Err, no love

Raising beef cattle requires 160 times more land and causes 11 times more greenhouse gas emissions when compared to crops like wheat, rice or potatoes

That is to assume that the land which we use to raise beef would, otherwise, be used for wheat, rice or potatoes.

And that’s not really how farming works…..

35 thoughts on “Err, no love”

  1. Also that everything else works just fine without grassland. Ask a standard-issue Green, “Would you rather have half the US hunted buffalo, or Monsanto maize to feed vegetarians?” Watch them explode.

  2. And all the figures are based on the crazy way the Yanks (the author is Canadian) raise their livestock.

    It’s not applicable to farming in the real world (i.e. the much cited, here, example of upland sheep farming in the colder and wetter bits of the U.K.)

  3. What capitalist would use land for 0.6% of its potential?
    Answers on the back of a postage stamp.please.
    For absence of dount I shall state that beef does NOT cost 160 times as much as potatoes.

  4. So Much For Subtlety

    That is to assume that the land which we use to raise beef would, otherwise, be used for wheat, rice or potatoes.

    This may apply to Argentinian beef. Or Australian beef. Even much American beef. I expect that all British beef is raised on land that could be used for wheat or potatoes. Rice not so much.

    When talking about the UK we usually refer to oddities like Welsh sheep production. Or Scottish deer. I doubt that applies to most livestock in the rest of the UK. Yes, it is more profitable to produce beef on land that could be used to produce wheat. We import that from the great plains of Canada and the US instead.

    As makes perfect sense.

  5. If I’ve understood the dietary stuff correctly, meat is protein whereas wheat, rice and potatoes are carbohydrates. The two are not substitutes.

    So the correct comparison would be to beans or peas. No idea how that compares, but probably badly or they’d have used it.

    And I think you have problems with excess nitrogen in the soil if you grow them on the same land for several years on the run.

  6. I expect that all British beef is raised on land that could be used for wheat or potatoes.

    In summer, maybe. In winter, they are kept in sheds and fed on silage. From memory, the farm I kind of grew up on kept the bullocks inside for 2 winters and outside for 1 summer, with them being sent to the abattoir at 18 months. You could grow potatoes and wheat in the fields where you keep your bullocks in summer, but (again from memory) you want to rotate the land use a bit, and some fields were obviously shite for growing crops due to wet patches and gradient.

    Also, you don’t only raise sheep/lambs because the land isn’t suited for anything else. You send sheep into a field in which the grass has been trimmed by the cows/bullocks (who need long grass, whereas sheep need short), therefore being able to feed two lots of animals on the same field of grass. You also send sheep into fields of swedes to trample nutrients into the ground. And raising sheep also introduces diversity, which anyone who has played the Farming Board Game would know is a good thing when farming. Even in England, on some of the best pastureland you can find, you’ll see sheep for the reasons I mention above, plus they are pretty low-maintenance (although sheep dipping day is a barrel of laughs).

    Personally, I reckon we should leave it up to the farmers who generally know about this stuff, no some fucking eco-loon vegetarian.

  7. So Much For Subtlety

    Another reason to eat meat – vegetables drive women insane:

    http://www.womenshealthmag.com/food/side-effects-of-vegetarianism

    More and more women are vegging out…of their minds. New research suggests that along with shedding pounds, slashing cancer risk, and boosting life expectancy, vegetarianism could come with lesser-known side effects: Panic attacks. OCD. Depression. WH investigates the puzzling blow of going meatless—and how to stay plant-based without going mental.

    Her symptoms were sudden and severe. Drew Ramsey’s 35-year-old patient had always been fit and active, but her energy had flatlined. When she did manage to drag herself to the gym, it didn’t help. She felt anxious and was often on the verge of tears for no reason, even when she was with friends. Worst of all were her panic attacks, a rare occurrence in the past but now so common that she was afraid of losing her job because she had trouble getting out of bed, and she’d become terrified of taking the New York City subway.

    Ramsey, a Columbia University professor and psychiatrist with 14 years of experience, wanted to put her on medication. His patient demurred. She was so conscious of what she put in her body, she’d even given up meat a year ago, having heard about all the health benefits of vegetarianism. So Ramsey prescribed something else: grass-fed steak.

    It may sound like an episode of House, but Ramsey had a hunch. He’d seen a dramatic link between mood and food before (he even researched it for his forthcoming book Eat Complete), and guessed that his patient’s well-intentioned meat-free diet was the very thing causing her mental deterioration. Sure enough, six weeks after adding animal protein back onto her plate, her energy rebounded and her panic attacks dropped by 75 percent.

    I read it on the internet. It must be true.

    Besides, it really does explain a lot about the world doesn’t it?

