"The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not mean all who were laughed at were geniuses. They laughed at Columbus. They laughed at Fulton. They also laughed at Bozo the clown." Carl Sagan
In week ended 5th January, the deadweight prime cattle average price levelled on the week at 365.0p/kg. read more
As domestic lamb continues to compete with increased volumes of cheaper imports and demand remains subdued, DW lamb prices eased in week ended 5th January. read more
World prices eased back towards the end of 2012 although remained at levels comparable to the same period in 2011. read more
Having shot to record levels during September and October, GB finished pig prices continued to rise in November and early December, albeit more slowly. read more
The GB weekly average price rose by £4.63/t to £227.93/t and the free-buy average fell by £4.45/t to £330.74/t. read more
Mid-January saw the release of much-anticipated information from the USDA in the form of world supply and demand estimates, US winter wheat plantings, final 2012 production estimates and quarterly stocks. read more
The USDA data set a bearish tone for oilseed markets with upward revisions to US and Brazilian crops. read more
UK malting barley export prices are at €245/t FOB (spring, South Coast) w/e 11th April. read more
The latest National Statistics produced by Defra on the activity of UK hatcheries and poultry slaughterhouses. read more
USDA’s latest quarterly stocks report, released on 28th September, estimated US maize stocks (at 1st September) at 25.1m t, down 12% on the same point in 2011 and the lowest since 2004. read more
Iona Walton discusses farming’s environmental challenges with arable farmer and former Environment Agency board member Richard Percy.
Agronomists should stand at the helm of tomorrow’s agricultural industry and central to the ability of the sector to thrive will be their understanding of the importance of reducing agriculture’s impact on the environment while increasing production.
Hertfordshire arable farmer Richard Percy, a key board member of the Environment Agency (EA) for six years, believes that crucial to the progress of UK agriculture will be mitigating its levels of pollution.
“We need to produce more and impact less,” says Mr Percy, whose stint at the EA ended in October 2009. “Although agriculture will always pollute to some extent, farmers and the EA need to focus efforts on reduction where possible.”
Conservationists generally advocate that agriculture should be less intensive and provide more habitats and biodiversity, but Mr Percy argues that just as important – if not more – is the reduction of pollution.
“Reduce pollution of habitat and biodiversity benefits,” he says. “The thrust of The Campaign for the Farmed Environment should be about curtailing pollution, but its current emphasis is on recreating habitat. Pressure is on to take land out of production for conservation, but if the land chosen provides a buffer to pollution there’ll be a double benefit.”
Agriculture, and in particular action plans that farmers have to comply with, he says, must be based on hard science combined with the practical knowledge of agronomists and farmers. The nitrate action plan, Mr Percy argues, is an example of how not to do it.
“Looking at the nitrate action plan it’s hard to see how it will help the issue,” he says. “It troubles me that nitrate levels in water peak in December, even in the arable parts of the country where regulations restricting farmers from spreading slurry aren’t going to make much difference.
“For livestock farmers the reality is a pollution swap: instead of spreading manure, farmers are forced to overwinter it, thus producing methane, a greenhouse gas, instead of releasing nitrate.”
Phosphate is a big issue. Scientists need to find out how it gets into water and ask agronomists and farmers how they can alter it, so on leaving the EA Mr Percy initiated a project between the Agency and the NFU that aims to establish how much of the phosphate in water is due to agriculture. Stage one of the Phosphate Pilot, a comprehensive review of the scientific literature, is underway, and agronomic techniques will then be agreed on how to counter phosphate pollution.
Research should also be the basis from which fertilisers and livestock are managed to reduce nitrous oxide and methane, both of which are potent greenhouse gases.
“Theories need to be developed into a usable format for the agricultural industry,” says Mr Percy. “Research needs to be linked to the end user so that science can expand into agricultural techniques for agronomists and farm managers.”
Climate change leading to rising sea levels and flooding is a key hurdle that will need to be addressed in the future, and where some groups argue we should allow low farming land to flood and become salt marsh, Mr Percy stands staunchly on the other side.
“We must protect land from being flooded for at least 30 years, after when our successors can see how much sea levels have risen and how food production has been affected by climate change,” he says. “Then they can decide if it’s worth protecting or should be relinquished to the sea.”
A graduate of agriculture from the 1970s, Mr Percy has seen attitudes to agriculture come full cycle.
“I entered the farming industry with ‘food from our own resources’ ringing in my ears,” he remembers.
“Food surpluses were the concern in the 1980s, and the Government decided to wind-down production in the 1990s and rely on cheap, foreign imports.
“The following decade the need for production to continue was realised and today food security’s a concern, along with the need to feed a growing world population.
“Groups and individuals that use global warming to argue their own agenda are hampering our ability to tackle the potentially catastrophic issues with which we are faced. For me, the evidence for climate change is unequivocal and it’s time for all of us to work together to find solutions.”
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