Category Archives: Agriculture

Hackey – A woodenheaded proposed planning policy

I missed reports from May on Hackney’s Proposed ‘Wood First’ policy.  My interested was highlighted by support from the UK Forestry Panel.

Hackney Council is set to be the first local authority in England to promote timber construction in its planning policy.


Although the Council is keen to promote the benefits of building with wood, it is not considering a policy that would exclude locally sourced building materials or prevent the use of other sustainable building materials in future developments. However, it will take into account the carbon footprint of a new development to ensure it is in line with its sustainability policy and the use of structural timber would help to contribute to this.

Building

A government-commissioned report has backed controversial proposals that councils adopt a ‘wood first’ planning policy for construction projects.

In May, Hackney council became the first local authority to propose introducing a ‘wood first’ planning policy, which would favour timber buildings being built in the borough.

But trade body Modern Masonry Alliance and development organisation the Concrete Centre denounced the move as ill-considered and a leading construction lawyer has said such criteria would be open to legal challenge.

But the report by the Independent Panel on Forestry, commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “Local Authorities should use their Local Plans to introduce a ‘wood first’ policy for construction projects to increase use of wood in buildings.”

Sorry this policy, introduced at the urging of group Wood for Good,  would likely to be counter-productive and in the short-medium term actually increase carbon emissions   This is quite apart from the issue that policies promoting one material over another are likely to be illegal and the arguments over which is the most sustainable material.

Imagine we had an imaginary reference material that was completely carbon neutral throughout its whole life.  Even measured against this a wood first policy would perform poorly.

Why – Forestry Economics – a subject I now know rather too much about because of research for a book im writing about capital theory (The planting and cutting down of trees has often been used as a mathematical allegory model for investment).  The key model here is what is known as the Faustmann Model.  This shows that  It is optimal to cut a stand, when the relative value growth rate is equal to the interest rate multiplied by a land rent component, this land rent component is always positive; therefore it increases the ‘effective’ interest rate (opportunity cost of timber) and subsequently shortens the rotation period.  The Faustmann rotation is (other things being equal) shorter, the higher the timber price and interest rate and the lower the planting costs.

So if timber prices go up then more trees will be cut down.  Growing trees sequester carbon, decomposing trees release it.  Incineration is energy neutral.  Again I don’t want to get too deep into the maths here but broadly speaking the about of carbon sequestered is related to the volume of the tree and so to the age of the stand to the power of three.

So what if timber prices dramatically shoot up because of widespread adoption of a ‘wood first’ policy.  What this is likely to mean is that the ‘strike point’ (the age of a stand when felled) is likely to fall because it now becomes economic to fell for less than fully mature trees – Faustmann’s key result.  So if say instead of felling stands at 70 years they were felled at  50 we now get 20 years less carbon sequestration from the trees that would otherwise have been felled.  of ting past course many more new stands would now be planted because of the higher price of wood, but it might be another 40 or 50 years before we are back in the carbon black after getting past the red.  Any planning policy which is carbon negative for 40 or 50 years can hardly be called a great success.

Sorry Wood for Good, but you need to do some mathematical modelling before advocating policy and convincing the likes of me, especially to easy to please local planning authorities.  Your approach is rather like advocating construction of a new series of ships of the line to boost wood demand, we all know what impact that had on our forests.

NFU – Food and Drink Now Britains 4th Largest Export Sector

As we have said on this site several times the Farming Sector, especially the CLA and far less so the NFU has been appalling at its own PR not always realising that claims with a sense of entitlement especially the th top tier of landowners in terms of wealth go down like a lead balloon with the public.  Some attempt at reversing that come from the latest NFU report ‘Farming Delivers’ and which is a good read.  As Peter Kendall NFU president in the forward states

the range of outputs expected of the industry has been widening. Farmers and growers are no longer simply producers of raw materials for the food industry. That is still an important role, especially in a period in which food security can only move up the list of national priorities, but to it have been added the imperatives of producing safe, high quality, sometimes local and organic food; of providing what are known as ‘eco-system services’, like landscape management, water quality and flood risk reduction; and of making a vital contribution to renewable energy supplies.

In the NFU, we decided that it was time to move on from explaining why farming matters to Britain, to measuring and recording the very real benefits
which farming delivers for Britain. In so doing, we wanted to move away from the inward looking yardstick of farm incomes as being the be-all and end-all of the industry’s success, to an outward-looking series of indicators measuring farming’s contribution to the economy, the environment, renewable energy, employment and careers and the security and quality of the nation’s food supplies.