  8. So Much For Subtlety

    Tim Newman – “In summer, maybe. In winter, they are kept in sheds and fed on silage.”

    When I was a lad it was a little different around where I grew up, but yeah pretty much. Except the silage I knew was just grass. What people grew when they could have been growing wheat. So essentially the ground that could have been used for wheat was used either for cows or for the grass the cows would be eating later.

    “Also, you don’t only raise sheep/lambs because the land isn’t suited for anything else.”

    I am willing to bet they do in the Welsh hills. But then how much British lamb comes from those hills?

    “Even in England, on some of the best pastureland you can find, you’ll see sheep for the reasons I mention above, plus they are pretty low-maintenance (although sheep dipping day is a barrel of laughs).”

    Shearing them is worse. They really are stupid animals. Docking their tails is worse still. And castrating is worse still. In the end mutton is worth a lot more than potatoes. So people will go on keeping sheep where they could grow other things. Rightly so.

    “Personally, I reckon we should leave it up to the farmers who generally know about this stuff, no some fucking eco-loon vegetarian.”

    Abso-f*cking-lutely.

  9. Except the silage I knew was just grass.

    Oh, it is. But it’s grass that has been tightly packed, covered with plastic (which is held down by utterly filthy old tyres with bits of wire sticking out: I have flung countless hundreds of these things onto silage clamps), and allowed to ferment from May to November, at which point you bring the beasts indoors. The fermentation increases the calorific content I think, however it works you can feed a lot of beasts on the stuff. Lift a corner of the plastic and you’ll see mold and feel pretty strong heat. The beasts love the stuff.

  10. Shearing them is worse.

    That’s good fun as well, and you get covered in lanolin. Sheep fleece literally oozes with the stuff, which is why they are utterly indifferent to rain. Well designed, sheep. But yes, totally stupid animals. I once saw an Aussie sheep shearer on piecework in Wales who could shear a sheep in about 40 seconds and barely nick the animal. He told us he used to do tens of thousands in a season back home.

  11. There is a superb way of dealing with proselytising vegetarians.
    CARNOPHOBIA
    Suggest that they’re suffering from carnophobia – fear of meat – but it’s perfectly acceptable to seek treatment for it.
    Express sympathy.
    Can have quite spectacular results.

  12. So Much For Subtlety

    Tesco is selling potatoes at between £0.16 and £0.80 a kilo.

    While they have a leg of lamb on sale for £5 – quick, nip out and buy one at that price. But usually it is in the £11 to £14 range.

    Therefore I doubt the 160 times more land argument.

  13. @ SMFS
    Walk around some upland valleys and you will see cattle grazing land on which you cannot grow wheat or potatoes. You sound as if you live in Sussex.
    Many farmers will graze cattle on fields which are lying fallow as part of crop rotation, but if you look at the price of arable land and that of pasture, if you look at the acreage deemed fit to grow wheat or barley or … compared to the acreage of rough grazing, if you notice the amount of Scotch beef sold in England, if you observe that the UK grows more cereals (wheat, barley, oats) than it consumes, you might realise that you’ve been conned by the guardianistas.

  14. UK farming was traditionally mixed, ie each farm produced a bit of everything, crops and livestock. This being because before artificial fertiliser the only way to put nitrogen back into the soil was manure. So in that respect in those days there was a sense in which land used for meat production was interchangeable with crop production.

    Then post WW2 as artificial fertilisers became available, and mechanisation increased, it became more and more necessary to specialise – if a combine harvester costs a lot of money, you need to use it to the maximum, not just for a few acres of wheat. Same for a milking parlour etc. So each farm specialised in whatever it could do best, and slowly land use altered, and the food production migrated to the areas with the land best suited for it – sheep production in Wales and upland area where cattle and arable are impossible, dairy and beef to damper areas where grass grows well, but conditions don’t suit arable, the lowlands of England became predominantly arable. Sheep used to cover the south Downs of England, now its wall to wall combines.

    So if you eliminated meat production in the UK, most of the land used for it would return to scrub, as it would be impractical for arable farming, some areas totally unsuitable (most of Wales for example), others only suitable with a great deal of ‘rationalisation’ – ripping out of hedges to make machinery sized fields for example, widespread drainage schemes etc etc. Somehow I doubt that would be acceptable.

  15. Also note that the old method of (effectively organic) mixed farming relied on meat production for getting its nitrogen, and thus meat production is a vital part of the whole – you can’t have the arable without the livestock.

    Thus to demand the end of meat production in the modern world is to demand the end of organic farming, and a total reliance on artificial fertilisers.

    Another case of the ability of the Leftist brain to hold two totally contradictory ideas at the same time and ignore the inconsistency.

    I am coming to the conclusion that Leftism is a mental illness.

