Sunday, 17 November 2013

'Mega farms'... for Devon...?

There has been a national conversation about the future of farming:

UK needs 'mega farms' to keep food prices down, say experts

Mega farms are controversial because the animals can be kept without daylight indoors for most of the time

A pig
Mega farms where hundreds or thousands of large animals, such as cows and pigs, are housed together in enormous sheds are controversial. Photograph: Christian Charisius/REUTERS
Britain needs more "mega farms" housing hundreds or thousands ofanimals to keep food prices down and improve animal welfare, according to a group of influential farming experts.
Speaking at a conference organised by the Science Media Centre, Toby Mottram, professor at the Royal Agricultural University, said herds of more than 1,000 cows had "significant economies of scale". This could reduce costs while allowing yields to rise. "The industry is going to larger herds. Big may be better."
There are only a small number of mega farms in the UK at present where large animals are kept – only 17 of the UK's dairy herds have more than 1,000 cattle, for instance, though there are many more poultry farms where thousands of birds are kept together – but there are several controversial projects in planning.
One project to house up to 25,000 pigs in a single facility in Foston, Derbyshire, has been turned down by local planning officials, but may be resurrected.
Mega farms where hundreds or thousands of large animals, such as cows and pigs, are housed together in enormous sheds are controversial because the animals can be kept indoors most of the time, and sometimes for all of their lives, without seeing daylight. In some countries, such as the US, they have been blamed for the routine use of antibiotics on a massive scale, which has been associated with harm to human health, as resistance to powerful antibiotics can be passed on through the animals to humans.
In the UK, however, only 2% of dairy farms keep their cattle indoors all year round, compared with as many as 90% in the US. Concerns over the use of antibiotics on UK farms were rebuffed by the farming experts, who said the rules in the UK were more restrictive and that in the case of dairy cows, farmers would lose money if antibiotics were used often because the milk produced for three days after the treatment finished would have to be thrown away.
Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at the University of Bristol, said that mega farms need not mean more intensive farming. "Animals can be better cared for in larger farms," she said. "I have been on some terrible small farms, that I wouldn't care if they went out of business."

UK needs 'mega farms' to keep food prices down, say experts | Environment | The Guardian

