Sustainable Livestock Farming

Sustainable Livestock Farming

Sustainable Livestock Farming
Posted on June 13, 2019

One of the most interesting shifts in our attitude to food over the past 20 years or so has been the demand by consumers to know the provenance of the meat they buy. They want to know where it comes from and how the animals are reared. Animal welfare is high on their agenda. This, coupled with increasing numbers of the public becoming vegan, is leading to a sharp decline in eating meat. 

To many nutritionists, this is no bad thing. Eating too much meat, they say, is bad for our health. We can all see the size of beef steaks served up in American diners – and the size of the people eating them!  We wonder how they can afford it. The answer lies in the way the animals are reared: vast cattle sheds, housing thousands of animals fed solely on grain and concentrates.

That this method of rearing livestock is efficient on narrow economic grounds is beyond doubt, but at what true cost? The grain used to feed these cattle could be used for human consumption. The environmental costs are huge, but are not reflected in the farmer’s costs. And where is the animal welfare? These animals live out their lives in these sheds, herded together in confined spaces. What kind of life is this?

It is no wonder that veganism is on the increase. It is also no wonder that those of us who continue to eat meat want to know where the animals come from and how those animals have been reared.  We want to know that these animals have the quality of life that they, as ruminants, should have.

The Pasture Fed Livestock Association (PFLA) addresses both the environmental cost and animal welfare concerns. Its standards are strict. Feeding livestock (inter alia) grains, dry harvested grain legumes, maize and maize silage, soya and oilseed products are prohibited. Their diet must consist solely of fresh or dried fodder, roughage or silage.

There also appear to be health benefits.  Their research shows that the ratio of Omega 6 and Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids is 4:1 in pasture-fed beef. That ratio rises to 6:1 for grain-finished beef, an imbalance that medics consider leads to poor health outcomes.

However, the big debate is about livestock producing inordinate green house gas emissions. The Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) report[1]  concluded that “grazing animals should not be a central part of sustainable food production in future”. This was hotly contested by the Sustainable Food trust (SFT) in its response[2], who queried the metrics used by FCRN in reaching that conclusion.

For example, FCRN’s focus was “the role of grazing animals in the net greenhouse gas balance” yet it asks SFT “why should hedgerows, trees and so forth be credited to the animals?”  Hedgerows and trees do usually surround the fields the livestock graze.

Nevertheless, FCRN and SFT did agree on more than they disagreed. In particular:

  • Increasing global demand (for meat) will result in serious and potentially irreversible consequences for the environment;
  • We must maintain (and where possible) increase carbon in soils;
  • Grass and grazing animals should be reintroduced into arable crop rotation; and
  • Intensively managed ruminants should be reduced.

Professor Michael Lee, the director in charge of Rothamsted at North Wyke in Oakhampton, addresses all of these issues in his podcasts [part one and part 2]. You can access both episodes on Everys’ website under Farming and Rural Businesses.  The science is fascinating: by adding in all those natural capital costs that are currently omitted from the profit and loss accounts of intensively produced livestock, the case for the PFLA approach does become compelling.

[1] Grazed or Confused Report; FCRN; 2017

[2] Grazed and Confused – An initial response from the Sustainable Food Trust; 3 October, 2017; SFT

The Elephant in the Room

The Elephant in the Room

The Elephant in the Room
Posted on June 13, 2019

On 4th September last year, Anna Hill, on Farming Today (Radio 4), began with this question:

“If British shoppers are spending £204 billion a year on food, why are farmers only seeing 4.5% of that?”[1]

She put the question to Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University, and his reply was damning. In his view, farmers get very little of the money that consumers spend. It all goes either to food manufacturers that make a 15% return on capital employed, or to food retailers that are vast combines controlling and driving down food prices.

