Proof that sustainable farming can work
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