  16. As the son of a farmer – arable, dairy, beef and sheep – I might as well shove in my bushel’s worth. The West Country specialises in dairy and beef because it rains too sodding often in summer to be able to reliably grow grains. Hills are only good for sheep. Marshes are only good for sheep. Brash and chalky soils are only good for sheep. Etc., etc.. In addition, the wheat we do grow here isn’t that good: the protein content – its ‘strength’ – is pretty low. We prefer to bake our bread with nice, strong Canadian flower.

    So, if it wasn’t for a bit of subsidy farming, the UK would pretty much specialise in sheep, topped up by cattle and some basic vegetable (turnips, carrots, spuds) production in the flat East. In other words, pretty much what we used to do in the Middle Ages when we could afford to build all those nicde churches in East Anglia and the Cotswolds.

  17. My own view, as a non-expert, is that the meat v veg argument is an irrelevant side issue. Much of land is single use, no use or can be turned over to either use fairly fast

    What is of much greater significance to us as a species is the unregulated destruction and essentially toxification of certain marine environments and species which is not a quick issue to solve.

  18. “We import that from the great plains of Canada and the US instead. As makes perfect sense.”

    It certainly used to make sense, Canadian wheat being good for bread and British for cakes.

    Maybe in Guardian world all wheat is interchangeable and always has been.

  19. @john77″For absence of dount I shall state that beef does NOT cost 160 times as much as potatoes.”
    Land is not the only cost so it is possible that this is true.
    Although it still seems rather high to me.

  20. East Anglia, all those agro-industrials. If it were more economic to rear cattle than grow their crops don’t you think they would do so?

  21. No wonder cows prefer silage, it’s predigested grass.
    Nearly all animals will prefer cooked or predigested food, as they get a better return on the effort of digestion. Lions eat tripes, hyenas have to make do with steak.

  22. “Personally, I reckon we should leave it up to the farmers who generally know about this stuff, no some fucking eco-loon vegetarian.”

    I think the last country to put Guardianistas in charge of food production was Cambodia.

  23. “when compared to crops like wheat, rice or potatoes”

    Foods which the Guardian will tell you in another article are really bad for you, coz of stuff.

  24. if a combine harvester costs a lot of money, you need to use it to the maximum, not just for a few acres of wheat.

    Looking back, there was probably a period of only a few decades when farms would own their own large, capital equipment. I think it was around the early ’90s the contracting companies started going farm to farm, flogging their machinery for all it’s worth. Since they were able to use GPS data to charge per acre instead of by the hour, you saw JCB Fastracs coming in which could do car-like speeds to get the job done faster. My brother worked for a contracting firm for a silage season, doing stupidly long days, well past nightfall. Their forage harvester was something like £160k, and this was in the mid ’90s.

  25. No wonder cows prefer silage, it’s predigested grass.
    Nearly all animals will prefer cooked or predigested food, as they get a better return on the effort of digestion.

    Ah, so that’s why! I knew they liked it, and got fatter on silage than grass. Thanks.

  26. The West Country is pretty well known for cider and cheese imv. There’s also some commercial forestry and quarrying.

    But they get subsidies for sheep. What’s the logic behind that? The West Country also has England’s two shittest National Parks on my clever clogs trip-advisor derived rating system. The landowners’ begging bowls are out, and the taxpaying mugs are filling them up with bread.

  27. That marginal land would return to scrub is a feature, not a bug as the Monbiot types want to ‘rewild’ the country. Wolves roaming free will attract tourists apparently.

  28. SMFS said:
    “When talking about the UK we usually refer to oddities like Welsh sheep production. I doubt that applies to most livestock in the rest of the UK.”

    Welsh sheep are an extreme, but it seems cattle are only put on less productive land. So although it won’t always be true that the land used for cattle is unusable for wheat, I suspect if you compare the yields on most of the land actually used, it won’t be anything like 160 times.

    I’m in Dorset, so pretty mild geography, but just looking at the fields around me it’s still the steeper sloping ones that are used for beef cattle. Yes you probably could plough them, but not easily.

    Other fields are sometimes used for crops, sometimes for beef cattle. But when they do grow crops even an ignoramus like me can see that the yield is very patchy – parts get too wet or too dry at certain times of year and the eventual crop is nowhere near as good. And those fields are usually barley, not wheat – is that less fussy a crop?

    The good fields have wheat or rape on them most years.

    So yes, it’s not “meat or nothing” land, but nor is it “meat or 160 times as much wheat” land – somewhere in between.

  29. So Much For Subtlety

    john77 – “Walk around some upland valleys and you will see cattle grazing land on which you cannot grow wheat or potatoes.”