Anna asked Tim how farmers can ever try to get some of that money for themselves. This, he said, is “the big political question, that is the elephant in the room”.[2]  Catherine Broomfield, a local stock farmer from East Devon, echoed exactly that sentiment in an article in the Guardian on 12th September. In her view “The big elephant in the room, between farmers producing nutritious food and the food people put on their plates, is the powerful corporate interests of the food manufacturing and retail sector.[3]

Will this change with Brexit? Of course not – unless we all make sure the Government does much, much more to introduce a food policy that is fit for purpose in the 21st century.  As Tim Lang put it: “We have been drifting down the same path for the last 70 years… but that model (CAP) is already being exposed as the biggest driver of climate change, the biggest user of water, the biggest destroyer of ecosystems and the biggest preventable factor in diet related ill health, the source for the bankruptcy of the National Health Service.”

We all now know that the Common Agricultural Policy is a busted flush that has directly contributed to the impoverishment of our countryside through unsustainable agriculture.  The main argument in favour of Brexit is that it gives us the opportunity to take back control of our countryside and our agriculture. The operative words here are “the opportunity to take back control.” If we do nothing, the same old powerful corporate interests will continue to dominate and dictate our food policy. We shall pay a heavy price.

In Tim Lang’s view “the big question ought to be about re-writing who gets the money in the food chain. Everyone makes money off the land – why don’t we put more money into the land?”   Dairy farmers are still giving up at the rate of one a week, despite the introduction by the Government of the Grocery Code and Adjudicator system. We have to promote “a sea-change in the whole of the farming and food retailing and catering system”[4]

In Tim Lang’s view, the Grocery Code does provide a model for future action. The National Farmers Union (NFU) lobbied successfully for its introduction, but it has to be radically revamped and given the full force of the law to be effective. At the same time, Catherine Broomfield argues in her article that “diversity has to be the cornerstone of any agricultural policy capable of producing sufficient food in a way that delivers good outcomes for both humans and the plant.”  She argues that mixed farming was rejected in favour of large-scale specialised, intensified and industrialised farms. The National Trust encourages production methods with low environmental impact, including minimising energy use in production, packaging and transportation – and pays a fair price to its suppliers.

The big question posed by Professor Lang is “does the British public want a farming industry – yes or no?”  It is interesting that Professor Lang put that question to the British public, not farmers. Fairer prices and shorter supply chain issues are likely to dominate the debate about food for years to come. If the prices farmers receive continue to be driven down by the food manufacturers, processors and retailers – Brexit or no Brexit – there is little hope for a viable farming industry and the UK will become one vast theme park.

[1] Anna Hill, Farming Today, BBC4, 4 September, 2018

[2] Professor Tim Lang, Farming today, BBC4, 4 September, 2018

[3] Catherine Broomfield, The Guardian, 12 September, 2018

[4] Anna Hill, Farming Today, BBC4, 4 September, 2018

Podcasts and The Future of Farming…

Podcasts and The Future of Farming…

Podcasts and The Future of Farming…
Posted on June 13, 2019

We all know that farming is going to change. The question is not when but how it will change. The Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill both set out a direction of travel towards a more sustainable form of farming. As always, the big question is who is going to pay for it.  

Anna Hill of Farming Today asked her interviewees on Saturday 18 May 2019 why the public should care about these changes. Emily Norton, Head of Rural Research at Savills, answered in this way: “There’s a classic saying, we need a doctor once a year, a lawyer once in a lifetime, but we need a farmer three times a day.”

As a start along this particular road, we hope you will listen to a series of podcasts we have made with local farmers and rural business owners in conjunction with Greenslade Taylor Hunt, the land agents, and Folk2Folk, the peer-to-peer lender.  

Sally and Roger Maynard farm 260 acres in East Devon and describe why and how they  have diversified their farming operations over the years. The “why” is the simple part – the continual pressure to reduce farm prices, particularly dairy products. The “how” is more difficult and, in their podcasts [part one and part two], Sally and Roger discuss the important business principles that they consider have been key to their success.

