Agriculture needs to produce more food from less. Are ‘mega’ farms the answer, asks Becky Hothersall.
I research the health and welfare of chickens reared for meat, but last year I spent six weeks working with BBC Countryfile as part of the British Science Association’s Media Fellowship scheme for research scientists. At the BBC I had the chance to act as researcher and scientific adviser for a feature looking at the rise of huge indoor ‘mega’ dairies and pig farms in the United States.
The mega farm debate is highly polarised. I heard equally passionate arguments that mega farms pollute the environment and destroy rural communities, and from others who believe that they’re the only viable way to keep meat and dairy products affordable back here in Britain.
Continue reading Mega farms: yay or nay?
Individuals, governments and farmers are all responsible for the changes we need, says Oliver Dowding.
My first 13 years of farming saw endless lorry-loads of fertilisers and chemicals coming on to the farm. The controls on their usage, and the consequential problems, were evidently increasing. I re-examined what I was doing and who the gainers and losers were.
Conclusion: I needed to cut down the inputs, improve sustainability, stay friends with the consumer and re-enliven my soils.
Continue reading Business as usual is not an option
Scientists and international organisations are well placed to eliminate another deadly animal disease, says Michael Baron.
The eradication of the long-feared cattle disease rinderpest, announced by OIE and FAO June 2011, is a momentous achievement. John Anderson has already written on this blog about the lessons learned during the rinderpest eradication programme, which I’ve also described on video.
If we can do it once, we can do it again; the only question is: what should be the next target?
Continue reading The cattle plague virus is gone: what’s next?
Nitrous oxide’s contribution to climate change is no laughing matter, says Keith Goulding.
Carbon dioxide is the most commonly recognised enemy in terms of its contribution to greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, and certainly the biggest culprit in terms of volume, but there are other gases, closely tied with food production, that are also major targets for reduction.
Farming is responsible for about 8% of the UK’s GHG emissions (up to about 19% when the road to consumption is included) but about 40% of its methane emissions, which mainly come from livestock, and 76% of its nitrous oxide emissions, which are mainly due to fertiliser use.
Continue reading Tackling agriculture’s greenhouse-gas emissions
Farming is still not receiving the attention it deserves to reap its potential, says Isabelle Coche.
One of the items on the G8 agenda at the 37th summit being held May 26-27 in Deauville, France, is the transition to a green economy. Agriculture can play a substantial role in helping to stimulate growth, secure rural livelihoods and reduce poverty in an environmentally sustainable manner.
Prior to the G8 summit, Farming First has launched an online infographic The Story of Agriculture and the Green Economy.
Continue reading How agriculture can help to achieve the G8’s green economy ambition
We should bury the dodgy statistics but face up to the reality of our over indulgence in meat, says Simon Fairlie.
I recently spent several years investigating the environmental impact of livestock production for a book called Meat: A Benign Extravagance, which stimulated the debate on the real carbon foot print of rearing animals for food, particularly when the Guardian’s George Monbiot wrote his ‘Let them eat meat – but farm it properly’ critique.
Continue reading Meat: a benign extravagance
It’s time to engage the public with the difficult choices that lie ahead, says Les Firbank.
Food and farming have rarely been away from the headlines in recent years. One of the ongoing themes has been the alleged departure of modern food production and distribution from so-called ‘natural’ practices. We have seen it in the controversies over genetically modified (GM) crops, the rapid spread of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, and the risks to human health from BSE in cows and salmonella in chicken eggs.
Continue reading Farming in the future: nature versus necessity
Organic and conventional agriculture can both contribute to a sustainably farmed landscape, says Tim Benton.
The world’s population is predicted to increase by 35% (PDF) by 2050. Simultaneously, per capita food demand is rising because as individual wealth increases, consumption (especially of meat and dairy) also increases. Although there are uncertainties, the most widely cited prediction for future demand is that 70% more food (PDF) will be required by 2050.
Continue reading Land sharing vs land sparing: why the fight?
We are too reliant on too few crop species. Using more underutilised plants will improve global food security, says Sean Mayes.
The world depends for its basic diet of carbohydrates, fats and proteins on a very limited number of crop species.
For carbohydrates, three related species, wheat, rice and maize, dominate human consumption. Any short term improvement in food security will need to include modification (either transgenic or through conventional breeding) of these and other staple crops.
Continue reading Breaking the dependency
It’s time to make more productive use of the sea, says John Forster.
What should we expect from marine aquaculture in the future? Will it serve simply to top up supplies of fish and shellfish from capture fisheries, as it does now and as is mostly assumed, or does it promise something more?
There will be around 9.1 billion people on Earth by 2050 and traditional farming might not be able to produce enough food for them. Limited fresh water and arable land will constrain agricultural growth, while growing affluence in developing countries will add to the challenge as people eat more meat or turn food crops into biofuel. Therefore, ‘Will the oceans feed humanity?’ (PDF)
Continue reading Towards a marine agronomy