    There is almost nowhere you cannot grow potatoes. On those damn Welsh hills they would grow fine. You just could not harvest them with machinery.

    “if you notice the amount of Scotch beef sold in England, if you observe that the UK grows more cereals (wheat, barley, oats) than it consumes, you might realise that you’ve been conned by the guardianistas.”

    I don’t doubt that farmers are making economically sensible decisions and so the least useful land for wheat is going for something else. It is just that actually we do use a lot of perfectly good land for the production of meat. We always have. In WW2, when it mattered, a lot of land that perhaps should not have been ploughed up was ploughed up. Cereal production expanded a lot. That is not sensible and much of that land has returned to sheep and cattle.

    Try a thought experiment – Assume that Corbyn gets his way and we get a North Korean style economy. Which fails to produce meat. In fact it fails to produce rice. North Korea now mainly eats potatoes I believe. So we are all on a spuds and pickled herring diet. How much of Britain would return to forest and how much of it would be used to grow potatoes?

  30. So Much For Subtlety

    DevonChap – “That marginal land would return to scrub is a feature, not a bug as the Monbiot types want to ‘rewild’ the country. Wolves roaming free will attract tourists apparently.”

    Not a bug. A definite feature. It would be a bit much to expect wolves to return to Devon any time soon. But perhaps one day …..

    Richard – “So yes, it’s not “meat or nothing” land, but nor is it “meat or 160 times as much wheat” land – somewhere in between.”

    The argument usually is that British meat production is concentrated on “meat or nothing” land. Which may be true in the Welsh Hills and in parts of Scotland, but for most of the UK, not really, I would think. There is a continuity of land use as well as land quality. If we were really pushed we could produce a lot more grain in places we now rear cattle.

    That is not to say the original Guardian article is correct. It is moon battery. Of course. But are people really claiming the hills of Devon or Norfolk cannot produce potatoes or wheat or oats? Farmers make sensible economic decisions. That means not growing wheat. We grow enough already. And producing meat instead. Shift the incentives and you would shift production.

  31. I bet the average Grauniad townie has never smelt the sweet/sour whiff of silage. I bet they don’t know to within an order of magnitude how many tons of wheat you get from a hectare, or how this number has altered since, say, 1950. I bet they don’t know when lambs go to market or at what weight. I bet they don’t know how to hook a harrow or a gang mower up to the PTO on a tractor. I bet they don’t know what appallingly hard work farming still is.

  32. So Much For Subtlety

    Bloke in Costa Rica – “I bet they don’t know to within an order of magnitude how many tons of wheat you get from a hectare, or how this number has altered since, say, 1950.”

    I looked up some figures to make sure I wasn’t too wrong, and I came across the interesting claim that Britain now produced on the order of three times as much wheat as it did in the 1970s (from 5 million tonnes to 15 million at the peak down to about 12 million now). Part of that is that the acreage has doubled:

    http://www.ukagriculture.com/crops/wheat.cfm

    I smell massive subsidies in there somewhere. Why produce so much more wheat? It is depressing to read that it is going to glucose and to ethanol. But whatever.

    “I bet they don’t know when lambs go to market or at what weight. I bet they don’t know how to hook a harrow or a gang mower up to the PTO on a tractor. I bet they don’t know what appallingly hard work farming still is.”

    So we need a scheme to force Guardianistas down the coal mines in those picturesque northern villages, and into the countryside in the summer to help with the harvest. I am sure they would all approve of the compulsory nature of the scheme and would volunteer with enthusiasm.

  33. On those damn Welsh hills they would grow fine. You just could not harvest them with machinery.

    Indeed, so you use the local pikeys, their children, and any 13 year old local boy who wants to earn a few quid, i.e. me. I have picked *many* a potato by hand on Welsh hills.

  34. @ SMFS
    Potatoes need a certain depth of soil. I’ve forgotten how much much it mist be more than two inches. You can graze cattle on grass grown in two inches of soil.

  35. “Why produce so much more wheat?”

    It was more profitable than livestock, especially in the 70s, and a better lifestyle for the farmer too. Which would you rather do – spent virtually every day of the year looking after animals, covered in shit, mud and silage (which stinks BTW), or sit in a heated (or air conditioned) tractor cab all day? Arable farming is long hard work for about 3 months of the year, the rest of the time its relatively easy going. You park your tractor in a shed at weekends and can leave the farm without a thought, a livestock farmer can’t leave his farm for more than 12 hours without arranging for someone to feed and monitor his stock.

    I’ve always said livestock farming (in the UK at least) is only one stage up from peasant farming. There’s very little difference between a peasant with one or two cows and a livestock farmer with a 100. Their lifestyle revolves around the animals, in exactly the same manner. And I speak as someone who grew up on a farm with a beef suckler herd.

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