LAND OF PLENTY
He, more rarely she, gives us our daily bread. And meat, milk, cider, and strawberries. The farmer might be a disappearing species (there are about 100,000 left in the UK, average age 59), but they continue to manage about 75% of our land surface, and produce a decent amount of the foodstuff you put in your supermarket trolley. As the brave new world of Brexit beckons, Charlie Pye-Smith has travelled the length and breadth of the isles to gauge how farmers and farming are doing… A sort of ‘agricultural state of the nation’, delivered by a seasoned industry writer. Who travels by campervan.
Make no mistake. Pye-Smith writes well. He is a decent chap. He likes lapwings, flowers. He eats beef from grass-fed, native-breed cattle. He approaches the vexed question of factory versus traditional farming with an ‘open mind’. And there, in two words, you have the problem. An ‘open mind’ on pig farming – Pye-Smith’s own chosen test of the welfare/ environmental/ profitability standards of UK agriculture – is too easily filled by gullible tripe about the ‘virtues’ of keeping porkers indoors, tails-docked, teeth-clipped, on concrete slats. One farmer vaunts the indoor system because it saves him and his workers being outside in winter. Bless him. That air-sucking sound? Punches being pulled.
Pye-Smith has preferred not to offend the farmers and vets he spoke to. Not once does he mention the degree to which intensive, indoor pig-farming is dependent on the prophylactic use of antibiotics, a potentially apocalyptic health problem, for farm animals and humans alike. Not once. John Lewis-Stempel’s family have farmed for over 800 years. He is the winner of the 2015 and 2017 Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing