What will next generation livestock farms look like? Mick Watson examines scenarios and what we should do to get there.
Farmer Jane opened the gate and walked along the track that meandered along the side of her cattle barn. Chuckling to herself, she was old enough to remember how disease surveillance used to be done. It was so much easier now. Inside the barn, she approached the first of the ten cattle that had been randomly isolated, reached into her bag and took out the first of her SeqPensTM. Removing the protective lid, she briefly pressed the steel nib to the neck of the first animal then stood back to wait for the lights to change.
Continue reading Food, fantasies and the future
What does the future of animal production hold? David Hume looks forward.
We need to plan for increased production of animal products.
And there is increasing recognition that protein malnutrition has long-term effects on development of cognitive ability. Vegetarianism is not an option; there is evidence of subclinical malnutrition on vegetarian diets even in Western countries, and in developing countries high quality vegetable protein sources are no more available than animal protein.
Continue reading Genetics, genomics and gene modification
Utilising satellites as insurance loss adjusters could help to some of the poorest farmers in Africa. Michael Baron is watching.
Things happen, and sometimes bad things happen, like my house catching fire.
About 4000 years ago, people invented the concept of insurance, to share risks so no one lost everything when a bad thing happened. But my house catching fire is preventable – the things that are most important to insure against are the unpreventable bad things, such as extreme weather.
Continue reading From insecurity to food security
The poverty that many women suffer in the developing world is no laughing matter, but tackling a deadly livestock disease could help. Michael Baron explains.
On June 22 this year a number of UK celebrities, including Cilla Black, Cherie Blair, Rajashree Birla and Baroness Floella Benjamin, drew attention to International Widows’ Day by walking a small herd of goats across London Bridge.
The link between these two groups (the widows and the goats, rather than the celebrities) is poverty. Widows are among the poorest households in developing countries where there are no benefit systems to provide income support or pensions.
Continue reading A goat, a widow and a celebrity walk into a bar…
Harvesting plants from the sea is an essential part of successful marine agronomy, says John Forster.
Aquaculture has been the subject of two recent high profile reports. The first, entitled Blue Frontiers, begins by asserting ‘There is a pressing need to elevate the debate on the future of aquaculture and to place this in the context of other animal food production systems, including wild capture fisheries’. The second report made the front cover of Time Magazine and poses the question ‘Can farming save the last wild food?’
Both reports make important points. Between 1970 and 2008, global aquaculture production grew (PDF) at an average rate of 8.4% per year, and aquaculture remains one of the fastest growing food producing sectors measured in terms of year-on-year percentage gain. Furthermore, because the world’s fisheries are yielding all they can, there is simply no option but to farm seafood if growing human demand for animal protein is to be met.
Continue reading Elevating the aquaculture debate
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?
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