Mega farms create mega problems

David GibsonIllustration by David Gibson
Toby Mottram is wrong to claim that we should intensify farming to keep prices down (UK needs 'mega farms' to keep food prices down, say experts, 13 November). This ignores the scientific evidence from the US, where large-scale intensive farming systems have become the norm, showing there are real risks to human health from mega farms because of their routine use of antibiotics. There is also new evidence from the Netherlands, where a strain of MRSA was found more frequently and in higher concentrations in the air within 1km of intensive pig and poultry farms. The UK's chief medical officer recently stated that the problems of antibiotic resistance in humans means we are facing a human health crisis, and that this is linked in part to antibiotic use in intensive livestock farming. This was raised at the recent G8 meeting.
The solution is not to create huge-scale, intensive, indoor livestock operations that threaten our landscape, farming and rural communities. Large-scale industrial farms may be able to produce food a little more cheaply in the short term, but we risk ending up paying a high price in terms of the loss of antibiotics that save millions of lives, to say nothing of the cost to the animals themselves. We need to eat less but better-quality meat, from farming systems that respect animals and allow them to enjoy natural behaviours.
Emma Hockridge
Head of policy, Soil Association
• Despite high levels of support from the public purse, our current food system is leaving growing numbers in food poverty and is leading to widening inequalities in health. It is also exerting a heavy toll on the environment and preventing many farmers from receiving a fair price for their produce. Rather than further intensification of livestock farming, we need a resilient, diverse approach to food and farming. We need an approach that will halt and reverse the decline in all the things that people love about our countryside: plentiful wildlife; a varied landscape; farm animals enjoying life out of doors; and fresh, seasonal, local food which can be bought at fair prices, while providing a reasonable livelihood for the people who produce it. Farming and food are not just issues for academics and vested interests – we all have a stake in getting this right. The first step is moving food, farming and the countryside right up the political agenda, and reconnecting people with where their food comes from, and how it is produced.
Sue Armstrong-Brown RSPBDan Crossley Food Ethics CouncilSue Dibb Eating BetterVicki Hird Friends of the EarthTim Lang Centre for Food PolicyJeanette Longfield SustainPaul Wilkinson The Wildlife Trusts
• Your article states "only 2% of dairy farms keep their cattle indoors all year round, compared with as many as 90% in the US". Having seen first-hand the terrible impact of mega dairies in California on the environment and on farmers trying to make ends meet, I can say that following the US down the road of intensification and ever-larger indoor only dairy farms would be a huge error. In the debate around feeding our growing population, we should be very clear that the consumer only picks up part of the bill. Someone, or something, has to pay the price for cheap meat and dairy products and all too often the unsustainable burden falls on the environment and the animals that provide them. We must be more effective at putting food in people's mouths by reducing food losses and wastes; by getting farm animals off human-edible grain and fishmeal and feeding them on grass, forage and food wastes; by returning to mixed farming which restores soils and by avoiding the over-consumption of meat and dairy.
Philip Lymbery
CEO, Compassion in World Farming
• Last week the headlines were about Brits and our wanton wastage of food (Report, 7 November). We slaughter approx 1bn animals each year – most are farmed in fetid sheds. Animals suffer and die for us to eat yet each day we trash 1m eggs, 1.5m sausages and 6m glasses of milk and the equivalent of 86m chickens are trashed each year too. This week we have "influential farming experts" telling us we need even more intensive livestock farming to "keep food prices down". No doubt so we can trash even more animals without a financial care.
Sara Starkey
Tonbridge, Kent

UK needs 'mega farms' to keep food prices down, say experts | Environment | The Guardian

The debate has been going on for some time:

The toxic truth about mega-farms: Chemical fumes, distressed animals and poisoned locals driven from their homes and worse

Writer Steve Boggan
Aside from the times when he worried that his children might never wake up at all, Jeff Brouse remembers the worst nights as the ones when they woke up screaming. Hot nights were the most frightening. 
That was when warm air would rise and the gas  -  hydrogen sulphide, heavier than air  -  would roll on down the hill to his pretty farmhouse as if heralding the arrival of some demon in a horror movie.
Then the smell would overpower them. The headaches and sickness would begin, the nausea and dizziness. 
And, over and over again, Jeff and his wife Lesley would scoop up their little children, Brooklyn, then aged five, and Jackson, four, and, in Jeff's words, get the hell out of there, far enough away as to be able to breathe. 
'Mega-farm': Cows by the thousand live on concrete and rarely get to see the sun,  they never actually graze and their lives are shortened by round-the-clock milking
'There were times I was terrified for my kids,' recalls Jeff, 40. 'And towards the end, Lesley was pregnant and the doctor said the gas could affect the baby. We got away then, as much as we could, went down the road to my parents' place and slept on the concrete floor.' 
So what kind of ghastly chemical plant did the Brouses live next door to in Minnesota? in fact, the facility that was slowly poisoning this hapless family (and thousands like them across America) was a dairy farm. Not, however, a dairy farm as you might imagine, with cows chewing the cud or roaming freely in the fields.
This one was called a CAFO  -  a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation  -  a 'mega-farm' where cows by the thousand live on concrete and rarely get to see the sun, where they never actually graze, where their lives are shortened from round-the-clock milking.

