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Olduvai III: Catacylsm
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Here’s the catch

The journey of an agricultural pollutant from its source, along its flow path (often in surface water flooding across fields), to its end destination, where it has the potential to do damage to the natural environment, is an essential concern of Catchment Sensitive Farming officers (CSFOs) on every farm they advise. Understanding how pollutants manifest on a farm, and the journey they subsequently take into the surrounding environment, enables farm advisers including CSFOs to evaluate how to address water and air pollution from agriculture.

Successful reduction of this diffuse pollution from food production can best be achieved by the adoption of practices which stop nutrients or pesticides becoming a pollutant in the first place. This not only has benefits for the environment but also for the farmer who saves money by wasting fewer inputs. Inevitably though, some agricultural inputs (such as fertiliser and manure) escape down a field or out of a livestock shed. Here, measures to intercept the errant material along its flow path come into play.

To mitigate this, a buffer strip of grassland and trees protecting a river or a ditch from waterborne nitrates or a shelterbelt of trees trapping ammonia emanating from a poultry house are just two examples of how Catchment Sensitive Farming is helping farms to address such diffuse pollution. And in flood prone areas of farmland, these practices can also help slow the flow of surface water encountered during storm events, enough to reduce the worst of its impact further down river catchments.

It takes careful consideration of each field and cropping rotation, each hedge or drystone wall boundary, farm track and gateway for the full benefits of Catchment Sensitive Farming to be realised…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

David Burton , sustainable food trust, pollutants, farming, food production

Citizen power: A force for change

During the run up to the COP 26 meeting which will take place in Glasgow this November, the discussion about food related policies and practices is livelier than ever.

Currently, there are several government consultations taking place – gene editing, bovine TB, the Welsh Agriculture Bill, food trade and more, some of which the SFT has responded to and all of which are evoking strong emotions and responses. Some of these discussions relate to regulation – for instance, should the government outlaw various pesticides or designate the whole of Wales as a nitrate vulnerable zone? Should it permit gene editing which is likely to set a precedent for allowing the production of GMO crops and a further narrowing of the gene pool?

But alongside regulation, there are a range of other ways in which damaging practices can be discouraged and the right kind of farming practices encouraged, including government policy incentives, food company sourcing criteria and food labelling, certification schemes and support from the investment community.

Whatever the government decides about gene editing, the use of glyphosate or other inputs and practices which are causing damage to the environment or public health, change is coming anyway.

I say that because there is a third force at work here which will drive change in more ways than we have yet imagined – and rapidly too! The source of this third force is the growing awareness amongst millions of citizens that the consequences of continuing to farm intensively in the way that we have for the last century are unacceptable: potentially irreversible climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss and massive negative impacts on public health.

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Sustainability Metrics

There is growing evidence that agriculture and food is one of the most significant contributors to the transgression of ‘planetary boundaries’, especially in the area of greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, soil, water, and nitrogen use. As Professor Johan Rockström pointed out at the World Economic Forum, “A transition to sustainable agriculture and forestry is a fundamental prerequisite to succeed,” yet this transition is prevented by several significant barriers to change.

One of these barriers is the lack of a unified means of measuring food system sustainability. At present, there is a diverse range of overlapping assessment tools and labelling schemes for monitoring and communicating on-farm sustainability. This makes it impossible for consumers, farmers, food businesses and policymakers to gain an accurate understanding of the comparative sustainability of products resulting from different methods of production.

We believe that there is a real opportunity to influence future policy to better reflect the values agriculture provides and its place within society. We propose that this should involve rewarding and incentivising good practice and continuous improvement, rather than the very black and white ‘you’re in or you’re out’ school of thought associated with many certification schemes including organic.

