Evolution of the farming environment
One of the many perks of undertaking a science degree is the additional out of ours seminars that are staged in addition to normal lectures. We get to meet big names in industry with influence and insight. The Stapledon society hosted Moss Jones of Welsh Lamb & Beef Producers (WLBP) recently at Aberystwyth University.
I should backtrack and explain how I came to attend such a seminar – I don’t usually run in the farming community. As a vegetarian plant biologist, I am somewhat out of place. There is an agronomy module on my degree scheme and the lecturer heads up the Stapledon society. His description of the seminar: “issues of traceability, provenance, etc. of farm products are relevant to us all. Moss Jones has dealt with several farm assurance schemes in Wales,” was enough of a hook for me.
WLBP is a farmer-controlled agricultural cooperative. One of its focuses is to preserve traditional sheep and cattle rearing to maintain the vibrant rural communities in Wales. It’s unique in Britain, in that it’s a privately owned cooperative and not setup by levy groups.
WLBP is responsible for setting up the farm assurance scheme in Wales. This emphasizes principles of quality assurance for the consumer ensuring higher standards of welfare.
An agricultural revolution?
Without doubt, the past century of human activity has moulded the face of the earth in a big way. Jones highlighted some recent changes to our behaviour that has and will continue to alter the course of agriculture here in the UK.
From 1993 – 2018:
- The number of holdings are down - dairy, lamb & beef producers are dropping like flies (30 farmers went out of production in January 2020 alone);
- The number of large abattoir companies down from 9 to 3 in Wales. These have gone from family/individual owned company to international and parent companies;
- The number of retailers has decreased, and their size have increased. We all lamented the loss of Kwik Save in the 90s....
- Household purchases of meat have moved almost wholly from butchers to supermarkets.
All of this in just 15 years.
It gives supermarkets greater influence on meat production. Agriculture has less influence on government. Local priorities are diminished as corporation moves in. As a community, it is my belief that we need to be considering carefully our purchases.
We need to get to know the people who produce and sell our food. Buying local produce from local shops seems to be important to the future of individual suppliers and producers who just like you, care about regional happenings and local agriculture.
This impacts more than farmers, this is the health of the soil in our backyard, the shape of the landscape we see every day and the standard of the food we give our children.
I was admittedly disappointed by the perception (amongst the speaker and attendees at the talk) that non-meat eaters aren’t taken seriously but I was pleased to see that as a consequence of social pressure in addition to policy, farmers consider the wellbeing of animals as a priority. I believe that urban communities need to educate ourselves sufficiently on agronomy to be able to open discussion with the farming communities about our needs at large.
I can conclude that it is all our responsibility (especially in the non-meat-eating community) to be aware of agricultural policy, prioritising more than animal welfare. Soil health, local business people, economy, land topography, national commerce, and environmental consequences are all intimately tied with farming practices in our area. These all relate to our future. The complicated relationships should be of interest to us all.