Monday, 1 December 2014

"How Can You Be Organic And Use A Tractor?" (Last Night's Telly!)

We watched Country File last night.  There was a feature about pesticides and insecticides and weed killers being banned.  Conventional arable farmers were saying that this will mean a smaller harvest, weed and pest problems for the future.  One of the solutions would be to make the weeding more human labour intensive and this would mean more expensive fruit and veg.  It would also create a lot of rural jobs.  The countryside needs thousands of those.

Later on they featured an organic farmer with  a weeding attachment that uproots the weeds.  It made me thinking of the horse scufflers from years a go.  Back in the days (I can remember it) in rural Ireland (pre -EEC) when everybody set a field of vegetables.  Number two son piped up:

"How can you be organic and use a tractor?"

Good question.  I suppose he had a point.  Tractors and cars use diesel and petrol and pollute the environment.  But surely it's better than using pesticides and insecticides?

Later on we watched Roger Barton's World's Greatest Food Markets.  He's a  Billingsgate market trader who went to New Dehli and attempts to sell vegetables and fruit to the the discerning Indian people.  Roger wore a distinctive straw boater and he seemed like the a guy who could be really kind, a gentleman and a character, but you wouldn't sour him.  He showed how to buy and sell, give free credit to strangers and even how to make a loss.  Even when he was losing money, he was still taking money home.  The market seemed to work on a free tier system were everybody involved selling could make some profit.  In India there is no food wasted.  So different to the land fills and the European markets.  

34 comments:

  1. Guy, the farmer you refer to admits that he has a moral dilemma when it comes to weed control, he can either use mechanical means or weed strike, burning the weeds off, the later although effective, also destroys the micro organisms within the soil so he goes for the mechanical means, what was not said is that he also uses a lot of labour for weed removal especially on his farms in France. With the amount of land that he has and other farms that grow for him ploughing by horse would not be practical, the market will only accept a certain amount of price difference, what was also not said was that he does not supply to any supermarkets, his sales are all box systems sales.
    I for one do not wish to eat veg that has had a chemical cocktail of sprays and welcome the fact that at last the EU is banning many of them. Guys production is on a par with conventional ( chemical) growers.
    From the small amount of land that we have cultivated for fruit and veg we could easily feed a family of four all year round and that includes potatoes.
    What will happen when the oil runs out, it will effect all farmers, maybe it will go back to people working the land or horse power again, at least people will then be paying a realistic price for food instead of the cheap food that most people are now used to.

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  2. I am not criticizing the farmer, Anne. I just don't think people are truly organic when we use diesel powered agricultural machinery and drive cars and vans that are polluting the environment.

    I wrote a post a while a go titled: A contradictory smallholder. I stated that my veg plot is man made chemical free but around the farm, I use chemicals. For example I put man made chemical fertilizer on the land, spray rushes and inject cattle for worms and fluke. But on the veg plot we only us muck and pelleted chicken manure and home made garden teas.

    I would love to see the fields full of agricultural labourers weeding instead of massive tractors and combines. Instead of the countryside being empty in the day time. People move to the towns and cities because there are no rural jobs.

    I went in Aldi the other day and vegetables were only 39 cents. Makes you wonder if its worth growing them in this damp climate, when you can buy them so cheap? People always look for a bargain. I'll still grow some for ourselves. You can't beat home grown vegetables. Thanks!

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  3. I didn't see the prog but think part of the problem is that so many people have become disconnected from the land and the reality of how food is produced, as well as where it comes from, how long it takes to grow and the problems involved in ensuring a steady supply. As a society we are terribly wasteful - it breaks my heart to think of the amount of food that gets thrown away. Perhaps if it was more expensive we'd waste less. We need a sea-change in attitude to make people really think about their food and use it wisely. I don't like pesticides or chemical fertilisers, they damage us, the environment and all the small things that share it with us, but there is an enormous demand for food which makes the whole thing complex to unpick and put right. We've got ourselves in a pickle and we need to unpickle it but I don't think there are any easy answers as to how to do that.

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  4. Totally agree with you, CT. I know a sheep farmer who buys a leg of lamb from Lidl for 12 Euros. He can't produce his own meat for that and New Zealand don't get any farm subsidies. I have even seen organic produce in Aldi, wrapped in plastic and flown in from Israel. Do we want people to have farming jobs in the countryside or do we mechanization, man made chemicals, cheap fruit and veg and and a countryside full of empty houses or dormitory housing at best? You're right we've got ourselves in a pickle - thanks!

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  5. A strange situation, millions of people out of work and dependent on benefits, but it's not economic to have them doing something useful like weeding crops to curtail the use of harmful chemicals?
    I might be missing something here, but would it be beyond the bounds of possibility to send a few thousand of them to the fields and get them doing something productive? Weeding's hardly rocket science.
    This way of using otherwise idle labour worked well enough during the war when POWs were seconded to farms to improve production.

    This would obviously involve government intervention so I doubt it'll ever happen. Until the oil runs out.

    Also seems unbelievable that food can be produced in New Zealand, be flown half-way round the world and sold for less than the same commodities produced a couple of miles down the road. And before anybody mentions slave labour, New Zealand isn't a third world country, I believe their standard of living is as goos as if not better than ours.

    Not sure about the organic foods, I think it's impossible to be completely organic since the introduction of tractors, and the use of oil-driven transport. But up to about 100 years ago, all our food was produced organically, they didn't have oil-based products, and everybody seemed to survive.

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  6. Why not have a Marshall type plan for the unemployed and the countryside, Cumbrian? I wouldn't hesitate to guess how many farms are for sale and how many derelict dwellings lie empty in the Irish countryside. A lot of farmers could sell sites for smallholdings and dwellings and chemical free meat and vegetable production. I would like to know what day we are all going to be organic farmers? Or will we still have expensive organic food and cheap chemically imported foods?

    Biofuels can easily be grown and made if the oil runs out. I agree all our food was produced without the need for man made chemicals once - thanks!

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    1. Biofuels, I take by that you mean palm oil and other crops? The devastation that the growing of these crops has caused both to the environment , wild life and the indigenous populations just can't be calculated. Reclaimed land that if it has to be deforested could be used for producing food, but that still would not address the problem of the value of the rain forests in climate change, neither would it address the problem of the native people who have been turned off their land, people who are truly self-sufficient. Where do they go? Into cities, no land, more increased need for extra food production when for millions of years they provided for their selves.
      As you are probably know Dave from my posts I try to support Knockvicar Organic gardens. This is a site of less than one acre, it started off as a F.A.S project giving training to people to be able to grow their own veg and maybe earn an income from it after training. This was open to people who had been unemployed for more than twelve months. many of those who have undertaken this course have gone on to do just that. It receives very little funding and is mainly now self supporting from crops which they grow plus other types of courses that they run such as seed saving, basket making etc.. It is possible to make a living from the land, we did and we know of many others but you have to have the right product and be prepared to work.
      One blogger that I follow lives in Cornwall where they have a 'Cornish Grown' box of food delivered every week, that is really keeping it local and money stays in the local economy.

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    2. The British government recently gave 25 million to fund biofuels and biomass. Farming land is making fantastic prices for growing cereal crops like Oil seed rape and Miscanthus. In Denmark they make cow slurry and offal from slaughter works into biomass gas. This can be used for domestic fuel and electricity. I didn't know about Knockvicar Organic gardens. It looks great!

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    3. Thames water burn the gas from the sewage works.

      http://www.thameswater.co.uk/cycles/accessible/sewage_treatment.html

      all very Tom and Barbara. We need to start thinking out side of the box for fuel. read number 3 on the above link

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    4. That's fantastic, Sol. It would also be an extra income if farmers could sell some of their slurry for electricity production.

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  7. Many of the chemical fertilisers are produced as a product from the oil industry so again what happens when the oil runs out? Countryside Tales are correct in saying what a wasteful society we are, I did a blog not that long ago on food waste, the main point being is that food is far too cheap, if the cost of production, plus transport, plus the awful packaging was taken into account people would be paying far more and would not waste food. it is only because food production is heavily subsidised with government payments to farmers plus export and import subsidies that brings down the prices. With the offers that you see in the supermarkets you can bet your bottom dollar that it is not they that get the reduced revenue but the farmer.
    If and when oil runs out there will be a real problem as commercialisation of farming has destroyed the land, the only way these farms can still produce crops is by using chemical inputs, the soil has been destroyed and it takes many years to re build soil structure and for the soil microbes and bacterium to return.
    The program last night did not point out that the farmer who was growing carrots and parsnips was in fact growing a mono culture, he is bound to have problems with a build up of pest and diseases growing just two closely related crops.
    In the case of the organic farmer Guy, he uses a fairly light tractor to avoid too much impaction on the land, conventional farmers use the biggest machines that they can, even if all weeding and planting was done by hand you would still cause some impaction of the land, if farmers went back to using horses they still have to feed the horses, imagine the cost if only man power was used to produce feed for animals and man, just using man power.
    There is no simple answer to feeding the world, there are too many problems with large production methods which can't continue indefinitely.
    As stated by Cumbrian 100 years ago all food was produced Organically but since then the world population has increased about 7 fold, 100 years ago most food was produced locally, there were people happy to work the land and many people grew a lot of their own. Now the majority of people either have no access to land or those who do can't be bothered, it's far easier to delegate responsibility to the supermarkets and not bother yourselves with how, where, or why's.

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  8. Even light tractors pollute the environment with their fumes. Organic sellers drive cars and vans fuelled by diesel and petrol engines.

    Years a go farmers were (had to be) self sufficient because they had no welfare state or other means of financial support.

    Monoculture grass farmers like most sheep cattle farmers are. Get penalized in the single farm payment if they put a field down to veg when it should be grass.

    I remember my uncle and grandfather using a horse plough, harrow and scuffler to grow a field of vegetables. They even grew giant Cow cabbages for the cattle and Mangels for the horse.

    I think it's also more probably more cost effective to buy cheap veg from other countries with cheaper labour and better weather than the British Isles. What could you grow or even do in Winter apart from leeks and spring cabbages and parsnips. I wouldn't like a day weeding today.

    Did you see the Roger Barton programme? There's little or no food waste in the Third World and it's all grown and weeded by hand.

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  9. Well said Anne!
    We will never be able to turn the clock back however much a lot of us would like to. We must look to the future if we are to have one, and it needs to be permaculture.

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  10. I think ethanol made from biogas from cereal crops could be the agriculture and domestic fuel of the future. Countries like Brazil have been running their cars from gas (ethanol) produced from land fill sites for years.

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  11. The farms around here had thousands of acres of maize this year. Everybody thought it was lovely until they found out it was being grown for ethanol for biogas and now some farmers are also selling the sugar beet for the same thing. The maize farmers had to engage contractors with huge maize cutters and teams of eight tractors and trailers to cope with the cut and take it to the factory, many miles away. The pollution from this alone was enormous not to mention the traffic congestion it caused on the roads around here. It seemed to be all contradictory. If the maize had been produced for animal food it would have gone un-noticed.

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  12. Hi Rachel. I was talking to a man recently who builds dams and reservoirs for farmers in Cambridgeshire. He says land is making very fantastic money and dairy farmers are growing the maize for biogas instead of producing just milk.. Instead of producing too much food. Farmers will grow energy crops in stead. Thanks for telling us all about what's happening in farming in your part of the world.

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  13. Crazy, taking valuable land out of local food production and then importing over 40% of what the UK needs, it's even worse here.
    Bio fuel can be produced from seaweed grown on lines, it's being done in Strangford Lough. Bio fuels can be grown on old land fill sites, bio fuel can be produced from waste food and human waste, bio fules can be produced from fast growing willow which grows on land not suitable for grazing or crop growing, It should never be produced on land suitable for growing food.

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  14. With the big farms it is no longer farming for food, it is whatever will produce the most money. Bio fuel is just another bandwagon to jump on. Of all the things man has done to get energy from our earth, taking land away from the production of food in favour of fuel is one hell of a crime. People must start to think about cause and affect of their consumption and waste. The earth does not owe us life, it gives us life.
    The difference is between a need and greed.

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  15. Irene, Have you read 'Need not Greed' by Judith Hoad ? Well worth reading, she lives in Donegal and practices what she preaches. Remarkable woman who we had the pleasure of meeting many years ago.

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  16. Watched 'Ear To The Ground' on RTE last week. They said Ireland needs to export ninety percent of its produce.

    The title of this blog is: "How can you be organic and use a tractor?" Be it conventional or organic. We seem to be saying that both sets of farmers are using fossil fuels to power machinery. These all create greenhouse gases, pollution and climate change. Organic use far less fossil fuels but it is still a contribution. There are over 33 million cars in the UK. Very soon fracking and the growing of bio crops will be the norm.

