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Chairman's Point of View


Chairman’s letter

Graeme Cock | Mole Valley Farmers

To the future, and beyond

Writer and environmentalist George Monbiot has recently been on the wrong end of a challenge from Piers Morgan. The discussion essentially was around the fact that Mr Monbiot, now a vegan, happened to be wearing leather shoes and a leather watch strap when appearing as guest on Good Morning Britain which Piers Morgan co-hosts. Piers considered this to be a tad hypocritical, as it demonstrated that killing animals for personal pleasure was acceptable. The environmental campaigner was suggesting that livestock farming/production should come to an end because many aspects of the industry are cruel and were likened to slavery.

If you recall, George Monbiot was the individual who at this year’s Oxford Farming conference unfairly used the phrase “maximum destruction for minimum production” to describe sheep farming on hills and uplands. Unless I’m mistaken, this style of farming activity couldn’t be more natural. There is very little intervention or interference of mainly hefted flocks on difficult terrain. So is it farming per se that is deemed so bad, or just elements of it? I guess Piers Morgan, who is no stranger to controversy, was probably right to challenge the hypocritical actions of George Monbiot. Chef Antony Worrall Thompson, a guest on the same programme, viewed things quite differently, suggesting that if livestock production ceased the countryside would deteriorate very quickly.

UK trade deal

A recent comment suggesting that farm incomes will halve if we get a bad Brexit deal, might go some way to ending livestock farming perhaps. The basics of what any deal will look like are no clearer than they were a year ago. Interestingly, Chris Grayling (Transport Secretary) implied on the Andrew Marr Show that British farmers will produce more food in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a trade deal. I’m not entirely sure on what basis he has made that assumption. Is it because if tariffs on imported products are high, the natural response could be “it can be produced cheaper here”? Food production will have to be profitable, to become more environmentally biased.

Michael Gove also implied that there would be no cap on environmental payments post Brexit. The criticism that larger land owners receive larger payments, is unlikely to change. Bigger, stronger businesses with sizable balance sheets will be looking to protect their investments. They are also likely to be the ones who have the potential, resource and desire to finance and embrace environmental schemes, inevitably receiving the larger payments. Whatever the outcome agriculture will continue, adapting and evolving.

Do the politicians genuinely have the wherewithal or skill sets to carry out the unenviable task of negotiating the terms of any Brexit deal? They haven’t even got a point of reference, as it hasn’t previously been attempted. There are some very serious implications of getting it wrong; equally, what does the ‘right’ outcome need to look like?

Tomorrow’s world

Are new car registrations any signal at all to how cautiously approaches are being made? Sales this September are about 10% down. Is that because potential buyers are trying to understand what to do if traditionally fuelled vehicles are phased out at some point in the future? Certainly, the demand for diesel cars is down significantly, to the tune of 20% or so. As the performance, scope, reliability and kudos around electric and hybrid cars grows and becomes more accepted, understood and affordable, the futuristic examples of vehicles we would have seen on Tomorrow’s World are far more likely to become the norm in the not too distant future.

On the theme of the future, how long will it be before human-less farmed crops are common place? This year there was a small trial, with the first ever cereal crop established, grown and harvested without any human input. The notion that a completely driverless operation can produce a crop might be no real surprise, but nonetheless is still a massive step from more traditional methods. Looking back in history, at what point, I wonder, did farmers and people working land realise the days of working horses were truly finite? Civilisation is about adapting and finding solutions to problems or looking forward beyond what is currently the norm.

As the autumn rumbled on, many maize crops suffered from eyespot to a greater or lesser extent. Some crops experienced relatively low levels, where many crops were affected almost totally. This was largely because August and September didn’t deliver any decent spells of sunshine and hot days were very much at a premium. As technologies continue to refine, they offer to prevent or cure problems, rather than farmers paying a penalty in lower crop quality or margin opportunity. So at a time not too far away, I imagine more technology will identify a trigger point at which action is needed in similar agricultural situations. With driverless vehicles, a problem could potentially be identified, dealt with and remedied without any human input. Ok that isn’t tomorrow or next week, but will be commercially available before too long.

More care

Much development has occurred which, to varying degrees, is taken for granted in developed businesses, whilst in underdeveloped parts of the world agriculture can be scarily different. In one part of India during August and September this year, 50 plus farmers died as a result of spraying their cotton crops by hand with a lethal cocktail of products. Catastrophes of this nature should be a thing of the past, when regulated products and appropriate protective clothing are used.

Perhaps this is an area that deserves the scrutiny of George Monbiot to save innocent, hardworking farmers in undeveloped parts of the world.


Source Details

 Mole Valley Farmers Newsletter November 2017

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