Category Archives: farming

The real truth about shale gas

You can download a copy for free this Sunday, 8th October,  by clicking below on “Buy at Amazon”.

water-supply-irrigation-direct drilling

If it is like this on top, what is it like deep down? Much of the crps in the South east and East Anglia depend on extraction from rivers and boreholes. there really is a question of how long this can be sustained.

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 3. Groundwater Is Being Depleted.

About 30 percent of Earth’s fresh water lies deep underground in aquifers.

The south east of England is an area of particular concern. It is a highly populated area with relatively low annual rainfall. As a result, the supply of water in the south east of England is limited. Some parts have less usable water per person than countries such as Syria.  Generally, the water level in the aquifers in the chalk areas of the UK are experiencing falling.   The falling level of water near our bore-holes is not going to be helped by more rainfall because high intensity rain tends to run off into the rivers and to sea.

Conservation farming action;

  1. Increase soil organic matter and reduce cultivations.
  2. Trees are a mixed water-blessing; they will reduce water run-off and reduce flash-flooding lower down, and they will respire around 50 % more than a cereal crop.
  3. Look for crops that need less water or are deep-rooted (such as forage maize instead of grass).

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd.,  September 17

 

Organic Farming Failure

 

“The crop on the right was not worth harvesting and abandoned. 4000 people dies as a result. 

I have shown a picture of this farm field before but I now have a further reasons to visit it again.  The farm appears to have abandoned harvest and it appears that the crop yield would not justify the charges by the contractor brought in to combine the crop.  The farmer claims to farm “organically”.

Now, according to the UN, over 100,000,000 people in central Africa are on the edge of starvation.  Most will actually die and it would be kinder to actually shoot them – starvation is not a very nice way to leave this earth. The farm in the picture has, at the time of writing, over 100 ha apparently abandoned. How many people would that feed?  Well, each ha of that land would yield 8, maybe 10 tonnes of wheat, let us say 8, year in, year out.  So, 800 tonnes per annum. How many would that support?  Well, it depends on the dietary level. To survive without getting fat but having enough calories to work, probably around 5 people for a full year on each tonne is a reasonable guide.

That means that if the farmer of the land in the picture had been employing current UK technology, he could be saving the lives of 4000 people, maybe more.  So by farming badly, he has murdered 4000 people?  Too harsh?  Maybe but the observation does underline two things that are as relevant today as they have ever been;

  1. We who farm the land have a responsibility to the global human population to use its productive capacity for everyone’s benefit. Good, safe food is needed and a lot of it.
  2. The question about organic v. technology and chemicals is a real one but we need production. Acceptation of reduced production by any method of farming, really does condemn others to death. So, there is a question of the balance of risks. Certainly, there are risks in using pesticides and mineral fertilisers.  The risk of starvation is very real to some. So, provided these risks are continually managed which option?  Well, British farming probably does produce the safest food in the world. Technology in responsible hands is the only solution to reducing starvation.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd,  September 17

Water in farming

 

Does the rainbow promise better weather, wetter weather, both or more extreme weather? What can we actually do about it?

 

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 1. We’re Changing the Climate, Making Dry Areas Drier and Precipitation More Variable and Extreme.

Without mentioning any particular name, one who denies climate change must either be demented or have some ulterior motive. In most farming areas, water will in general get shorter in areas where it is already short and rain, when it does happen, at higher rates and with more wind. In general terms, most climatologists agree, this trend will continue.  However, there is some evidence that we may have already started to switch off, or otherwise change, the Gulf Stream. If that turns out to be the case, the western areas of the UK may get colder, not warmer, especially in winter.

The effects of these changes will affect everything in farming including field drainage, soil organic matter, the way we control weeds in crops.  We had better be ready to respond to these pressures.  One thing is for sure – it will not stay the same.

There is one rule to watch; mostly, where rain is already short in the eastern areas, we will get less and when it happens it will be in heavy weather.  Cereal crop lodging before harvest will be an increasing risk.  All areas may experience flash flooding.

Conservation farming action;

  1. Add organic matter and reduce cultivations to reduce oxidation of organic matter.
  2. Subsoil at intervals.
  3. Maintain ditches and field drainage.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd.,  September 17

Solar farm up-date economic

 

Solar is on the edge of economic without government support. This is potentially an important source of dependable, long term income for landowners.

The cost of solar panels is coming down and “solar farms” are on the edge of becoming economic without government support.I f you are a land owner, you might be offered £750 to £1400 per acre in rent for 25 years, plus an RPI escalator, to cover a hundred acres or so with solar panels.  That is pension fund stuff. However, is it environmentally sustainable and does it matter anyway?