Therefore we need a new initiative, led by farmers, to encourage a move towards convergence of existing schemes for measuring on-farm sustainability. This would make the monitoring process more efficient and less costly and burdensome for farmers, help to inform decisions about farm management practices and reward every step of the journey. A common framework could also be used to provide data for certification schemes, government agencies, food business supply chains and the research and investment communities. Through working with food businesses, it could also have the potential to provide consumers with a more accessible and easily understood means of evaluating the sustainability of food products in the market place.

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Co-op says #NotInMySupermarket


In response to a civil society appeal for UK supermarkets to back strong regulation of new gene-edited crops and animals, the Co-op has made a clear statement of its support.

The #NotInMySupermarket campaign is a response to the current UK government consultation on removing regulations and labelling from plants and animals in the food chain created using a new experimental genetic engineering technique called ‘gene editing.’

joint letter, organised by Beyond GM and Slow Food UK, and signed by more than 50 UK leading civil society groups, academics and producers, calls for UK supermarkets to respect the wishes of their customers – the majority of whom, surveys show, oppose genetically engineered foods. It also asks the retailers to show leadership by supporting strong regulation of genetically engineered crops and foods and refusing to stock unregulated, unlabelled gene-edited foods in their stores.

In response to the letter, which has generated media coverage and a lively awareness-raising campaign on social media, Co-op Chief Executive, Jo Whitfield says:

“Genetic editing is one of several new technologies and innovations that may in the future help us to address the challenges facing our global food system. However, as with any new technology, it is important citizens are assured about food safety and the environmental and economic impacts are thoroughly understood before any decisions on widespread adoption are made. To this end, scrutiny by independent scientists and officials, as well as engagement with civil society, is essential. We would expect government to clearly set out how it intends to regulate gene editing, whilst providing clear conditions of use and any labelling requirements…

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New research challenges scientific orthodoxy on the role of grazing livestock in relation to emission reduction targets


This week we are highlighting the announcement of what we think is one of the world’s first soil carbon sequestration offsetting partnerships, between Microsoft Corporation and the Australian Wilmot Cattle Co. The reason we are drawing this news to wider attention is not because of potential for offsetting, but rather the impact of the research – which highlights the fact that regenerative farming can deliver significantly in terms of carbon sequestration.

What I found particularly interesting is that the scheme involved cattle ranches and the very significant soil carbon gains made by them: 0.8% per year of organic matter; in other words double the 4 per 1000 target set by the French Minister Stéphane Le Foll at the COP21 Paris summit where he announced his ‘quatre per mille’ scheme.

If this level of soil organic matter gain can be verified through ongoing research and monitoring using evolving and ever more sophisticated techniques for measuring soil organic matter, this represents a very significant breakthrough. In combination with the new information from Professor Myles Allen of Oxford University on the reduced impact of methane on climate change, there is a compelling argument for the scientific community to reassess the role of holistic grazing systems involving ruminant livestock – which could make a very significant contribution towards reducing climate change impacts.

This potential is highlighted in the press release from Wilmot Farms, who have calculated that were these soil carbon gains to be replicated across all the cattle farming grasslands in Australia, it would have the potential to sequester just under one quarter of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. It should also be emphasised that this is a net calculation which includes the counter benefit of the methane emissions from grazing animals, which makes it even more significant.

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Are glyphosate-based herbicides poisoning us and the environment?

A new study, published on 27th January in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, conducted by an international team of scientists led by Dr Michael Antoniou of Kings College London, found that exposure to glyphosate and its commercial Roundup formulation, can disrupt the function of gut microbiome (bacteria and fungi) and internal body systems with potentially serious effects on human health.

In controlled laboratory animal experiments, glyphosate was found to alter the composition and more importantly the biochemical function of the gut microbiome by the same mechanism through which the chemical acts to kill weeds (inhibition of the shikimate biochemical pathway), even at doses claimed to be safe by the regulators. Roundup was also shown to be more toxic than glyphosate alone, underpinning existing evidence that the additional substances present in commercial products, collectively known as “adjuvants”, are not “inert” as claimed by its manufacturers and regulators but highly toxic in their own right.

In-depth biochemical analysis of both the gut and the blood of the test animals showed that they were put under “oxidative stress”, a highly damaging process, by glyphosate and to a greater degree by Roundup.

From my reading, this research appears to go a long way towards vindicating the conclusions of the many organisations and individuals throughout the world who were convinced from the very beginning that it would be unlikely in the extreme that this herbicide, an agricultural poison which has the capacity to kill all green plant material except that which has been genetically modified to be tolerant to it, would not have adverse effects on the human health.

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Farming as the climate changes

The world is facing a climate crisis that is dramatically impacting farmers and growers across the world. As temperatures rise, rainfall becomes increasingly unpredictable, extreme weather events happen more frequently and soils are eroded through desertification. These changes mean that crop yields are increasingly inconsistent, and agricultural businesses are struggling to adapt.

However, in the United States, climate change divides opinion with many still questioning its scientific validity. Former President Trump said climate change was ‘an expensive hoax’ and curried political favour by pulling the US out of the UN Paris Agreement in 2017. However, under President Biden, the new administration has put climate change at the heart of its plans. Within hours of being sworn in on January 20th, President Biden ensured that the US re-entered the Paris Agreement and he reversed President Trump’s authorisation of the Keystone XL pipeline. For many Americans, the Biden Harris administration offers hope that the US will take its climate responsibilities seriously once more, with the goal of keeping us within the two-degree Celsius limit.

In light of this new US leadership, the Sustainable Food Trust talked to farmers across the US to understand how they view climate change and what steps (if any) they were taking to address it. Over the course of 2020, the SFT interviewed a range of American farmers, growers and producers, in order to hear how they are farming as the climate changes. This report provides a summary of those conversations.

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We still need alternatives to supermarkets – perhaps now more than ever

If you were a child in the ‘50s and ‘60s, you will remember that food shopping meant traipsing round several specialist shops whilst your mother chatted to the knowledgeable shop staff about what was available that week. But even by then, this way of buying food was already in decline. In March 1948, the London Co-operative Society had opened Britain’s first fully self-service store in Manor Park, East London. And this changed everything.

The massive expansion and dominance of supermarkets has had profound impacts on most aspects of our lives, sometimes positively, but certainly not always. By 2019, the traditional independent retailers made up just 5% of the entire food sector.

2019 share of UK food market:

The rise of the supermarkets had a devastating impact on the local independent specialist food shops.

Butchers – in 1960, there were some 43,000 butcher’s shops in the UK; by 2019, it was nearer 6,000.

Fishmongers – in the late 1940s, there were around 8,000 fishmongers, and today there are about 950.

Greengrocers – from 43,000 in 1950, by 2018 there were 2,500.

And, as the national economy grew, so the average proportion of household income we spent on food dwindled from 33% in 1957 to 16% in 2019, although this masks significantly higher proportions for low income families.

Food as a Social Event

Past generations had a far better understanding of how their food was produced than we do and eating together was a major social event to be savoured. Being the first industrialised country, in the UK we have had more time to lose the folk memory of rural life and producing food, and with it the social aspect of eating together as families…

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Why the Climate Change Committee have got it wrong on land, food and farming

Last week I spent what I must admit to have been two rather depressing sessions participating in a zoom conference convened by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) in order to share their vision and strategy for reaching net zero emissions by 2050, with a particular focus on the role of land use and agriculture.

Outside of food and farming, much of what the CCC are proposing seems eminently reasonable. It’s the kind of thing one would imagine – a massive and rapid move towards renewable energy generation, moving away from internal combustion engines, improving building insulation to reduce energy loss, reduction in car travel and slowing of demand for flights. But when it comes to land use, farming and food, in my opinion they’ve got it completely wrong.

A rather crude summary of what they’re envisaging includes the following – a very significant increase in agricultural biofuel production; 10% of the farmed area planted with trees; an increase in afforestation rates to at least 30,000 hectares per year across the U.K. by 2025 and an average of 40,000 hectares per year in the 2030s, plus a “land sparing” agenda including dramatic increase in yields from arable crops, a significant reduction in livestock including ruminants, and no presumption of any increase in soil carbon.

