Category Archives: Climate change

How climate change will affect food supplies.

Organic growing is the only way forward

“Even as the United States government continues to push for the use of more chemically-intensive and corporate-dominated farming methods such as GMOs and monoculture-based crops, the United Nations is once against sounding the alarm about the urgent need to return to (and develop) a more sustainable, natural and organic system.
(The Huffington Post)

That was the key point of a new publication from the UN Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) titled “Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before It’s Too Late”,” which included contributions from more than 60 experts around the world.”

It has been a long time coming but now the UN are saying that organic growing is the ONLY way forward. Commercial growing in the UK is dominated and controlled by the agrochemical industry. it is not sustainable and threatens food security. We simply cannot continue to rely on farming methods that are dependent on large chemical inputs.

Soil
The biggest asset we have is soil yet 50+ years on chemical fertilizers has left a depleted soil virtually devoid of organic matter so prone to erosion. See this 2006 report on UK soil erosion.

An alternative food supply
In a time of climate emergency, we need to be aware of the perilous state of our food supply. Supermarkets work on the “just in time” supply principle. They usually have 2-3 days of stock in the local supply chain. We import around 30% of our food from the rest of Europe.  Any disruption to that through weather or politics will see the shelves empty within 24 hours as people panic.

We desperately need to separate ourselves from the supermarket food supply chain and grow food in any available space. It can be done, 25 years of organic growing often in very small spaces has proven that to me. We just need to get on and do it!

 

 

Buy organic food to curb insect collapse

An article in The Guardian says that buying organic food is a way to save the insect population. I am so pleased to see that in print but excuse me, organic growers have known that the many years.  In the past the press has ridiculed the ‘all muck and magic’ brigade and depicted us as happy idiots who do not know the benefit of modern insecticides. Now we are on the brink of a precipice it seems organic growing really does have something to offer.

The first thing to do is ban TV advertising of pesticides and herbicides. Then start a programme to turn the whole country over to organic growing. It will not be easy as the soil on agrochemical farms is in very poor condition, but it can be done.

Is that hoots of laugher I hear in the background? Are farmers and growers shouting we will all starve? Well think on mate, without insects to do the vital pollination of plants we will starve. So, you choose, change the way we grow food to more sustainable, environmentally friendly methods or stick with the conventional chemical soaked stuff that feeds the profits of the agrochemical companies. I know what I would do!

Food security

The one good thing that has come out of the Brexit mess is the talk about food security. It has been ignored for many years. Around 10 years ago I spoke to Prof. Tim Lang about the subject. Nothing much has changed, we rely on a small number of supermarket brands for the majority of our food and if anything the supply chain is more precarious now.

Yet again we have let this happen, we have given the supermarkets the power to control what we eat. Farmers are virtually enslaved by the supply chain and they take all the risks.

The effects of climate change on the food supply are already being felt. It is time for the UK to think about where food comes from and take steps to ensure we have enough. That means not taking prime agricultural land for vanity projects like HS2 and making changes to planning laws to enure that brown field sites are used first.

And we need a new ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign!

This what Prof Tim Land about food security said 10 years ago.

Industrial agriculture-extraction industry

“Mega-sized farming encourages practices that degrade the soil, waste fertilizer and mishandle manure, all of which directly increase emissions of greenhouse gases. At the same time, it discourages practices like “no-till” farming and crop rotation that grab carbon dioxide from the air, store it in the soil and improve soil health.”

What ‘no deal’ BREXIT means for food

It is about time more people realised that food does not appear on our plates by magic. There has been little mention that 30% of UK food comes from the EU, 2.5 millions lorries a year bringing 5m tonnes.

Add to that the effect climate change is already having on food security and then factor in the amount of agricultural land lost to house building and vanity projects like HS2 and it is plain to see that politics is involved.

The truth is we need to prioritise the growing of food and go back to something like a war time attitude where every last square metre of land is cultivated.

The Food Programme –  “What does a no-deal Brexit mean for our food?”

 

The cost of organic food

There is an idea around that organic food is much more expensive. It used to be but on the whole it does not cost much more that the conventional, factory farmed pesticide stuff. According to this research in the UK we spend 8.9%.

In the UK food is sold on price, as a nation we want the cheapest food but that comes with hidden costs. In the end it is down to how much you value your health and the state of planet Earth.

Low tech water saving toilet

Saw a tweet today from “Environmental technology” about waterless toilets being the way to save water “… the answer to conserving the most precious resource on our planet – water. Nicknamed the Nano-Membrane Toilet, this completely waterless unit separates waste out into solid and liquid, before recycling and disposing of it effectively.”

In 2008 we had a composting toilet at the allotment, a box with a toilet seat and a bucket underneath. The instructions were simple: 1. make a deposit, 2. cover with sawdust 3. close the lid. When the bucket was full the contents were composted. There was no smell and no flies. I would gladly have one in the house!

 

Rise in organic food sales

An article in The Guardian says that “Organic food and drink sales rise to record levels in the UK”. That is good news but there is still scepticism about the value of organic food. Some say it is too expensive others argue that it is a con. The thing that finally convinced me it was the only food i wanted to eat was finding the information about pesticide residues in food. That was in the early 1990s when the government stipulated a ‘safe’ minimum amount of residue for each common pesticide and fungicide. For many years two government scientists, McCance and Widdowson, produced a report of the amounts of each pesticide found in fruit and veg that they bought from supermarkets. There were items that exceeded the allowed maximum and this was included in a yearly report.

What was not recognised was that most crops received multiple applications of different products. There might be applications of fungicide, then pesticides for insect infestation followed by weed killers. There was never any limit for cocktails of chemicals.

Then in a drought year we heard about high levels of chemicals in carrots and the government  told us to wash them. The problem is that modern pesticides are systemic. That means they are taken up into the cells of the plant and cannot be removed, even by fancy veg washing products. And peeling does not help as the chemicals are in every cell.

Those of you of a certain age will remember crops of corn slowly turning a golden colour in late summer and then the harvest that followed when the weather was right. Now, cereal crops and potatoes are ‘sprayed off’ so that harvest can happen at set times. On corn they use weed killer and acid on potatoes to kill the tops.

Modern farms are part of the supermarket supply chain and if they are contracted to supply 100 tonnes of potatoes in the first week of September that is what they must do or lose the contract. It is supermarkets who control agriculture as it must be part of a production line to ensure continuous supply. There is no such thing as seasonal fruit and vegetables, we want everything all the time and we it now!

There have been arguments about organic produce being more nutritious. An idea fiercely contested by conventional farming. A study by Newcastle University found that organic milk was higher in nutrients. Such research is not so common now as universities rely on external funding.

Other groups round the world looked at simple indicators of quality in veg like the Brix reading. Although this is a simple test that anybody can do it does provide an overall indication of quality. I have a brix refractometer bought several years ago when experimenting with different growing techniques and did a random test on carrots last week. Comparing a standard carrot from Waitrose with one in our box from Riverford Organics. The results are clear

Supplier BRIX
Waitrose 6.4
Riverford 10.2

It is not all about pesticides as non-organic, or factory farming, methods also have an effect on soil, our greatest natural asset. Since the 1940s the emphasis has been on increasing production through the widespread use of chemical fertilisers. While the use of N-P-K (Nitrogen Phosphorous Potassium or Potash) does give rapid growth, it produces plants that do not have the strength to withstand insect attacks. Previously farms mixed and crops on land manured by the animals. That was a natural cycle and produced rich healthy soil.

A somewhat ironic side effect of not applying organic matters to soil such as compost or manure is that it results in thin soils which are easily eroded. Farmers use high cost inputs to get bigger, quicker crops and lose their soil in the process.

There is growing evidence that the strongest, healthiest and most nutritious crops are grown on good quality soils that provide the whole spectrum of minerals and nutrients. That is not surprising! The fact that the nutritional value of food has declined since the 1940s is overlooked see this report from 2002  And this one from McCance and Widdowson

This is why I decided to buy organic food nearly 30 years ago. Some will argue it is an expensive luxury but now the price of organic veg is the same or only slightly more than the other stuff. In the end it is your choice but remember one thing, your body is you, if you look after it and feed it well you will feel the benefits. Like I said to a man one day if you bought a top of the range luxury car would you put paraffin (kerosene) in the tank to save money. He told me not to be so stupid, so, I asked him why did he put the cheapest possible food down his throat. My only conclusion was that he valued his new car more than he valued himself.

The answer? Grow you own and if not have it delievered to your door.  We use Riverford as we no longer able to grow much of our own food.