don’t know where you live but in most parts of the UK arable farms are purely arable, ie grow crops only, and not grass, or keep livestock. Some livestock farmers will grow cereals/maize for their own use, but the big cereal producers concentrate on what they do best – growing crops. Its that specialisation thing again – doing just one thing and being efficient at it is better and cheaper than doing several things averagely well.

    Apart from all of which it would be impossible for arable farms to have livestock on a large scale to go with their large scale crop growing operations, you’d never get the planning permission to have thousands of animals in one place. Remember the massive hoo-hah over the Nocton Super Dairy a few years ago? They wanted to build a dairy for 8000 cows. Massive campaign to stop it, which succeeded.

    My guess is that if you tried to reintroduce mixed farming to the south of England you have every little village up in arms at the smell of cow manure all over the place, and mud and muck on the roads etc. Guardian readers may be in favour of mixed farming in theory, just not in practice behind their nice little house in the country.

  4. I don’t know where Jim lives but UK Agristats show 4.6m hectares of crops and 1.2m of short-term grass (excluding the 5.9m of long-term grassland and 5.3m of rough grazing).
    I live in the south of England which is not, repeat *not* flat like a Canadian prairie, so the farms do not need vast megaherds. While East Anglia has large flat areas suited to cereal monoculture, that is not true of much of the South of England

  5. I live slap bang in the middle of the south of England, and I’m an arable farmer too, so I know what I’m talking about. The vast majority of the 1.2m acres of short term grass land in the UK will be for existing livestock farms, not on arable ones. Dairy farms and livestock farms rotate their grassland around regularly – cultivating a field for a crop for their cattle, then putting in new grass leys afterwards. But there are fewer and fewer mixed farms around ie ones that both grow crops to sell and keep livestock. Its more expensive for one thing – if you keep livestock all your fields have to be fenced for example plus have water supplied, neither of which is needed for arable cropping. Plus there are nowadays massive regulatory requirements for the production, storage and disposal of manure and slurry. You also cannot store grain in buildings that are ever used by animals, so two sets of buildings would be needed – one for livestock, one for crops. It makes no sense to have huge capital investment in machinery and buildings to grow crops and then under use it, while having to spend even more money on the machinery and buildings that are necessary for livestock as well. Unless one had massive livestock operations to match the current massive arable ones, it doesn’t make economic or practical sense.

  6. Its that specialisation thing again – doing just one thing and being efficient at it is better and cheaper than doing several things averagely well.

    Arable farming isn’t incompatible with diversification. The idea that specialisation trumps diversification for farm business profitability (or any business) isn’t a natural law. Incorporating grass for nitrogen fixation/increasing soil organic matter, is probably not profitable on it’s own, but growing feed on contract for others, incorporating low maintenance grazing animals, growing grass seeds or hay for ponies or whatever, may be profitable. Lots of very large arable farms are doing suckler cows these days. It’s ofcourse impossible to say whether that’s for subsidy maximisation or market profitability, but it’s not outside the realm of probability anyway.

  7. Reportage by press release from the Soil Association, no thinking required.

    Why is penning a wild migratory beast in a small paddock more “natural” than penning a domestic animal in a nice cosy barn?

  8. I’m not a farmer, so I have to accept that Jim does know more than me. I was simply commenting on the farms with running distance. It is, of course, possible that some of them simply let a field to a neighbouring dairy farmer when it’s fallow as some fields have neither hedges nor permanent fences.

  9. Industrial farming is not detached from natural processes. How on earth could it be? It’s using a deep understanding of natural processes to farm more efficiently. This is actually the most environmentally-conscious thing you can do; it frees land for wildlife.

  10. I live in a village in East Anglia. It used to be all arable locally, but now we have free-range pigs as well. One field which grew asparagus for several years is now mud and sows with a couple of boars – the knocking-shop as my wife calls it. The other field at the other end of the village appears to be a maternity unit – it has tents for farrowing and these are moved periodically. Before this was set up they sunk a borehole next to the field and there is a large tank next to it. It does smell in the warm weather – I call the bend in the road next to the maternity field poo corner. There is no house there though…

    Since it has been going for some years now, I assume that the pig farmer finds it profitable.

  11. And yet, there are some “natural” ideas worth pursuing, modern methods are not the optimum necessarily. No till farming is very useful in many places, and developing the microbial and especially the fungal communities in soil can be very beneficial, and I don’t think that this has been particularly well researched and practised yet.

  12. Pingback: Free range but not organic « Homepaddock

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