Farming & Government Net Zero


The problem with being rural is that government and a major part of the population aren’t rural and in some cases haven’t got a clue what is going on. To put this in perspective somebody mentioned to me four issues those in authority hold against rural dwellers. They feel that these things are standing in the way of us reaching net zero. We are, ‘car dependent, have low density housing and are hooked on oil burning, and then there is intensive agriculture.’ To be fair it isn’t merely government, the entire political class and a lot of quangos and pressure groups are trapped in the same mindset.

Let us address these issues one by one:

Car dependent

In a paper by the Rural Services Network we read, “Local authorities in rural areas have far less funding available to support bus services. In 2017/18 such expenditure in predominantly rural areas was £6.72 per resident, compared with £31.93 in predominantly urban areas. Expenditure to cover concessionary bus fares was £13.48 (rural) and £25.54 (urban).

And then they complain that we’re ‘car dependent.’

Low density housing

Just who is in charge of planning law and regulation? Without being nasty about it, if governments have planning laws and planning policies, they can hardly then complain about the results of them.

Oil Burning

Well here we run smack bang into a problem with an entirely urban mindset. Back in August 1983 a paper was produced, “Winter rape oil fuel for diesel engines: Recovery and utilization.” In 2002 there were farmers in the UK growing oil seed rape for bio-diesel. By which I mean they were crushing the seed themselves and running their tractors on the result.

But of course diesel went from our saviour under Gordon Brown to the fifth horseman of the apocalypse in about 2017 because of particulates. A major problem in a built up area, but not in the middle of the countryside.

At the moment there are no full sized electric tractors, just big ‘garden tractors’ that are apparently suitable for vineyards. Apparently (but I’m not a tractor expert, I’m a cowman) they’re 30% more expensive than conventional. So from a farmer’s point of view it’s a case of us being expected to retool with more expensive equipment that doesn’t work as well, purely to solve a problem that isn’t a problem. Indeed the energy wasted trading in an awful lot of tractors that could have a generation or more life in them using rape oil doesn’t make any sense at all.

Intensive agriculture

Guilty as charged on that one. Indeed if we massively cut food production we’d very rapidly solve the problem of CO2 emissions as there would be a lot fewer people to emit the CO2.

Unless government are going to ration the number of calories allowed, then people are going to eat the same. So cutting intensive agriculture in the UK will merely result in even more food being hauled, often as air freight, from all round the world. The amount of CO2 produced by food production won’t fall. Unless the countries we buy food off want their own people to go hungry, they will have to intensify their agriculture prior to flying the stuff to us.

Another problem we have when trying to cope with changing farming to meet a new world is the way various single issue pressure groups selectively fiddle the figures. To quote:

“Peer reviewed research published in Agricultural Systems using the Life Cycle Assessment model to quantify the environmental impacts of Australian beef production found a 65 percent reduction in consumptive water use, from 1465 litres/kg of liveweight to 515 litres/kg of liveweight over the last 30 years, from 1981-2010.”

Previous media articles have reported claims that it takes between 50,000 and 100,000 litres to produce a kilogram of red meat. But these reported measures count every single drop of water that falls on an area of land grazed by cattle over the space of a year. And they do not take into account the fact that most of the water ends up in waterways, is used by trees and plants and in pastures, not grazed by cattle. “These calculations therefore attribute all rain that falls on a property to beef production, whereby the water is clearly being used for other purposes, such as supporting ecosystems”.

So there you have it, depending on which piece of ‘data’ fits best with your preconceptions you can declaim with confidence that it takes up to 100,000 litres of water to produce a kilogram of red meat. You can then declaim with equal confidence that it takes as little as 515 litres of water to produce a kilogram of red meat.

And then there’s the rumbling arguments about Brexit still going on. Apparently out of the 70 something trade deals we were part of with the EU, we’ve already rolled 66 of them over so we still get all the advantages (and disadvantages) which come with any trade deal.

A lot has been made of the Australian deal and how much it will mean for UK farmers. Not only that, but the Australians (like most of the world) use hormone growth promoters. Yet also on the horizon is the fact that the EU has decided that “there was no health risk from allowing PAP (processed animal protein) from pigs and insects to be fed to poultry, the feeding of pigs with chicken PAP, or the use of gelatine and collagen from sheep and cattle being fed to other farmed animals.”

So that’s what is going to happen and will start in August.

The question has to be asked, given the whole BSE thing, is the UK government going to ban the import of EU pig and poultry products on the grounds that they do not meet UK food and hygiene standards?

Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quad-bikes and dogs) It’s available here.