To add insult to injury, on the diet side, they propose a significant switch towards plant-based diets without making any differentiation between livestock which are part of the problem (intensive chickens, pig and dairy units) and those which are absolutely a necessary part of the solution (grass fed and mainly grass-fed beef, lamb and dairy cows).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Who eats local food?

The question of who eats local food is a tricky one to pin down.

There is first the question of what constitutes ‘local food’ – if you’re a farmer raising grass-fed beef or lamb in Wales that you then sell across country, most people would say that’s local enough; but what if you sold across the UK? How about the local jam producer that sells locally at farmers’ markets in their region but buys in fruit from Spain to make the jam? It’s something of a conundrum. You’ll also find that distance is yet another variable – many would agree that ‘local’ in the UK is within 50 miles, but in a big country like the US, food 500 miles away can also be ‘local’. So, it’s complicated and to a certain extent, how we define it may be idiosyncratic and particular to how each individual feels about the food they are eating.

‘Local food’ also suffers from an image problem – it’s assumed to be niche, more expensive and the purview of the upper middle-classes. A number of years ago, food critic Jay Rayner had a notable go at farmers’ markets, touting them as selling ‘over-priced fare’ as a ‘status symbol’, angering Welsh food producers. But ‘local food’ isn’t what many people posit it is – I know, because I’m a local food producer. While my evidence is inevitably anecdotal, I know we feed a diverse range of people. We run a box scheme serving well over 100 households and also do a weekly producer’s market in Newport, Pembrokeshire. The people who buy from us are anything but uniform in terms of their demographic make-up – I say this because we know a lot of our customers…

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Make markets matter

A 1,200-year-old farming and fishing site known as the Horta or Huerta (garden) of Valencia has been recognised on the register of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), managed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

This ancient and culturally rich, fertile area is made up of 6,000 small agricultural holdings and thousands of small farming plots of about a hectare each. Approximately 4,000 hectares are used to grow vegetables, especially onions, artichokes and pumpkins. Valencia oranges and tiger nuts are significant in the northern region whilst 2,000 hectares of centuries-old local rice varieties are cultivated in the southern area, which extends into the Albufera Natural Park. It’s no wonder, then, Spain’s Horta de Valencia wins recognition on the FAO’s global agricultural heritage list.

Growers employ sustainable, agricultural methods that preserve water and soil resources; and crop diversification, with heritage produce on smaller plots, bolsters resilience. The close proximity of the Horta to the city and surrounding areas, enables farmers to get access to a network of fresh food markets quickly. Consequently, the Horta sustains much of the Valencia region, as well as other parts of Spain and additionally exports to Europe.

Shopping at food markets is a way of life in Spain and throughout much of the Mediterranean. To extend the market experience and ensure the community as a whole has access to fresh food, the Central Market in Valencia launched an online shopping model to service some 56 neighbourhood areas, pre-COVID-19. Alongside face-to-face selling in the Market, there is also daily service to hospitality outlets and many online transactions. The market is clear on its role: underpinned by a strong community of traders enjoying resilient self-governance, it is a vital community space with a focus on quality, local produce with a short supply chain and a commitment to sustainability.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Flour Power: The Miller’s Tale

As the first COVID-19 lockdown hit the UK in early 2020, our nation suddenly looked very different. Supermarket shelves were empty and, for the first time in most people’s lives, we started to question how we were going to feed ourselves and our families. Almost overnight, localised food systems went from being niche fantasies to a vital source of sustenance for many people around the country.

One thing this pandemic has made clear is that food doesn’t come from supermarket shelves. It never did. Food comes from the soil, the sea – and the hands of people.