John Coles describes how he diversified his farming operations into the meat trade, qualifying as a slaughterman and establishing a low throughput abattoir on his farm. There were 20 such abattoirs when he started, now only four remain. In his podcast [click here], John describes how he rears, slaughters, butchers, retails and cooks his own meat at East Hill Pride Farm Shop, near Sidmouth. If we really are concerned about traceability and shorter supply chains, then we need to support John Coles’ business to ensure small abattoirs survive, despite the overly prescriptive approach of the Food Standards Agency.

Steve Williams and Pete Woodham-Kay started a charcuterie business just over four years ago in Steve’s garage. They now have an industrial unit with the equipment required to cure their sustainably produced meat, using “only salt and natural Exe and Clyst Valley air”. They are not farmers, but you will hear in their podcasts [part one and part two] how they translate their concerns about animal welfare into a very high quality product. It’s all about treating animals with respect. They sell their products not only through their restaurant in Topsham and their pub, the Globe in Lympstone, but also through delis throughout the South West, including Darts Farm.

Professor Michael Lee, director in charge of Rothamsted at North Wyke, Oakhampton, talks about ruminants and the work he is carrying out at North Wyke to improve pastures. In his podcasts [part one and part two], he talks about the importance of animal fats in our diet. We should be eating red meat of higher quality, but less of it and drinking milk of higher quality and more of it if we are to avoid a public health crisis. Michael’s comments on the current fads for nut and oat juices are particularly interesting.

Catherine Broomfield is a farmer in East Devon and writes on farming and rural matters for the farming and national press. She and Professor Tim Lang take a particularly damning view of current food supply chains and the economic control exerted by the big manufacturers, processors and supermarkets, forcing farmers to produce more for less money. Like Professor Michael Lee, they consider the current system is broken and has to be replaced for both environmental and public health reasons. In her podcasts [part one and part two], Catherine sets out the thinking behind the Agriculture Bill and why we will lose our soil if we do not reform farming practices as a matter of urgency.

Andrew Parr is the chairman of, and the fifth generation involved, in the family business of oak bark tanning in East Devon. Indeed, it is the only oak bark tannery left in the UK, let alone Devon where a century and a half ago there were 200 such tanneries.  In his podcast [click here], he describes the tanning process, which is a long one, sourcing hides locally and using only lime and water to cure them. The finished product is of the highest quality, which he sells into the bespoke shoe and saddlery markets in this country and to the top fashion houses in Italy, France and world-wide.  His is a fascinating story, showing how the steep decline in traditional rural skills has affected rural communities.

All six interviewees are committed to the highest standards of animal welfare and quality products. More importantly, all six consider that, provided farming and food production systems are integrated within, and form part of, the overall environmental management, there will be opportunities to enhance and grow farming operations and related rural businesses.  In addition, the Government will need to commit to fairer farm prices in order to plan, on a long term basis, to improve soil fertility by sequestering carbon.  These policies have to be “joined up” to work for the benefit of us all.

Grieving for a Pet

Grieving for a Pet

Our pets give us unconditional love and are often one of our best friends.  They never judge or answer back, and they are normally pleased to see us.  However, our pets are never just pets.  They are friends, companions, working dogs, service animals or therapy animals, and for many people losing a pet is just as devastating and painful as losing someone they love; in some cases, even more so.

Although there will always be those who fail to understand the depth of grief felt for the loss of a much-loved pet, there is no doubt that those feelings are real and valid and, therefore, warrant a proper grieving process.

Everybody grieves in different ways: what may be right for one person may not be right for another.  For some people, the grief may confine them to their beds but others may want to throw themselves into their work to stop the feelings of sadness from surfacing.  However you manage your grief, it is important to try not to delay the grieving process.  At some stage, owners need to acknowledge the fact that their beloved animal has died.

It is fundamental to the healing process to accept that whatever feelings you are experiencing are perfectly natural.  Give yourself time: remember, this was a pet you loved and it could take weeks, months, or even longer before the sadness starts to lift.  Importantly, do not hesitate to seek support from understanding friends, relatives or professionals; what you are feeling is normal.  Plus, do not forget that grieving is an expression of the love that you had for your pet.

