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Farming Matters: Dr Barbara Pickard - 'Celebrate mixed farming and local food production'

My ancestors were farming livestock in the 18th century and although I left my family farm to become a scientist, I subsequently returned to farming.

Dr Pickard farms more than 1,000 acres in north east Fife as part of a mixed enterprise.
Dr Pickard farms more than 1,000 acres in north east Fife as part of a mixed enterprise.

We moved to Scotland in 1992 and the home farm is mixed, with suckler cows, sheep, cereals, carrots and swedes for supermarkets.

 

My four children are all involved in agriculture and they and the grandchildren are all healthy omnivores.

I believe we need to encourage more mixed and sustainable agriculture.

 

It is evident that monoculture of any food product, be it animal or vegetable, is often imbalanced and ultimately unsustainable.

 

Spain’s sea of plastic under which intensive fruit and vegetable cropping takes place in Almeria can be seen from space and cannot be considered good for the environment.

 

Many other examples can be seen in plant cropping, so for us all to become vegan or vegetarian is not the panacea it is claimed.

 

A massive proportion of the earth is grassland and a big proportion of that is unsuitable for crops for direct human consumption.

 

Allan Savory, an ecologist working in Africa discovered herbivores are essential (see online TED talk, How to fight desertification and reverse climate change; also YouTube, The story of meat: regenerative agriculture).

 

While trees take up carbon into wood and leaves, they are not as good as grassland at incorporating carbon into the soil and, as we have seen, in dry areas can catch fire with devastating environmental consequences.


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Dr Pickard advocates more mixed and sustainable agriculture.
Dr Pickard advocates more mixed and sustainable agriculture.

Methane has become the word that many cattle farmers dread because of all the publicity about cows belching this dreadful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

 

But has the hype been overdone?

 

Methane is produced naturally from many sources, primitive Archaea organisms, wetlands, bogs, termites, rice paddies and also from landfill and biomass burning.

 

There is a well-documented methane cycle whereby over a 10 to 12-year period, it is broken down into carbon dioxide and water and reabsorbed into ‘sinks’.

 

The estimated rise in atmospheric methane in recent years cannot be attributed to cattle since global cattle numbers now are below those in 1975.

 

The great focus on methane from livestock has neglected methane from fossil fuels.

 

Stephen Singer, adviser to Global Energy Policy Network in Brussels, said: “The share of methane emissions in the fossil fuel sector is growing rapidly."

 

He warned governments not to adopt fossil gas, especially from shale, known to leak methane, whatever spin doctors of BP, Exxon, Shell and Gazprom tell us.

 

Livestock farmers also need to become optimistic about the threat of veganism, a trend encouraged by companies making vegan foods, some allegedly giving big donations to TV companies to produce features promoting veganism.

 

If we were meant to be vegan, we would have the dentition of a herbivore.

 

There are definite disadvantages to veganism.

 

Search online for BBC Future article: ’How a vegan diet could affect your intelligence’, a long article but well worth a read. Next year we should promote British Beefebruary.

 

Let us celebrate mixed farming and local food production and encourage farmers to search for the scientific truth and publicise it, not be hounded by fashion and doomsday predictions by uninformed zealots.

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