Industrial landscape or green island?

Image may contain: grass, sky, outdoor and nature

If you look really carefully at the skyline in the photo above you will see a line of electricity generating windmills.  In the field are dairy cattle and on the gate is a warning  about a bull and electric fencing.  All these elements got me thinking about the environment.  But don’t believe a word of what I say – the “Beware of the bull” warning applies to my posts too.

I hear a lot of people complaining about windmills in the countryside, and how they are ugly things, and how they ruin the landscape and how they kill birds etc etc etc.  These are the kind of people who look into this field and see nature.  Then they go to the shops and feel very morally superior when they drink soy instead of milk.

I look at this landscape and what I see is a factory.  The field is not natural, it is a creation of man.  The cows are not natural, again we created them through breeding.  There may be a bull in the field but I guarantee he is only servicing the cows that missed out impregnation with the top quality AI sperm.

The windmills in the distance are no less “natural” than any other element in the picture.  The countryside is a factory, a unit of production, an industrial landscape.

There is a balance to be struck.  Hardline vegans say that the dairy industry is engaged in the rape of cows and the forcible kidnapping of their calves.  It is emotive language.  At the extreme conclusion of their philosophy we plant a fraction of the currently farmed land with vegetables, fruits, grains and pulses and the remainder becomes rewilded.  This is a dystopian horror future for farmers.  More importantly for the nation it results in the depopulation of the rural countryside.  If you want a vibrant rural economy there must be jobs.

We have already seen the conclusion of the extreme commercial approach to farming.  Cows so heavy with milk they cannot walk anymore, riddled with infections which are controlled by massive amount of antibiotics.  Meat animals in cramped conditions where diseases are controlled by antibiotics and where hormones are used to accelerate growth.  Widespread use of insectisides, weedkillers and fertilisers that are undoubtedly harming the environment and killing off pollinators.  Destruction of biodiversity in favour of commerical monoculture.

Funilly enough the result of both extremes – High intensity automated commercial farming at one end, and a rewilded vegan world at the other, is rural depopulation.

I believe Ireland can and should lead the world as a Green Food Island.  A place where the most environmentally positive farming practices are the minimum standard.  A place with a reputation for compassion in husbandry.  A country that keeps people in the countryside by valuing less profitable family size farms that provide employment on the land.  And keeps people in the countryside by rewarding the situation of production in the rural infrastructure.

That is a vision of a world in balance.

 

 

 

 

Milkageddon

Churns

The European Milk Quota system ends today.

First introduced in April 1984 under the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) the Milk Quota has stabilised (or some say stagnated) dairy produce production for 30 years.  This has helped to protect dairy farming incomes, especially for smaller producers.  The measure was to protect the small farmer.

The big dairy companies all over Europe have been gearing up for the explosion in production that is in the offing.  They will be driving sales of dairy products into non-traditional markets.  Have you ever noticed that Chinese and South-Eastern Asian cuisine uses no milk, cream, cheese or butter?  Watch that space!

To win the international game the Irish Dairies need to ramp up production as fast, or faster than their counterparts in countries like Denmark, Poland, UK and France.

In the last year and more, the savvy and efficient Dairy farmer has been gearing up for the end of the quota in a number of ways.

Herd management for instance;  calves are allowed to feed from the cows, production milking is restricted to one milking per day, excess heifers are kept calf-less for longer to keep them dry.  Over quota milk has often ended up in slurry pits.

In the last week every storage container has been filled to bursting point to hold as much production as possible for midnight on 31st March.

In terms of farm management, the larger farmers have been assembling larger dairy platforms accessible to their milking facility, by buying and renting any land adjacent to their parlour.  At the same time they are developing winter feed stocks by acquisition of suitable hay and silage production acreage.

Within the dairy itself they have been investing in new – high intensity – milking equipment.  Automated feeding and milking systems.  Computer databases of the herd, recording age, weight, production, feed regimen, medical history, pedigree, behaviour etc.

The dairy farm of today is a high intensity industrial plant.

It is a long way from the 40 acre mixed farmer who kept a half dozen cows and delivered a couple of churns to the creamery every other day.

But when you have thousands of acres of countryside managed by a handful of industrial farmers, what do you lose?  Community?  Poverty?  A vibrant countryside population?  A low income trap?  Truth is, we will see a lot more cows and a lot less people.  That can make cheap milk a very expensive commodity.

