theguardian.com | Farming

Country diary: the loneliest house in Wales?

2 months 1 week ago

Cefn Garw, Migneint, Snowdonia: Decades ago old Mr Roberts, who shepherded on horseback, departed his remote tyddyn, leaving the moor to fox, raven, pipit-hunting merlin

There are places among the Welsh hills where you may “grow rich/ With looking”. In my copy of RS Thomas’s Collected Poems, the verse from which that’s taken is marked with a curlew’s feather, picked up by Cefn Garw, perhaps the loneliest house in Wales. I’ve often followed the four-mile, climbing track to it alongside the Serw river. Rough ridge, place of quagmires, silken stream – such perfect simplicity in the way Welsh toponymy describes landscape’s essence.

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Jim Perrin

The best way to save the planet? Drop meat and dairy | George Monbiot

2 months 1 week ago

Farming livestock for food threatens all life on earth, and ‘free-range’ steak is the worst of all

Whether human beings survive this century and the next, whether other lifeforms can live alongside us: more than anything, this depends on the way we eat. We can cut our consumption of everything else almost to zero and still we will drive living systems to collapse, unless we change our diets.

All the evidence now points in one direction: the crucial shift is from an animal- to a plant-based diet. A paper published last week in Science reveals that while some kinds of meat and dairy production are more damaging than others, all are more harmful to the living world than growing plant protein. It shows that animal farming takes up 83% of the world’s agricultural land, but delivers only 18% of our calories. A plant-based diet cuts the use of land by 76% and halves the greenhouse gases and other pollution that are caused by food production.

Related: You can deny environmental calamity – until you check the facts | George Monbiot

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George Monbiot

Pesticide use in the UK’s intensive agriculture | Letters

2 months 1 week ago
Peter Melchett of the Soil Association and Roger Mainwood respond to Guy Smith of the NFU’s letter claiming that pesticide use in the UK has been significantly reduced

Guy Smith of the National Farmers’ Union says (Letters, 4 June) that there has been “no intensification of agriculture in the UK for 25 years”, and that government figures show pesticide use has been “significantly reduced”. No they don’t. Government figures show the number of active substances – the actual chemicals applied to three major UK crops (wheat, onions and potatoes) – have increased between six and 18 times (that is, between 600% and 1,800%) from the 1970s to 2014. And as recent Guardian investigations have found, there has been a significant growth in large-scale pig and poultry production, and recently you revealed the arrival, albeit just a few at the moment, of US-style beef lots in the UK (Report, 30 May). UK dairy herds have been getting ever larger over recent years, with the growth of dairy systems where the cows are kept indoors all their life, with feed brought to them, and no grazing on grass. These are all undesirable trends for English farmers, squeezed by rising costs and falling prices, and as we face government policy that rightly wants us to compete on the world market on the basis of high animal welfare, high environmental standards and high quality.
Peter Melchett
Policy director, Soil Association

• Guy Smith of the National Farmers’ Union tells only half the story when he says pesticide use in the UK has been significantly reduced. What he is referring to is the weight of pesticides, and on that point alone he is correct. In 1990 the weight of active substances applied was 34,500 tonnes compared to 17,1800 tones in 2015. But weight is not the significant factor. Toxicity is. Many of the pesticides on the market now are more toxic than they used to be and so farmers apply less weight of pesticides to do the same job.

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Letters

‘Sexy plants’ on track to replace harmful pesticides to protect crops

2 months 1 week ago

Researchers are genetically engineering plants to produce the sex pheromones of insects, which then frustrate the pests’ attempts to mate

“Sexy plants” are on the way to replacing many harmful pesticides, scientists say, by producing the sex pheromones of insects which then frustrate pests’ attempts to mate.

Scientists have already genetically engineered a plant to produce the sex pheromones of moths and are now optimising that, as well as working on new pheromones such as those of the mealybugs that plague citrus growers.

