Drug residues in rivers

Small amounts of drugs in our drinking water, built up through the food chain, may explain many a malaise of our society, including transgender growth, depression and many others. Maybe not? Nevertheless, it can;t be good.

Researchers in Australia have detected 69 medications in small aquatic creatures in rivers. The residues identified included antidepressants, painkillers, antibiotics, and blood pressure-lowering agents. The highest levels were found in insects near wastewater plants, but low levels were also detected in those from more pristine areas.  There is a food-chain effect with river-borne pharmaceuticals most likely to accumulate in flies and beetles while they are underwater larvae, then transfer to spiders that feed on them after they emerge as adults, and, of course, on upwards into their predators like fish, platypuses, birds, bats and frogs.  Eventually, no doubt, into humans.

How to stop this?  Well, firstly to reduce the use of drugs to what is strictly necessary.  Secondly, by increasing aerobic digestion in waste water treatment works.  Carefully controlled composting can crack these molecules.  There are now new digestion processes developing.  On the scale required, only farmers can do this.


For more detail, go to https://www.newscientist.com/article/2184420-more-than-60-prescription-drugs-are-getting-into-river-foodchains/

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd. 11 November ‘18

Renewable Energy; Declining Costs

Solar is getting more efficient and lower cost. Wind turbines are, in terms of energy pay-back a better bet. But we need tidal and wave power, and other renewables, too, in a balaced mix of sources.

The cost of renewable energy has declined precipitously. Between 2009 and 2014, the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules declined by 75 percent, while the cost of wind turbines dropped by 33 percent. Furthermore, the cost of residential solar PV has been declining significantly in recent years: in 2015, it was competitive with natural gas generation in India and nearly so in China. Battery storage is also becoming less expensive, which will make distributed energy even more affordable. Between 2008 and 2014, battery costs have declined 20 percent each year. (Credit to World Resources institute)

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd 6 November ’18


Ethics, regulations and enablement

Life is made up of compromises. How do we balance over-population, care of the environment, regulation and making a profit, to pay taxes, to pay got government, to make regulations?

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 on the morning of 25 Oct 18 would have heard Melvin Bragg discussing, with some very eloquent and informed people, the book “Fable of the Bees” by Bernard Mandeville, published 1714.  The book argues that it is not possible to be ethical and commercially successful. The historian, Jane Marshall, argues that empires always regulate, over regulate and end up destroying themselves. Many large waste producers in the EU, including the UK, survive the costs and delays caused by over-regulation by “avoidance”,  (or is it “evasion”). What we have does not work and can be argued to be counter-productive on all counts. If the economy and the environment are to survive, we need a root and branch review which will give controlled enablement.  Possibly, self-regulation by licensing might work.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 4 November ‘18

Only farmers can do this

This Suffolk soil needed irrigation until large amounts of “urban” composts were added. See this website and go to “Articles”and click on No 6.

While attention is often focused on carbon locked up in trees, in fact, most of this carbon lies in the soil. Below ground Carbon includes an array of sources such as the root systems of trees and soil organic matter. Scientists estimate that by managing the world’s land more sustainably, such as by protecting forests and investing in reforestation, we could achieve up to 37 percent of emissions reductions necessary to limit the global rise in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius by 2030.  So, inescapably, recycle urban organic Carbon wastes to farm land by composting.

Only farmers can do this.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 31 October 8

On your farm

A disc at a slight angle, a coulter with a mini-plough share and a depth wheel, all cleverly set up to give even depth of placement, good soil-seed contact and very even crop emergence. We are growing crops, not just plants.

In the farming program, morning of 27th on BBC Radio 4, mention was of the dry summer and problems with seedbeds this autumn.  I was reminded of one of the privileges of my life as in meeting and working with an agricultural engineer who designed a grain drill.  The first really clever bit (a strong patent) was that whatever the quantity of grain in the bin, the pressure on the coulters remained constant.  Secondly, a very shallow disc at a slight angle cut a shallow slit.  Behind the disc was a coulter with a head like a small plough share which wiped any straw out of the slit (I did camera work on this action – it did work) and planted the seed.  This was followed by a depth wheel to press the soil round the seed to get good seed-soil contact.

The result was minimal disturbance of the soil (and chitting of weeds in the seedbed), very even depth of placement and the most even emergence of the crop that I have yet seen.  Importantly this year (and most years) with minimum soil moisture loss from the seedbed.  That man was Sam Moore and, I am happy to say, he still has happy memories of a golden age in farm machinery development but, I guess, leaves Sam Jnr to captain the ship that is still Moore Unidrill.

Bill Butterworth,  Land Research Ltd   27 October 18

Soil health-Gove

More organic matter in the soil! Where from?


There is a government dishonesty about the Commons Select Committee (Environmental Audit) report on soil health which was released today (25 Oct 18).  On one hand, the Committee reports (and no doubt correctly so) that “the target of soil sustainably by 2030 will not be met unless further action is taken, and that failing to prevent soil degradation could lead to increased flood risk, lower food security, and greater carbon emissions.”

Probably right BUT on the other hand, the Environment Agency, in its fear of taking any sort of risk, has altered the regulations on composting so that it is possible to obtain a permit to compost 50 tonnes of material a year without concrete, but more than 50 tonnes pa will need concrete.  Now, because of the cost of concrete, that really means to be economic the scale will go up to 25,000 tonnes pa and the cost of that set up will be in excess of £500,000.  Nobody will do that without a contract to supply the input waste material.  So no one will come into the industry.  So, recycling of urban wastes is seriously restricted.  AND that is where the organic matter will come from to make the soils sustainable.

Pity that there appears to be little connection between the regulators and the MP’s on the Select Committee.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 25 Oct 18


Only farming can do this

This kit is on a farm recycling urban wastes to farm land and reducing/avoiding the use of mineral fertilisers. Not so obvious but globally vitally – it is taking Carbon out of the atmosphere and locking it up in soil.

According to World Bank figures, the global production of urban waste is above 2 billion tonnes and rising. My own experience of composting urban wastes suggests that, technically (if the regulators could come to terms with this) maybe 25% of that could be composted and put to farm land, and possibly more if put to forestry land. If the compost contained only 2% of each of N, P and K, then that would be 10 million tonnes of each.  One tonne of N nutrient, made in a modern USA factory, takes 21,000 kWh to make and deliver.  So, or the N alone, that would save the use of 210,000,000 kWh of electrical power generation, most of which comes from burning coal and oil.  Bearing in mind most N production in the world is several times less efficient than in the USA, and that the rest of the figures err on the side of caution, then recycling urban waste by composting to land would save probably around 1 trillion KWh pa and the associated Carbon dioxide production.  .

There is a bonus, crops grown on high organic Carbon soils need less irrigation and less crop protection sprays.  Cereal crop lodge (fall flat) less. Crops yield more. What we need is active, controlled enabling, not ever-increasing suppression and indifference form government.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd. 24 October 18