The Sands of Dee: by Charles Kingsley

“O Mary, go and call the cattle home,

And call the cattle home,

And call the cattle home

Across the sands of Dee”;

The western wind was wild and dank with foam,

And all alone went she.

The western tide crept up along the sand,

And o’er and o’er the sand,

And round and round the sand,

As far as eye could see.

The rolling mist came down and hid the land:

And never home came she.

“Oh! is it weed, or fish, or floating hair–

A tress of golden hair,

A drownèd maiden’s hair

Above the nets at sea?

Was never salmon yet that shone so fair

Among the stakes on Dee.”

They rowed her in across the rolling foam,

The cruel crawling foam,

The cruel hungry foam,

To her grave beside the sea:

But still the boatmen hear her call the cattle home

Across the sands of Dee.

Food Island

Clonmacnoise_castle_and_cattle

Ireland is a food island.  We have this fantastic mild climate, with a long spring and autumn and an incredible growing season.  Cattle and sheep thrive on fresh grass, and we have a very short wintering period.  This makes Ireland ideal for production of Beef, Dairy and Lamb.  The byproducts of the dairy industry supply inputs for pig and fowl rearing.

We also have a great climate for growing barley.  Ireland sits at the western end of the “beer belt” which stretches to Slovakia and includes the UK, north eastern France, the Benelux, Germany, southern Poland and the Czech republic.  In this belt you can grow good malting barley and make great beer, and whiskey.  Go south of the beer belt and the climate lends itself to grapes, so you get wine and brandy.  Go north of the beer belt and you are into grain alcohol country, where they produce various versions of Aquavit or Vodka in Scandinavia Poland, Russia and the Baltic Republics.

Given Ireland’s unique position on the Atlantic we SHOULD have the least polluted food production system in Western Europe.  At a political level this should be a number 1 priority.  It has not been!  We have seen scandal after scandal as standards have been allowed to slip.  We have adopted industrial food production short cuts from the USA, Britain and Central Europe.  This has to stop.  Irish food should be the purest food in the world.  We should concentrate on value add, not on mass production.  We should be the envy of food producers everywhere.  The badge of Ireland on food should be synonymous with purity, nature, traditional production, humane farming practices, free range, fed on grass watered by Atlantic rainfall.

Irish beef should command prices higher than Kobe beef.  We are nuclear free and we don’t house our cattle for most of the year and feed it on “unnatural” feed mix.

Irish lamb should be trademarked and should command a far higher cachet than New Zealand lamb which has circled the globe and accrued an enormous carbon debt.

Irish dairy should be seen for what it is – a pure conversion of unsullied Atlantic rains, through grass fed herds, into pristine milk, cream, butter and cheese.

Any farmer, producer or food manufacturer who threatens the image of the food island of Ireland should be dunked head first in a slurry pit.  It should be a form of public entertainment, designed to underline the importance of our reputation.

Inexpensive Progress; by John Betjeman

Encase your legs in nylons,
Bestride your hills with pylons
O age without a soul;
Away with gentle willows
And all the elmy billows
That through your valleys roll.

Let’s say goodbye to hedges
And roads with grassy edges
And winding country lanes;
Let all things travel faster
Where motor car is master
Till only Speed remains.

Destroy the ancient inn-signs
But strew the roads with tin signs
‘Keep Left,’ ‘M4,’ ‘Keep Out!’
Command, instruction, warning,
Repetitive adorning
The rockeried roundabout;

For every raw obscenity
Must have its small ‘amenity,’
Its patch of shaven green,
And hoardings look a wonder
In banks of floribunda
With floodlights in between.

Leave no old village standing
Which could provide a landing
For aeroplanes to roar,
But spare such cheap defacements
As huts with shattered casements
Unlived-in since the war.

Let no provincial High Street
Which might be your or my street
Look as it used to do,
But let the chain stores place here
Their miles of black glass facia
And traffic thunder through.

And if there is some scenery,
Some unpretentious greenery,
Surviving anywhere,
It does not need protecting
For soon we’ll be erecting
A Power Station there.

When all our roads are lighted
By concrete monsters sited
Like gallows overhead,
Bathed in the yellow vomit
Each monster belches from it,
We’ll know that we are dead.