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On 24 August 2017m the Water Resources Institute published a piece on their website looking at “7 Reasons We’re Facing a Global Water Crisis” in a piece written by Leah Schleifer. With credit to them, I try here to relate those lessons to British farming and maybe farming elsewhere in developed counties that do not really think water may be a significant economic problem sooner rather than later.
Reason 2. More People + More Money = More Water Demand.
The Yorkshire Post reports that: “There has been a net loss nationally of 7,000 hectares of agricultural land in the UK between 2006 and 2012”. The Guardian has reported that: “Earth has lost a third of arable land in past 40 years”. There is an insidious water consumption in the UK. While our own water consumption is rising with population growth (net plus 0.5 million people in 2016!) and what we each spend is continually, our consumption of “virtual water” (i.e. that which is involved with production overseas of what we import) is 30 times as much as UK water used, and the WWF reports that; “Taking virtual water into account, each of us soaks up 4,645 litres a day”. That makes us the 6th largest water importer in the world.
Yes, there is a looming crisis.
Conservation farming action;
- Build water storage if you can. (There is some useful USA experience in building dams using old tyres.)
- Harvest water from roofs and concrete.
- Subsoil to allow roots to go deeper and move to reduced tillage – develop understanding and skills in direct drilling (or what is otherwise called “zero till”).
Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd., September 17
In the 24 June issue of New Scientist, Ed Hawkins, University of Reading, UK, and Alan Robock, Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA, both are quoted as observing that we really do need, urgently, to invent a way to remove Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere on a huge scale.
The classic way of solving a problem is to find a mirror image problem and put the two together. Link farming (globally we need more food) and urban waste production (as global population and wealth rise, we get more unban waste) in the right way and that could deliver the invention. Well, we already have it and it has been done and on a scale that could be applied globally.
Search https://www.amazon.co.uk/Survival-Sustainable-Energy-Wastes-Shale/dp/1523264217 The Carbon dioxide bit starts at page 45.
Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 6 August 17
Global Warming can be arrested.
There is no doubt that Sir Harry Ferguson’s invention of the farm tractor 3-point linkage, which gave weight transfer off the cultivation tool down the top link onto the driving wheels of the tractor, revolutionised world farming and has saved many millions of the human race, including ourselves in the West, from starvation. There is no doubt that it is still relevant.
Nevertheless, we have moved on into an era where we need less damage to soil structure, less nutrient loss to ground water, less energy use, less pressure on climate change. And more food to feed a rocketing population.
Quite simply, we need to recycle urban waste to land and use zero till wherever feasible. To do this, another step in tractor development is now a marketing opportunity. Back in the1970’s, I published an article in the then journal “Big Farm Management” which predicted that the global tractor market would split into 5 roughly equal sectors; (i) mid-range, Ferguson design “maid of all work”, (i) similar but small, up to 30 horse power, (iii) very large over 150 hp and moving to tracked, rather than wheeled, (iv) MHT’s – materials handling tractors, mainly telescopic loaders, and (v) HST’s – High Speed Transport tractors; lighter-weight, transport tractors equipped with PTO and capable of field work.
That prophesy has turned out as predicted for the first 4 categories. Now, the need to move to conservation agriculture and zero-till, makes the move to this last category of lighter weight, transport-capable, versatile tractors, over-due and a real opportunity for the tractor trade to supply emerging trends on conservation coupled to more efficient production.
Land Research Ltd, 14 April 2017
The news reports of starvation in central Africa are pitiful. But this is a picture of the human race not paying attention to its future. The devastation will not stop in central Africa unless we are much more active in heading off the crisis and it is not just a question of sending a bit of cash and feeding a few people. Logically (this will sound awful and it is), we should abandon the area (we will do that of course). We need to put our own house in order. Produce food at home right here in the UK whenever possible. Do it with much less energy. Stop building on farm land. Wind up production using wastes rather than fertilisers made using energy.
Remember one figure and think about it. 1 tonne of Nitrogen fertiliser (say 3 tonnes of ammonium nitrate) made in a modern, relatively efficient, USA factory, according to UN sponsored research, takes 21,000 KW hours of electricity to make it and deliver it.
We urgently need to change the way we do things and value farming and our future.
Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, March 2017
There is an advertisement on at least one commercial radio station inviting us to dial 105 if we have a power cut. This implies that not only does the establishment know we are on the edge of power cuts on a large scale but they want us to prepare for it. Now, I have colleagues who know far more about the national grid power supply than I do and they are quite certain that we are close to significant power cuts and, if all the relevant strains come on at once in a cold spell, then we may get a national shut down. If we do, they some will be off for days rather than hours. It will be inconvenient for most of us, will be very expensive for industry and cost lives.
Whatever we ought to do in terms of renewable power, the truth is that the quickest way, and lowest cost, to secure our power supply is to build gas-fired power stations. Other than nuclear (of which many of us have some reservations), gas is an almost totally clean burn. We area standing on enormous reserves of gas. What does common sense tell us?
Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 1 January 2017
Some will remember the flood of Lynmouth in 1952 in which 34 people died. Lynmouth, however, has a much more positive contribution to world power history. In 1890, a small scale hydro-power system was built in the gorge above Lymouth and it was the first in the world to provide pump-back storage at the top to provide a reserve of water to produce power at peak demand. In 1987, a 500m long, 500mm diameter pipe with a 77m head was commissioned to drive a 300kW turbine. Since, the feed pipe diameter has been increased to 700mm and two more turbines. The organisers want to expand further and, to our national shame, get political prevarication and ignorance from the authorities. The truth is that hydro here lives quite satisfactorily with an SSSI and a very pretty area of natural beauty of significant tourist attraction and an example to the rest of the world. Hydro is one of the answers to reducing global warming and we need more urgently, very urgently.
Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd., 10 November 2016