 'Don't let mega-farms get a foothold in the UK'
This is a farm where huge quantities of hormones and antibiotics  -  administered because their miserable, cramped existences make the cattle prone to disease  -  are hosed away in the gallons of waste which they produce and stored in vast lagoons by the tens of millions of gallon, ready to be sprayed on to local farmland as fertiliser.
And, terrifyingly, this could soon be the future of farming in Britain.
Until now the British agricultural industry has steered clear of dairy farming on such an industrial scale. The average size of a dairy herd in the UK is somewhere between 70 and 100 animals. But all that could be about to change.
Many dairy farmers believe the drive towards larger dairies  -  and the economies of scale they bring  -  is inevitable as supermarkets try to force prices down. In 1998, there were 31,753 dairy farmers in the UK. 
By 2008, this had shrunk to just 17,060, with many going into liquidation claiming that it cost more to produce milk than they could sell it for  -  recently as little as 25p per litre. A further 9 per cent are expected to leave the industry within the next two years.
Which is why some farmers have scented the opportunity for economies of scale  -  doing for dairy and meat farming what battery chicken farms have done for the poultry industry. 
Battery hens in wire cages
Intensive methods: Battery hens are kept in wire cages and treated like machines
During the past year, planning applications for two dairy and one pig mega-farm have been lodged. There are plans being considered for a giant pig farm in Foston, Derbyshire, housing 2,500 sows and up to 15,000 of their piglets.
And in Lincolnshire, proposals for mega-dairy operations housing 3,000 cows in south Witham and 8,100 in Nocton have been made  -  then withdrawn. 
But, crucially, the Nocton scheme  -  the biggest ever in Western Europe  -  is expected to be re-submitted any day now, once final adjustments have been made...

The truth about mega-farms: Chemical fumes, distressed animals, poisoned locals | Mail Online

Mega-farms a 'threat' to family farmers

Monday 18 April 2011 15:54

Large-scale agriculture threatens to drive hundreds of British farmers out of business, claims a report.

Small family farms are likely to lose their livelihoods if the go-ahead is granted for "mega-farms" housing thousands of livestock, warns the document.
Cheap meat or milk from large-scale production systems would pile the pressure on farmers already struggling to make a living, it suggests.
The joint report was published by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and the Soil Association on 18 April.
The full report can be downloaded here.
Its publication was timed to coincide with a public consultation on plans for a large-scale pig farm at Foston, Derbyshire. The pig farm would produce 52,000 pigs each year...
Mega-farms a 'threat' to family farmers - 18/04/2011 - Farmers Weekly

Farming boss calls for move to more US-style mega-farms

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: June 11, 2012

The president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) has advocated controversial "super- farms" as part of a solution to ensure that demand can be met while animal welfare is maintained.
Peter Kendall argues that the UK should follow the example of the US, where thousands of pigs are reared on farms, instead of the 100 to 150 typically seen in Britain. He believes larger farms are more profitable, and better positioned to invest in areas such as equipment and expertise to ensure higher animal weflare.
However, the issue is said to have "polarised" opinion.
Mr Kendall told the Guardian: "The challenge of feeding everybody with the constraints of climate change and weather shocks is so great we'll need a complete rethink." He was speaking after a report showed that farmland scarcity in the UK was reaching the levels seen in China.
Two applications for super- farms are pending in the UK – one in Wales, which would hold up to 1,000 pigs, and one in Derbyshire, for 2,500.
Critics claim injuries could go unnoticed and disease could be rife, and they highlight the impact of slurry on the environment.
Mr Kendall said the UK was about 62 per cent self-sufficient in the food it could produce overall and 40 per cent self-sufficient with regard to pork – so there was "plenty of scope" for big producers with room for smaller ones as well. He said: "I want to make sure we're not importing food that's produced to lower welfare standards and therefore driving our farmers out." But Mr Kendall said he did not believe larger farms would become the norm in the UK, partly because of a lack of available land. He added: "This is about a few experimental versions, so we can see whether it lowers greenhouse gas emissions, see whether it's welfare-friendly, see what the impacts are on the environment."
Jeff Thomas, from St Just-in-Penwith in Cornwall and president of the Devon Cattle Breeders Association, said: "Farming seems to be becoming polarised. On one hand you have the large turnover highly commercial big businesses and on the other you have producers working for niche markets. They can both be good outlets. The greatest pressure at the moment is in the middle ground, particularly people milking small herds of dairy cattle who do not have the economies of scale, nor niche customers. The niche will always be there because people are willing to pay a little bit more for a top-quality product – but the simple fact remains you cannot sell a lot of it."
Anthony Gibson, former regional director of the NFU in the South West, said: "I am much more keen on the concept of super farming rather than super-farms. "

Farming boss calls for move to more US-style mega-farms | Exeter Express and Echo

And what of the current state of farming in Devon? 
This is not 'mega-farming':

Devon Average Herd and Flock Size
The average dairy cowherd in Devon has 83 animals. 
The average beef herd numbers 26. 
There are 1,584 dairy and 2,801 beef holdings in Devon.
The average sheep flock in Devon comprises 41-53 animals. 

In total there are 36 million sheep in the UK.


Two years ago, Bicton College put on a presentation:

Towards 2026: The Prospects for Farming and Rural Enterprise

The national and international context of farming and rural enterprise was the subject of Professor Michael Winter's presentation at this seminar held at Bicton College on 27 July.

Michael spoke about food security, highlighting the need to double food production globally by 2050 to cope with increases in population against a backdrop of pressures on key resources like oil, water and fertilisers, climate change, soil degradation and a declining growth in agricultural productivity...
News - Politics - University of Exeter

Here is the press release from the District Council:

Food for thought at EDDC farming seminar

Prof Michael Winter at Farming Seminar
Friday 29 July 2011
BY 2026, farming in East Devon is likely to be on a completely different scale from how it is today. And that will pose a challenge to those who manage land use and the shape of development in the District – the Members and Planning Staff at EDDC.
That’s the message given to an audience at Bicton College on Wednesday during a seminar organised by East Devon District Council.
Experts on the role that farming plays in rural communities and the local economy were guest speakers at the seminar, which was entitled ‘Towards 2026: The Prospects for Farming and Rural Enterprise’.
The seminar was designed to update key Members and Planning Officers at EDDC on the challenges facing rural communities. It also looked at how farmers could be supported by the local authority to give them the best chance of successfully delivering crops and produce in a volatile global market.
Among those who gave presentations during the seminar at Bicton College were Professor Michael Winter, Director of the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter; Melanie Squires, Regional Director of the National Farmers’ Union; John Varley, Estates Director of Clinton Devon Estates; and David Henley, Principal of Bicton College.
There were 24 Councillors and 12 EDDC Staff in the Bramley Room at the agricultural college on Wednesday to hear the speakers, and later to pose questions.
Professor Winter gave an insight into ‘The National and International Context of Farming and Rural Enterprise’, while Melanie Squires spoke on ‘Practical Challenges to Successful Farm and Rural Enterprise’.
John Varley outlined the ‘Challenges and Opportunities for a Sustainable Rural Future’ and David Henley spoke on ‘Supporting East Devon’s Rural Workforce’.
Professor Winter spoke about Food Security, highlighting the need to double food production globally by 2050 to cope with increases in population against a backdrop of pressures on key resources like oil, water and fertilisers, climate change, soil degradation and a declining growth in agricultural productivity.
He added: “By 2030 the human population of the planet is expected to exceed 8.3 billion.  Ensuring global food security is therefore one of the biggest challenges facing humanity, and it can only be achieved by dramatic increases in food availability across the world.  Fundamental research in plant and animal science, sustainable agriculture, land use and ecosystem services, in addition to addressing the impact of social science to sustainable production and consumption, will be pivotal to meeting this exceptional challenge”.
Training centre
At the end of the seminar, many of the delegates accepted an invitation to visit the college’s EaRTH* Centre, a dedicated training centre and conferencing space for renewable energy and sustainable building on which building work recently started.
Afterwards, Councillor Graham Godbeer, EDDC’s Cabinet Member for Economy and Chairman of the Seminar, said: “We now have a much better understanding of the challenges facing rural communities and in particular the farming sector in the current climate – and I use the word climate in every sense of the term.
“It was extremely useful for the delegates to understand what is happening to farming in a global level and to put a local context on that so we can understand the kind of support rural communities in East Devon will need over the coming 15 years. This will help us when we are dealing with planning issues for farmers and rural parts of East Devon”.
Councillor Ken Potter, EDDC’s Member Champion for Rural Communities, said: “It is clear that traditional small farms will gradually become less viable and farming will need to be on a different scale in future. This will present a challenge to those of us entrusted with planning, as rural East Devon could start to look very different from how it is now”.
•Professor Michael Winter, one of the expert speakers who addressed the seminar.
East Devon District Council - News