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  17. Not read the comments above but for me it's where do you draw the line. I grow organically but I don't get my muck from an organic farm, I get it from where ever I can.
    Also do you buy organic seed?
    i also don't think that people want the rural jobs that you say it would create. It would probably be minimum wage and go to migrant workers which is a hot topic at the moment (although if you look at they do tend to bring more than they take out).

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  18. Where do you draw the line, Kev? I buy my vegetable seeds from Aldi because they are unbelievably cheap. I also use the muck from our farm. There is probably some drug traces in it. But there's probably not. What's in mains water? We have a well but I don't know what's in or what is carried in the rain that waters the vegetables.

    I think the immigration topic is opening a can of worms in the UK. The whole idea of the Common Market was for a free market and free movement. If you or me wanted to live in any of the EEC countries we could do so. Like you say migrant workers do tend to bring more.

    I try to have organic principles on my vegetable plot. But I use more conventional farming methods around the smallholding. For example I get the rushes sprayed and the hedges cut. Thanks!

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  19. I am afraid that you could be right in your prediction Dave. It makes me weep but we must never give up hope. The car is king in our world now and I do not see that changing any time soon. It is up to all of us to the best that we can one step at a time. Lead by example in our own little corners, keeping faith with nature, following our beliefs and refusing to join the the larger herd.

    No, I have not read that book Anne, but I will.

    Interesting topic Dave, thank you!

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  20. Yes sadly, the car is king, Irene. Especially in rural areas with limited or no public transport. It's unbelevable how many cars there are on the roads these days. I think the West will grow bio fuels on their own soil instead of keep importing fossil fuels like oil from the Middle East. There are not many country dwellers (organic or conventional) that don't own at least one car and have tractors. Thanks for your very thoughtful comments, Irene.

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  21. Good idea, Sol. I know the EEC funded a solar powered tractor project and Fendt tractors can run on 100 percent biodiesel. There's a company here in Ireland that sells heating oil boilers that run on vegetable oil. Perhaps one day even cars will run off renewable biodiesel? Thanks!

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    1. sorry I think that ate my comment. I said bio diesel from chip fat! lol

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    2. I believe there are cars that can also run off new vegetable oil, along with the chip fat one's. I believe they smell like chip shops.

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  22. nah car wont run off of renewable bio diesel as we would have to grow the crop. it will be all new houses will be built with solar panels and cars will be electric. The person who is going to be rich in the future is the person who makes and disposes of battery banks. not to be gloom or doom but I believe we are already in peak oil descent. fracking and shale gas are the tip of the ice berg before we realise we have to go back to the practices of our ancestors. the only people who will do well will be people with land. I actually think I will see that in my life time if I live as long as my Gran.

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  23. John Seymour said that the landfill tips would be the mines of the future. He also predicted a battery powered cart to transport us around in. I wonder if the future is nuclear? Even in Ireland enviromentalists are considering the nuclear option. She imports electricity from the UK that's made in nuclear power stations. There is 200 years of coals beneath Britain but no one will consider that for an option for electricity. I think a lot of agriculture land will be used to grow crops for biofuels. Especially now there is a depressed beef market and a milk surplus. Thanks for your thoughts, Sol.

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  24. I have accepted that we are probably never going to be completely free from some chemical invasion of some sort, but at least we have reduced our chemical intake as best we can. I think that is all that anyone can do.....compromise, and do one's best.

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  25. Hi Vera. We do have to compromise so much. I would love to see less cars and lots of public transport and less reliance on oil imported from over seas. Even the solid fuel in our range in the kitchen is imported, except for the logs and turf when we can get it. Thanks!

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  26. Bit late to this one, but the image of organic (certified organic in the uk) is often one of pastoral scenes that don't involve machinery or intensive methods. The reality is that organic can actually end up using more machinery than regular farming. We grow organically here but would never certify. Commonsense things like using wood ash on beds, and feeding scraps to hens are verboten under organic rules.
    There's so many ways to compromise in our way of life that I've given up justifying them. We dont use chemicals that might harm us or the environment, but we run solar panels made using industrial processes. If we went down the road of being 100% 'clean' life would be hard going, and personally I want to find a balance between not doing terrible things to us and the environment, and living a reasonably comfortable life. All we can do is our best.

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  27. Thanks for your thoughts Steve. All we can do is our best. Thanks!

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