The Future of Farming

Discussion as to what happens after ‘Brexit’ has been heated and divisive in many areas of life. However, the replacement of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has not had much exposure. This is surprising since the mainstay of the EU and its predecessor the Common Market, was the CAP. Originally conceived after WWII as a way of making sure food security was a reality, it grew into a way of extracting funds without concern for the levels of production or the distortion of markets. Europe ended up with “wine lakes”, “milk lakes” and “butter mountains” among other similar things.

Once the flawed nature of the subsidies was revealed, there were attempts to reform but these were hamstrung by those that wanted to ‘protect’ their farmers. This lead to farmers being paid to ‘set aside’ land to prevent over production. Over time this got distorted by bending of the rules. One example of this is allowing oilseed rape to be grown on ‘set aside’ land as long as it was to produce ‘machine oil’. In the UK I have spoken to farmers who told me they earn more by not farming than they could if they planted crops. None of them said they were happy with this state of affairs. This is quite understandable, since farming is a way of life, not a nine to five job.

As we cease to be constrained by CAP, the government has to decide how it is going to proceed and what it wants farmers to do. DEFRA (department for food and rural affairs) have published a paper in which they solicit feedback from anyone who cares to read it. The executive summary does mention carbon sequestration in point 12 and is encouraging about other environmental issues. To quote the last point in the executive summary: We should all have an interest in the landscape around us: it must sustain us now and be held in trust for future generations. We welcome all views on our policy proposals. By working together we can maintain a safe, high-quality supply of food, produced in a way that enhances the environment and our precious countryside.

Of course, we have to consider that this was published before the recent general election which may mean it appears more open to new ideas than is actually the case now Boris Johnson was returned to power with a large mandate. The Brexit bill itself was stripped of many concessions that had been included in an effort to win a majority in the House of Commons. We can only hope that this is a procedural gambit rather than a shift back to the status quo. To bolster understanding of biochar and its associated goods there is an excellent paper that covers a lot of the research into using biochar as a feed supplement. The use of biochar in animal feeding report published by PeerJ The Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences. This shows what could be achieved in the realm of animal feed and welfare and references a lot of scientific reports into the matter.

For those who are curious about the wide range of uses for biochar: Burn Using Fire to Cool the Earth by Albert Bates and Kathleen Draper. It touches on a wide range of real uses and how they provide a way to repair the carbon cycle so that it is circular and not linear like our use of fossil carbon sources.