In the series, we hear from those people – people who stepped up back in March to feed the nation, who are still feeding us today – and who we’re all relying on to feed us in the future. This is a celebration of these key workers, a thank you and a call to action – so we don’t forget just how ‘key’ they are.

One of those key workers is Abigail Holsborough, lead miller at Brixton Windmill. Abigail’s story – and that of Brixton Windmill – encapsulates for me a lot of the key themes of ‘Who Feeds Us?’: the call for dignity in our food system, the power of community and localised production models, and the need for wholesome food that nourishes the soul as well as the body.

Abby Rose

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Farming as the Climate Changes: Molino de la Isla, East Pecos, New Mexico

The world is facing a climate crisis and the changes this brings are dramatically impacting farmers across the world. As temperatures rise and rainfall becomes increasingly unpredictable, production is dropping and businesses are struggling. However, in the United States, climate change still divides opinion. Many still question its scientific validity, including the President who said climate change was ‘an expensive hoax’ and pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement.

However, in opposition to those climate-deniers, there are passionate and engaged people across America who are desperately working to keep us within the two-degree Celsius limit. In light of that division, we wanted to talk to farmers across the US to understand how they view climate change and what steps (if any) they were taking to address it.

The SFT will run this series over the coming months, featuring a diverse range of American farmers. This week we interviewed Ralph Vigil who runs Molino de la Isla in northern New Mexico. Molino de la Isla Organics is an organic farm created to promote and to protect the acequias of Nuevo Mexico through organic agriculture, regional marketing and consumer education for the socio-economic benefit of local communities. The acequias are an organised system of waterways for agriculture and there are over 100 throughout the state. Molino de la Isla runs a CSA veg share scheme and works with young people to preserve traditional agricultural practices.

What are your biggest concerns about climate change and its effect on your farm in particular?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Nature’s store of wisdom: The value of open-pollinated seeds

Over the decades, seed saving gardeners have maintained many of these heritage varieties but very few are commercially available. One reason is that selling such seeds isn’t very profitable – you can’t make much money with something that is widely available for free: most heritage and some modern varieties are ‘open pollinated’ so anyone is free to save the seeds for the next growing season. Contrast that with most of the varieties that you buy in a supermarket or on a farmers’ market. You could save the seeds, but even if they were to germinate, don’t expect the crop to look anything like the produce you initially bought. Most modern varieties are hybrids, which means their seeds are either sterile or the offspring are not ‘true to seed’.

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The return of home-grown cereals

Our daily bread was for centuries the product of a community-oriented and collaborative food system.

The Book of Exodus recounts the tale of the Hebrew slaves, who in their haste, fleeing for their lives from Pharoah’s Egypt, had no time for their bread to rise and so carried it upon their backs. Now, Jewish communities around the world remember that story, recalling their time in bondage, by eating unleavened bread during the Passover festival.

Bread is intrinsic to cultural knowledge for people the world over. In Britain, even relatively recently, bringing in the harvest would have been a community enterprise, different members of the village taking on roles from cutting or reaping to putting the sheaves into stooks to dry.

Sustainable grain

Bread can be so much more than a pillowy, processed loaf of sliced white, a vehicle for sandwich fillings. Fresh bread can be a revelation: richly satisfying, full of nutrition and bursting with flavour, inviting you to slather a slice with something at least as tasty. As part of a regenerative food network, it can speak volumes on cultural sharing, economic fairness and the joy of breaking bread together.

I’ve been involved in the Welsh Grain Forum with miller Anne Parry at Felin Ganol watermill for some years. We’re working with farmers, millers and bakers to help get good home-grown food into more Welsh kitchens. We’re seeing a move back to collaborative food systems with modern ecological approaches and on a more regional, and we believe, a more resilient, reliable and relatable scale.

Right up until World War II, Wales was covered in cereals. Grains were grown right across the country. Old reference maps show Wales pockmarked with many small arable fields (detailed in brown).

Anne says that in her village of Llanrhystud there would, at one time, have been four grain mills. Now, hers is the only one.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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