Related: Warning of 'ecological Armageddon' after dramatic plunge in insect numbers

Related: Assumed safety of pesticide use is false, says top government scientist

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Damian Carrington Environment editor

Underreporting of toxic waste at hog farms prompts inquiry

2 months 1 week ago

Testing of 55 North Carolina lagoons showed large discrepancies in levels of key pollutants compared to what was self-reported

Authorities in North Carolina have launched an investigation into widespread underreporting of dangerous toxins in dozens of feces-filled cesspools on giant hog farms that dot the eastern part of the state.

Testing of 55 waste lagoons at 35 hog-raising operations by regulators showed large discrepancies in levels of key pollutants compared with what was self-reported to the state by farmers. Excessive nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which can poison the water supply, were, in many cases, much higher than that reported by the farms.

Related: A million tons of feces and an unbearable stench: life near industrial pig farms

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Oliver Milman

Farmers challenge Nationals' claim drought unrelated to climate change

2 months 1 week ago

Farmers and National party voters say they are ‘increasingly frustrated’ at the lack of action on climate change

Farmers have challenged National party claims that conditions in drought-stricken regions in eastern Australia should not be politicised by attributing them to climate change.

Farmer and former Nationals leader John Anderson said this week that while the drought was the worst he had experienced, it was not unprecedented.

Related: 'No doubt our climate is getting warmer,' Malcolm Turnbull says

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Lisa Cox

Government promises profitable farming post-Brexit

2 months 1 week ago

Farmers concerned by Michael Gove’s recent environmental overtures welcome Defra vow

The government will take steps to ensure farms can operate profitably after Brexit, the environment secretary has insisted, as MPs challenged ministers to keep taxpayer funding for agriculture after EU subsidies are withdrawn.

Michael Gove said food production was at the heart of British farming. He told the all-party parliamentary environment group: “It would be impossible to sustain everything we value in rural Britain without thriving food production. And we need a balance [with environmental protection].”

Related: Source public sector food from UK post-Brexit, farmers say

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Fiona Harvey

Who should feed the world: real people or faceless multinationals? | John Vidal

2 months 1 week ago

The merger of corporate giants Monsanto and Bayer begs a vital question – what kind of agriculture do we really want?

Unless there is a major hiccup in the next few days, an incredibly powerful company will shortly be given a licence to dominate world farming. Following a nod from Donald Trump, powerful lobbying in Europe and a lot of political arm-twisting on several continents, the path has been cleared for Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, to be taken over by Bayer, the second-largest pesticide group, for an estimated $66bn (£50bn).

The merger has been called both a “marriage made in hell” and “an important development for food security”. Through its many subsidiary companies and research arms, Bayer-Monsanto will have an indirect impact on every consumer and a direct one on most farmers in Britain, the EU and the US. It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits, as well as much of the data about what farmers grow where, and the yields they get.

Related: Monsanto to ditch its infamous name after sale to Bayer

Related: Monsanto says its pesticides are safe. Now, a court wants to see the proof | Carey Gillam

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John Vidal

Monsanto to ditch its infamous name after sale to Bayer

2 months 1 week ago

Activists say deal is ‘marriage made in hell’, creating world’s most powerful agribusiness

The Monsanto company name, which has become synonymous with genetically modified food and as a longstanding target of environmental activists, will disappear after the completion of its $63bn (£47bn) sale to the German company Bayer on Thursday.

Bayer, a pharmaceuticals and chemicals giant, said on Monday it would immediately retire the 117-year-old Monsanto brand name. “Bayer will remain the company name. Monsanto will no longer be a company name,” it said in a statement. “The acquired products will retain their brand names and become part of the Bayer portfolio.”

Related: Who should feed the world: real people or faceless multinationals? | John Vidal

Related: This merger would threaten food supplies around the world. Who will stop it? | Hannah Lownsbrough

Related: Landmark lawsuit claims Monsanto hid cancer danger of weedkiller for decades

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Rupert Neate

Letters: Sir Richard Body had a strong sense of history

2 months 1 week ago

Giles Oakley writes: On the one occasion I met the Tory MP Sir Richard Body he made a great impression. In 1987 I was interviewing him for a BBC2 Open Space documentary entitled Aggro Chemicals presented by self-taught scientist and campaigning organic dairy farmer Mark Purdey.

Sir Richard supported Mark in his principled refusal to comply with a Ministry of Agriculture order to apply an organo-phosphate-based compound on his cattle to prevent a hypothetical infestation of warble fly. Mark, preferring his own organic treatment, took the matter all the way to the high court, and won.

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Giles Oakley and Charles Harris

Farming and humanity versus the environment | Letters

2 months 1 week ago
Guy Smith says it’s unfair to point the finger at farming as the cause of environmental damage, Iain Climie addresses food wastage and Dr Blake Alcott says the most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint is to not reproduce

One fundamental point has been overlooked by Kevin Rushby in his article about the plight of the countryside due to agriculture (The killing fields, G2, 31 May). There has been no intensification of agriculture in the UK for 25 years.

Government statistics show pesticide and fertiliser use has been significantly reduced. There are fewer crops grown and the numbers of pigs, sheep and cattle have fallen. So to point the finger at farming as the cause of environmental degradation through intensification makes no sense, especially when you consider the other changes that have taken place in that time – increased housebuilding, more roads, and more cars on those roads – and the impact they have had on the country’s landscape.

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Letters

Top sheep exporter under criminal investigation over conditions on ships

2 months 2 weeks ago

Perth-based Emanuel Exports’ licence under review over animals’ conditions onboard vessels bound for Middle East

Australia’s biggest sheep exporter is under criminal investigation over conditions onboard its Middle East-bound vessels.

Perth-based Emanuel Exports has been ordered by the department of agriculture to “show cause” why it should hold an export licence.

Related: Shocking live export conditions not uncommon, animal rights groups say

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Australian Associated Press

Back to the Land with Kate Humble: an ideal antidote to grim TV

2 months 2 weeks ago

The schedules are full of dark and disturbing fare, so the presenter’s stories of city dwellers retreating to green pastures is a welcome palate cleanser

For the most part, the TV landscape is not a cheerful place – and there is little in the way of distraction, aside from an hour of Ninja Warrior UK on Saturday nights. The glut of documentaries about stretched-to-breaking emergency services is a testimony to the extraordinary people who work in those fields, but they are not easy to leave behind without a sinking sensation in the gut. I can’t bring myself to watch any more of the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale, after an opening episode so violent and bleak that it made that scene in 1984 where a hungry rat stares expectantly at John Hurt’s face look like a CBBC bedtime story.

Perhaps that is what drew me to BBC Two’s Back to the Land With Kate Humble in the first place. The second series ended last night (although it is on iPlayer for another month) and it has been an escapist dream, full of stories about people who have chucked in the daily grind to pursue a different way of life.

Related: The new wave of British countryside movies: 'It's all about the mud and the wind'

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Rebecca Nicholson

Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth

2 months 2 weeks ago

Biggest analysis to date reveals huge footprint of livestock - it provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.

The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

Related: Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals – study

Related: Giving up beef will reduce carbon footprint more than cars, says expert

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Damian Carrington Environment editor

Industrial-scale beef production is a sign of crisis in Britain’s farming | Felicity Lawrence

2 months 2 weeks ago
Most farmers make a loss and rely on Brussels subsidies. Before it’s too late we must decide the kind of meat we want to eat

Pens of bare earth in serried rows, stretching across fields as barren as an urban car park, packed with cattle being intensively fed – this is the vision we have of the over-industrialised, disease-prone, polluting and crueller side of American feedlot beef production. However, as the Guardian revealed this week, this has become a feature of the British landscape, in the form of concentrated animal feeding operations (Cafos).

