LAND OF PLENTY

Countryfile Magazine - - Lazy Days -

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

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