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Informative - always interesting - First Class magazine

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Forums and letters to the press

The Sunday Times - letters to the editor. , sent Jan 11, 2016

The absence of Philip Dilley, head of the Environment Agency from his desk during the flooding crisis might just have prevented the Liz Truss, head of Defra, giving farmers the promise they will be permitted to get their diggers into the ditches and watercourses on their land. This is despite the evidence from work done by the local community at Pickering in N Yorks which slows the flow of water off the moors which are the watershed above the town, and has apparently worked successfully, so far. It seems like Truss has made a political decision in favour of the upland farmers, whose stock is mostly out-wintered, and against the farmers located on the more intensive farms in the flood plain. These are the ones whose silage, straw and hay is in increased danger of being destroyed, and whose stock will need moving in a hurry. But where will they find an empty dry shed equipped to house and milk 300 cows?
 
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The Times - letters to the editor. Tuesday, Dec 29, 2015

 
Defra could do more

Farmers are able and willing to help each other out as is shown by the way those with animal feed and bedding are once again generously donating it to flood victims. How much better if farmers in the watershed helped protect their neighbours in the flood plain by inexpensively 'aerating' or spiking their grassland, reducing the flow of floodwater where it falls. Blaming this year's floods on global warming is an easy option and provides no solution. Working on the carrying capacity, or porosity of grassland and cultivated soils is of far greater interest, and many farmers will find their so-called 'saturated' soil quite dry just a few inches below the surface. Yet over the past decade and more Defra has done strangely little to encourage this approach, even though the increased grass yield will more than cover the cost of the work.


Mike Donovan, editor, Soil+ Cover Cropping International
M: 07778 877514
11 St Mary's St, Whitland, Carmarthenshire, SA34 0PY  T: 01994 240978
28 Brampton St, Ross on Wye, Herefordshire HR7 9EQ   T: 01989 218268

 

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To the Times on Aug 11, 2015 (not published)

 

Milking it

 

The writing was on the wall as soon as the EU announced the end of milk quotas. Now the factory farms can expand as fast as they like. Smaller producers, whose cows go out in the field to eat fresh grass instead of a scientific total mix ration of silage and cereals, will be squeezed out. Unless their product is differentiated as 'pasture fed'. Which might give consumers a choice, traditional farmers a livelihood, and maybe the cows some sun on their backs.

Yours

Mike Donovan, editor Practical Farm Ideas

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Sunday Times,   June 25, 2013

GM technology and round-up resistant weeds

 

Not all farmers agree with Owen Paterson's backing of GM crop technology, pointing out the difficulty in controlling RoundUp resistant weeds which are now present in 1/3 of arable land in the United States. The Environment Secretary seems unaware of what is happening in US agriculture and the problems with both rampant resistant weeds and root disease, and Charles Clover "Be Honest Minister... June 23, pg 25 could have said more and he is correct in saying that greater food production is more likely with steps such gene sequencing. Other farming methods such as green mulching with cover crops are shown to have long term benefits for farmers, consumers and wild life which transcend those from using GM seeds, yet the research into how these can be best used, and promoted to farmers, has hardly begun in the UK and Europe. Yet it is gaining considerable momentum in America, with the encouragement of the USDA. 

Agricultural history is littered with expensive diversions - remember the rash of tower silos which covered the country in the 70s to name but one - which held the promise of a leap forward for farmers and consumers but resulted in simply filling the pockets of suppliers. Learning and sharing technology as simple as making a DIY boot washer to help farm biosecurity has incremental benefits for all. We are told Team GB was helped to cycling success in the Olympics in a similar fashion, and if we seriously want to get UK agriculture in shape much can be done by applying existing techniques such as some of us are promoting. Defra's focus on GM is at best a distraction, and at worst is promoting a technique which farmers of the future will find hard to correct. 

 

References: 

 

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-04/-mounting-evidence-of-bug-resistant-corn-seen-by-epa.html

 

http://southeastfarmpress.com/soybeans/glyphosate-resistant-pigweed-becoming-bigger-issue-middle-tennessee-soybeans?NL=DFP-01&Issue=DFP-01_20130620_DFP-01_540&YM_RID=editor@farmideas.co.uk&YM_MID=1403605&sfvc4enews=42

 
 
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To The Times, March 10,2015 - not published
 

The answer lies in the soil

 
Farmer Matt Ridley (Opinion, March 9) need be less worried about the cautious approach of Brussels to agro-chemicals and plant genetics and more concerned with his fellow farmers, who possess the machinery and means of damaging the soil like never before. Bucking the trend, a cohort of farmers in the UK have joined an increasing large number of farmers  in both Europe, Australia and the Americas in changing their farm skills from soil busting machinery and the application of chemicals to the development and exploitation of soil biology which results in a gradual need for fewer inputs. Their new methods of improving soil condition and fertility adds to yields, cuts costs, and significantly improves life for the birds and bees.

The experimental work done by practical working farmers in many countries is leading the way in a manner last seen in the 18th c under Townsend, Coke of Holkham and others, whose on-farm experiments led to a major change in farm production. This new appreciation and understanding of soils and how they work is a chink of light in a subject area which has been all but ignored for a generation.

Yours faithfully

___________________________________________________

Friday June 14, 2013

Crowded cattle:  Response letter to The Times:

John Batten, London N6 wrote - Sir, Given that Bovine TB is transmitted by inhalition it is misleading for Matt Ridley (Opinion June 13) to omit any reference at all to cattle densities. In recent years I have passed fields where there was little more than standing room only for herds of Friesians. It does of course save money. Intensive farming is essential if the world is to be fed but it would be nice if some of the realities were publically acknowledged.  

Mike Donovan's reply:  Maybe John Batten (London N6) has an incomplete knowledge of dairy farming. Farmers take the trouble to strip graze cattle because it's efficient - highly necessary when milk retails at a lower price than bottle water. 

 

Posts from Practical Farm Ideas on British Farming Forum

The farming community on the internet is hugely active, and Practical Farm Ideas has been a part of it for many years. I'm often asked why we don't have a forum page, but I believe the forums that are established provide a good talking shop. Creating new ones dilutes the traffic and denudes each of some useful content.

 

British Farming Forum  Mar 15, 2013

A first rate BFF discussion! I recently picked up a piece from a US farm economist who believes that the huge farm units are more vulnerable than smaller ones with less money borrowed. which makes our family farms more secure. Which we all know makes sense. Against this is a piece in this week's Time magazine (yes, I know, how do I find time to read all this stuff) about Dutch v Greek tomatoes. The Dutch are even exporting to Greece. The hi-tech toms from Holland compete with the real thing from Greece and Italy. But southern Europe is catching up, and Spanish growers are now using substrate beds rather than soil and greenhouses with heating and biological control, and some are partnering with Dutch producers. The Greeks are missing out, and their poor productivity is only one problem - they are outside the tight-knit distribution channels made up of middle men who pay farmers low prices and take a big markup. The business is a fascinating example of how technology has transformed - not necessarily for the good of either producer or consumer - a market which has become controlled by a few huge buyers from major supermarkets. Whether the product is one which we will all really enjoy in our salad is another matter!

 

 

 

 
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