The bucolic idyll has been rooted deep in the English psyche for centuries, nowhere more so than in the hearts of the metropolitan middle classes, who want the countryside to be their green lung away from the smoke of traffic and who expect to see cows safely grazing on green and pleasant pastureland. Many prefer to remain disconnected from the reality of the processes required to turn those cows into aseptic packages of supermarket meat or fast-food burgers at rock-bottom prices.

Related: Revealed: industrial-scale beef farming comes to the UK

Related: Meat and fish multinationals 'jeopardising Paris climate goals'

The US has made clear that accepting their agricultural standards has to be the basis for any post-Brexit trade deal

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Felicity Lawrence

The British countryside is being killed by herbicides and insecticides – can anything save it?

2 months 2 weeks ago

From orchids and moths to hedgehogs and toads, our wildflowers and wildlife are dying out. Making the meadows safe again is a huge challenge – but there are glimmers of hope

In June 2011 I took a long drive up the A1, the Great North Road. At Scotch Corner I turned for Barnard Castle. The villages were well kept, the countryside was green, the fields dotted with sheep. Everything was normal. Or so I thought.

Related: Tell us how you are rewilding or improving nature in your area

Related: Sign up to the Green Light email to get the planet's most important stories

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Kevin Rushby

Are avocados toast? California farmers bet on what we'll be eating in 2050

2 months 2 weeks ago

For farmers planting crops they hope will bear fruit in 25 years – including avocado trees – climate change must be reckoned with now

Chris Sayer pushed his way through avocado branches and grasped a denuded limb. It was stained black, as if someone had ladled tar over its bark. In February, the temperature had dropped below freezing for three hours, killing the limb. The thick leaves had shriveled and fallen away, exposing the green avocados, which then burned in the sun. Sayer estimated he’d lost one out of every 20 avocados on his farm in Ventura, just 50 miles north of Los Angeles, but he counts himself lucky.

The trees are totally confused

They would grow in any postapocalyptic hellscape you could imagine

Smoothies, toast, ice cream, you name it – that consumption has increased sevenfold since 2000

It looked like someone had irradiated the place with toxic chemicals

Better soil is going to put us in a better position

Agriculture can play a huge role in stopping, slowing down, maybe even reversing climate change

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Nathanael Johnson, for Grist

Meat and fish multinationals 'jeopardising Paris climate goals'

2 months 2 weeks ago

New index finds many of the world’s largest protein producers failing to measure or report emissions, despite accounting for 14.5% of greenhouse gases

Meat and fish companies may be “putting the implementation of the Paris agreement in jeopardy” by failing to properly report their climate emissions, according to a groundbreaking index launched today.

Three out of four (72%) of the world’s biggest meat and fish companies provided little or no evidence to show that they were measuring or reporting their emissions, despite the fact that, as the report points out, livestock production represents 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

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Bibi van der Zee and Andrew Wasley

Brazil trucker strike leads to premature slaughter of millions of chickens

2 months 2 weeks ago
  • Strike over fuel prices paralyzes major exporter
  • Disruption of feed prompts farmers to slaughter chickens early

Striking truckers in Brazil have disrupted supplies and exports from one of the world’s agricultural powerhouses, triggering the premature slaughter of millions of chickens as feed failed to reach farmers.

The strike over high fuel prices has paralyzed Brazil, the top global exporter of soybeans, sugar, coffee and chicken. Industrial action could spread to the country’s oil sector on Wednesday, when workers plan to start a 72-hour strike.

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Reuters in São Paulo

Revealed: industrial-scale beef farming comes to the UK

2 months 2 weeks ago

Investigation uncovers about a dozen intensive beef units, despite assurances that US-style practices would not happen here

Thousands of British cattle reared for supermarket beef are being fattened in industrial-scale units where livestock have little or no access to pasture.

Research by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has established that the UK is now home to a number of industrial-scale fattening units with herds of up to 3,000 cattle at a time being held in grassless pens for extended periods rather than being grazed or barn-reared.

Related: Share your stories from inside the farming industry

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Andrew Wasley and Heather Kroeker
Checked
3 hours 47 minutes ago
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