Memorialisation

Memorialisation

Memorials and mementos are important links from the past to the present: they enable the living to remember those who have died.  This is usually at the deceased’s resting place, but with cremation on the increase many people no longer have a conventional grave to visit.  In 1960, only 34.7% of deaths involved cremation.  By 2017, that figure rose to 77.05% with it set to continue rising further due, mainly, to the increasing cost of burials.

Memorialisation was traditionally a ceremony to remember a loved one, but the definition has expanded and is now the process of preserving memories of people which can be done in a variety of ways, particularly with the ashes of the deceased.

Many people choose to scatter the ashes (keeping in mind some places require a permit to do so), or to keep the urn containing their loved one’s ashes with them at home.  Others, however, wish to have a place of remembrance where they can reflect, remember and find moments of peace such as a park bench, a rockery or a rose garden.  Increasingly, though, novel ways of memorialising are emerging by creating mementos out of the deceased’s ashes or turning them into a tattoo.  Other ideas of things which have been done with ashes include:

  • Bury, inter or plant them (for example, with a tree);
  • Creating a vinyl record with their favourite song, or a recording of their voice;
  • Producing hand-blown glassware or stained glass;
  • Having a huggable stuffed animal which contains a compartment for the ashes;
  • Fireworks; and
  • Jewellery.

The way in which you choose to remember your loved one is incredibly personal, but memorialisation is a human need – for those being memorialised and those who are grieving.  Previously, it was reserved for the upper classes, but now it is almost considered a fundamental human right for all people.

However you choose to remember your loved one, the most important thing is that it helps bring solace in your moments of grief and, later on, peace and acceptance.

Funeral Costs

Funeral Costs

Dying is expensive; there’s no getting around it, and the expense can come as quite a shock to those responsible for arranging your funeral.  In recent years, the cost of a simple funeral has risen sharply due to a number of factors such as grave shortages and local authorities increasing cremation fees.

According to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), who have been reviewing funeral costs, the average cost of a simple funeral in 2017 was just under £3,800.  This excluded the optional extras such as embalming, the funeral service, funeral venue and limousines.  In 2018, Sun Life produced a report “2018 Cost of Dying Report” in which they found a standard funeral had risen to £4,271 before extras.  These optional extras can increase the cost by an additional £2,061; this means a total of over £6,000 for the average funeral.

So what can be done to help lessen the burden?

Provided there is enough money in your estate to cover the costs, some funeral directors are happy to liaise with the solicitor assisting you to get the bill paid directly from the deceased’s bank account or, in some cases, even delay payment until probate has been settled.  Failing that, a funeral plan, whereby you pre-pay the funeral costs, may be an option.  It is vital, however, that you fully understand exactly what is covered by the plan so that there are no further unexpected surprises to add to the burden of grief your loved ones will already be experiencing.  In addition, you must ensure that the funeral company is a reputable one and is regulated by the Funeral Planning Authority.

Generally, a funeral plan will cover the following:

  • Funeral director fees
  • Coffin
  • Transport
  • In some instances, cremation or burial fees
  • What you want to happen at your funeral

Additional fees are payable for the cost of the doctors’ fees for the death certification; the funeral celebrant; the death notice; the order sheets; the venue hire for the wake; plus, in some cases, the burial or cremation fees are not covered by the plan.  As well as these, you need to be aware of solicitors’ fees for administering your estate, especially if using your estate to cover these costs.

With standard funeral costs expected to rise further to £7,000 by 2020, making plans now to lock in the cost of a funeral at today’s prices is good preparation.  A bit of research and planning now will go a long way to helping relieve the future anxiety of your loved ones.

For advice on funeral plan companies and further frequently asked questions, see https://funeralplanningauthority.co.uk/faqs/.