However, there was some alarm at some of the implications:

Are you ready for mega farms here in East Devon?

Posted August 2nd, 2011 by sharon. Comments (3).
East Devon District Council put out the following press release last week – which has raised alarm bells with environmentalists here in East Devon. According to the ‘experts’ at EDDC, farming will need to be on a different scale in the future….with less small farms here in East Devon.
Please add your own comments at the end, so we can get a discussion started on this subject. Do you want to see mega large scale farms here in East Devon or more support for organic family farms delivering high quality food direct to their local communities?
Are you ready for mega farms here in East Devon? | Sharon Pavey

Farming to be on a different scale in East Devon ...

With the spotlight on a planning application for a major industrial pig unit in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at Venn Ottery, I have unearthed and pasted below, a press release that was issued in July 2011, following a conference on farming at Bicton College.
Myself and Cllr Roger Giles attended the conference, some aspects of which we found worrying... 


1. At 10:22 pm on 14th Aug Sandra Semple wrote:
Makes you realise just how much pre-planning has gone into planning in the last few years - in particular relating to agriculture.  Seems the farmers have got it all worked out and spare no effortbin ensuring that EDDC is briefed with their one-sided information by one means or another.
So, when will the rest of us get our day with EDDCs councillors to update them on the challenges of living in an area where only farmers appear to get easy access to planners?
2. At 09:17 am on 15th Aug John Sheaves wrote:
Yet again Sandra Semple’s response is predictable, boring and out of touch with reality.  That conference was an attempt to inform people of the challenges that lie ahead.  It is worrying, hence my previous attempts to inform others through this site.  It is not a question of their side and ‘ours’. It is also not a question of how much access farmers get to the planning system which by the way is the same as everyone else.  It is though about a very serious debate which strikes at the heart of civilisation - how to feed ourselves.  It is clear that a different approach is required. It may involve GM crops, it may require a shift towards a greater reliance on plant proteins instead of those derived from animals.  What is clear at the moment is that water, oil and science will have to play a key part.  Add into this the need to balance economic needs with social and environmental goals and you have a delicate and sensitive conundrum ahead.  So yet again i implore all readers of this blog to get properly informed, and let’s have an intelligent and thoughtful debate and not just bash the farmers who after all are the very ones who we will all turn to for food supplies in the future.  One thing is certain, their skills
however they are employed will be valuable to us all.
Claire Wright - Your Independent East Devon District Councillor for Ottery Rural

There has been an on-going application for a 'mega-farm' in Venn Ottery:
10/1954/MFUL | Erection of a pig unit comprising: 3 buildings, slurry store, attenuation pond and access track. | Land West Of Collyhead Farm Venn Ottery Ottery St Mary EX11 1RY
Residents anger at new pig farm plans | Exeter Express and Echo
Appeal lodged to build pig farm in Venn Ottery - News - Sidmouth Herald

See also:
Futures Forum: Fossil-fuel Free Farming at Bicton: A model farm for the next generation
Futures Forum: 'A Farm For the Future'
Futures Forum: What is the price of milk?

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