 It is almost certainly true that the energy put into making all the solar panels so far manufactured will not be recovered in the productive life of those panels.  If the energy put into manufacture, packaging, transport by sea (most are made in China), in road transport, in mounting on frameworks, in making the frameworks (all the same actions over again), and maintenance, and decommissioning, …  All of a sudden, it does not seem possible that “PV”, photovoltaics, or just “solar panels”, could possibly be genuinely environmentally sustainable.

There is at least some research which gives a useful guide. Much of that research suggests an energy payback period, on the panels themselves, of 2 to 10 years.  The US Department of Energy quotes in one of its published documents several pieces of research from all over the world where researchers of some academic standing looked at the question and showed a wide range of results but they were all presented by the Department as positive.  The summary of research indicated that crystalline modules were significantly better than a few years ago and their efficiency would improve still more.  The conclusions were also that thin-film technology was currently more efficient than crystalline and would continue to keep its lead over crystallines.  Further, as new technologies develop, this is very likely to increase efficiencies again.  For example, the sun emits a much wider range of energy wavelengths than just the visible spectrum.  New panel technologies will collect infrared and ultra violet and maybe wider.

Nevertheless, reading between the lines, most of the quoted research appeared to be limited to the energy cost of manufacture of the panels themselves. There was limited or no indication that the total energy cost of a working installation had been taken into account. One of the bits of research even admitted that they had not even included the thin frame that surrounds the panel before putting into its packaging. So, there is some doubt about whether the research figures cover all the energy costs, not just of manufacture, but also of packaging, shipping, land transport, installation, site infrastructure, site works, supporting frame construction, commissioning, maintenance, cleaning and failures.

DOES PAY-BACK MATTER?

Maybe not.  It depends on where you sit. If it makes money for everyone involved; maybe that is good enough?  Only the taxpayer might not agree.  One thing “renewable” (but not necessarily sustainable) might be seen to deliver is less reliance in future on imported oil, gas and electricity. (Yes, we import significant amounts of electricity from France.)  There is another plus.  Whatever the energy cost, it is paid for at today’s cost.  The energy produced over the life of the installation pays back at tomorrow’s energy values; it is an investment in tomorrow.

What it comes down to is, as usual, money.  If a detailed financial study says it makes cash, then read the small print, cover the “what ifs” over the next 25 years and go ahead.  However, tone down the environmental benefit; you might be on thin film, sorry, ice.

 

 

Husbandry inputs and safe food

In a field in Wiltshire – I’d be ashamed if it were mine. More thistles and wild oats than wheat as a crop. Cultivations and sprays need to be used with a sensitivity to weather to get weed control; economically.

As I get older, I worry more about the standard of husbandry in farming – in some farms there seem to be some sliding of standards of cleanliness in crops.  Most of the crops I see as I travel around the country have, what I learned as a student to be described as “clean bottoms”, leaving an almost weed free stubble at harvest. During my vacations as a student at Reading, more years ago than I care to mention, I was lucky enough to serve under a farm manager of the name of Richard Noyce in Hampshire. I learned so much from him in terms of using the theory I had from Reading out in the field. Amongst other things, he knew how to use cultivators, chemicals and timing with the weather, to dramatically reduce the weed load on the following year’s crop. Many things are different, now, but we need food more than ever.  Despite this worry, most crops I see are of a high husbandry standard and Britain does have consistently amongst the highest yields of any nation on earth.  We probably do have the safest food in the world, too. Better tell the great British public.

Bill Butterworth, Land REsearch Ltd, 24 August 2017

UN 4p000 Farmed Soil as a Carbon Sink

 

When Vermuyden drained the fens, it created some of the most fertile soils in the world. Some were more than 10 m deep. This cam be mimicked using composted urban wastes.

The UN has a target of raising the organic Carbon content of soils by 4 parts per thousand in order to offset atmospheric Carbon dioxide growth and global warming.

In a short report in “The Auger” (one of the journals of the British Society of Soil Science) the work of Johnson A E, et al. in The European Journal of Soil Science concluding that, using crop production with mineral fertilisers and Nitrogen from legumes, such a target probably could not be achieved.

They have much greater knowledge than I and my limited knowledge would concur with that view.  However, fertilising crops based on composting urban wastes could easily achieve, and surpass that target. It has been done.  See https://www.amazon.co.uk/Reversing-Global-Warming-Profit-environmentally/dp/1904312810

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd