Proof that sus­tain­able farm­ing can work

The Guardian - - LETTERS -

I had just got back into the house from milk­ing the cows when I read the dis­cus­sion (Let­ters, 7 Oc­to­ber) on Ge­orge Mon­biot’s lat­est con­tri­bu­tion to the de­bate about the fu­ture of our food pro­duc­tion sys­tem. While Ge­orge is a fun­da­men­tal­ist, I must con­fess I agree with much of what he says! The prob­lem is that, as an ex­trem­ist fun­da­men­tal­ist, he just goes too far. Here on our rented fam­ily farm of 100 dairy cows with some beef and sheep, we are in the first year of a three-year, fi­nal-stage ex­per­i­ment to chal­lenge the idea that treat­ing our an­i­mals, land, en­vi­ron­ment and the peo­ple who work and live here with re­spect is some­how in­com­pat­i­ble with fi­nan­cial vi­a­bil­ity and our in­dus­try’s abil­ity to pro­vide ad­e­quate amounts of af­ford­able food, and is there­fore un­sus­tain­able.

This is the fi­nal part of a much longert­erm ex­per­i­ment, in­cor­po­rat­ing agroe­col­ogy, agro­forestry and calf-with-cow dairy­ing along with ap­pro­pri­ate tech­nolo­gies that al­low us to achieve these pub­lic ben­e­fit out­comes. On pa­per this could work. In prac­tice it hasn’t been easy. But there are glim­mers of day­light. We are on the fi­nal stretch and many of our tar­gets have been met: sub­stan­tial (90%-plus) cuts in the use of an­tibi­otics, an­thelmintics, vac­cines, sol­u­ble fer­tiliser and pes­ti­cides (and dif­fuse pol­lu­tion) with­out com­pro­mis­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity or an­i­mal health; and sub­stan­tial in­creases in bio­di­ver­sity and re­duc­tions in staff work­ing hours.

We have greatly ex­tended the pe­riod of time the calves re­main with their moth­ers, from 24 hours to be­tween five and six months. This is the fi­nal chal­lenge, but when you see some­thing you know is right, it’s about find­ing ways to make it work, not giv­ing up. So please, don’t bun­dle all farm­ers into the same pi­geon­hole, Ge­orge. The con­sen­sus – out­side vested in­ter­ests – is that there is room for meat and dairy in sus­tain­able di­ets. We just have to be a good bit more se­lec­tive. David Fin­lay Cas­tle Dou­glas, Gal­loway

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