Farming’s GVA totals £8.84 billion – or has seen an increase of 25 per cent last year. The report website is here.  The report is here

Save 50% of Agricultural Land, Grow Meat in Petri Dishes

Though at $350,000 a burger it will be a while before it becomes practical

(Reuters) - Scientists are cooking up new ways of satisfying the world’s ever-growing hunger for meat.

“Cultured meat” — burgers or sausages grown in laboratory Petri dishes rather than made from slaughtered livestock — could be the answer that feeds the world, saves the environment and spares the lives of millions of animals, they say.

Granted, it may take a while to catch on. And it won’t be cheap.

The first lab-grown hamburger will cost around 250,000 euros ($345,000) to produce, according to Mark Post, a vascular biologist at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, who hopes to unveil such a delicacy soon.

Experts say the meat’s potential for saving animals’ lives, land, water, energy and the planet itself could be enormous.

“The first one will be a proof of concept, just to show it’s possible,” Post told Reuters in a telephone interview from his Maastricht lab. “I believe I can do this in the coming year.”

It may sound and look like some kind of imitation, but in-vitro or cultured meat is a real animal flesh product, just one that has never been part of a complete, living animal — quite different from imitation meat or meat substitutes aimed at vegetarians and made from vegetable proteins like soy.

STEM CELLS

Using stem cells harvested from leftover animal material from slaughterhouses, Post nurtures them with a feed concocted of sugars, amino acids, lipids, minerals and all other nutrients they need to grow in the right way.

So far he has produced whitish pale muscle-like strips, each of them around 2.5 cm (1 inch) long, less than a centimeter wide and so thin as to be almost see-through.

Pack enough of these together — probably around 3,000 of them in layers — throw in a few strips of lab-grown fat, and you have the world’s first “cultured meat” burger, he says.

“This first one will be grown in an academic lab, by highly trained academic staff,” he said. “It’s hand-made and it’s time and labor-intensive, that’s why it’s so expensive to produce.”

Not to mention a little unappetizing. Since Post’s in-vitro meat contains no blood, it lacks color. At the moment, it looks a bit like the flesh of scallops, he says.

Like all muscle, these lab-grown strips also need to be exercised so they can grow and strengthen rather than waste away. To do this Post exploits the muscles’ natural tendency to contract and stretches them between Velcro tabs in the Petri dish to provide resistance and help them build up strength.

Supporters of the idea of man-made meat, such as Stellan Welin, a bioethicist at Linkoping University in Sweden, say this is no less appealing than mass-producing livestock in factory farms where growth hormones and antibiotics are commonly used to boost yields and profits.

And conventional meat production is also notoriously inefficient. For every 15 grams of edible meat, you need to feed the animals on around 100 grams of vegetable protein, an increasingly unsustainable equation.

All this means finding new ways of producing meat is essential if we are to feed the enormous and ever-growing demand for it across the world, Welin told Reuters in an interview.

NOT SUSTAINABLE

“Of course you could do it by being vegetarian or eating less meat,” he said. “But the trends don’t seem to be going that way. With cultured meat we can be more conservative — people can still eat meat, but without causing so much damage.”

According to the World Health Organization, annual meat production is projected to increase from 218 million tonnes in 1997-1999 to 376 million tonnes by 2030, and demand from a growing world population is seen rising further beyond that.

“Current livestock meat production is just not sustainable,” says Post. “Not from an ecological point of view, and neither from a volume point of view. Right now we are using more than 50 percent of all our agricultural land for livestock.

“It’s simple maths. We have to come up with alternatives.”

According to a 2006 report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, industrialized agriculture contributes on a “massive scale” to climate change, air pollution, land degradation, energy use, deforestation and biodiversity decline.

The report, entitled Livestock’s Long Shadow, said the meat industry contributes about 18 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, and this proportion is expected to grow as consumers in fast-developing countries like China and India eat more meat.

Hanna Tuomisto, who conducted a study into the relative environmental impacts of various types of meat, including lamb, pork, beef and cultured meat, said the lab-grown stuff has by far the least impact on the environment.

Her analysis, published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal earlier this year, found that growing our favorite meats in-vitro would use 35 to 60 percent less energy, emit 80 to 95 percent less greenhouse gas and use around 98 percent less land than conventionally produced animal meat.

“We are not saying that we could, or would necessarily want to, replace conventional meat with its cultured counterpart right now,” Tuomisto, who led the research at Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, said in a telephone interview.

But she said cultured meat “could be part of the solution to feeding the world’s growing population and at the same time cutting emissions and saving both energy and water.”

TASTY?

While experts in the field agree that within several years, it may be possible to produce in-vitro meat in a processed form — like sausages or chicken nuggets — producing more animal-like products such as pork chops or steaks could be a lot more complex and may take many more years to develop.

Post, who is financed by an anonymous private funder keen to see the Dutch scientist succeed, hopes to hand the world its first man-made hamburger by August or September next year, but for the moment he admits what he has grown is a long way from a mouth-watering meal.

He hasn’t yet sampled his own creation, but reviews from others are not great. A Russian TV reporter who came to his lab tried one of the strips and was unimpressed.

“It’s not very tasty yet,” Post said. “That’s not a trivial thing and it needs to be worked on.”

But with the right amounts and right types of fat, perhaps a little lab-grown blood to give it color and iron, Post is confident he can make his Petri dish meat look and taste as good as the real thing.

He also hopes the ability to tweak and change things will mean scientists will ultimately be able to make meat healthier — with less saturated and more polyunsaturated fat, for example, or more nutrients.

“The idea is that since we are now producing it in the lab, we can play with all these variables and we can eventually hopefully turn it in a way that produces healthier meat,” he said. “Whereas in a cow or a pig, you have very limited variables to play with.”

Greg Clark – Protect the Countryside – to Keep Eric Pickles in Pies #NPPF

Hansard  Yesterdays DCLG’s questions

Elizabeth Truss: Food and farming are vital to tourism and exports in Norfolk, and its produce is of very high quality, as the Secretary of State found out when he visited the Norfolk food festival in Parliament earlier this month. Does the Minister agree that the planning framework should take into account the long-term value of agriculture, as once farmland is lost, it is very hard to get back?

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend is absolutely right—and when I was talking to the Secretary of State earlier, he extolled the virtues of the pies available at the Norfolk food festival. We must take into account the long-term value of food security as well as the short and medium-term economic benefits of food production.

Saving Spain’s Drover’s Greenways

Great article in the Independent

Spain’s once magnificent network of greenways, despite apparently strong state protection, is fast dwindling. And with it the centuries-old practice of driving herds of cattle and sheep from lowland winter pastures to summer upland grazings – known as transhumance – is on its last legs.

In Andalucia alone, some 76 per cent of the 30,000 kilometres (18,600 miles) of greenways were recently estimated as being blocked off or otherwise inaccessible, while the 200,000 or so cattle and sheep which went through transhumance in the early 1990s has now dropped to a tenth of that number….

everything from housing estates to reservoirs, roads and barbed wire fencing have been reported as obstructing their progress. There are even reports of poison being daubed on to the pasturelands that their cattle use

transhumance is far cheaper and more ecological than transport by road, and it benefits biodiversity, too… scientific studies by the Andalucian government discovered greenways can act as protected corridors over hundreds of kilometres for extremely rare and highly mobile animals such as the Iberian Lynx, or are sanctuaries for rare breeds of plant, such as types of rockrose

Then there’s the whole series of social rituals that go with transhumance – the celebrations, songs and tales in the villages whenever a herd stops there for the night. So it wouldn’t just be an ecological setback if transhumance and the greenways disappeared: we’d be losing part of Spain’s cultural past, too

Chinas Eco-Farming Boom Driven by Food Safety Scares

Ill post some interesting links and videos about some innovations in ecological farming in China.

From China Daily

a group of 20 parents, … in 2010 founded the Safeguard Homeland Green Consumers Association.

“It’s an association of mothers who joined to find safer food for their children,” said Yao, who noted that the membership has grown to 80 this spring.

The association made a deal with an eco-farm that uses earthworms to help fertilize the crops. The farm leased out small pieces of land, usually 20 square meters as a share, to every member of the association at the monthly rent of 100 yuan (about $15).

Members could either plant vegetables themselves or hire farmers to do the work for 280 yuan for each month.

“Now I can finally put my mind at ease, as the vegetables are grown right before my eyes on ecologically fertilized land,” said Zhang Lushuang, one of the association’s members.

Like the members of “Safeguard Homeland,” urban consumers, eager to secure a safer diet, are rushing to manage the production of their own food, by directly engaging in the farm work or commissioning production to eco-farms.

It helps consumers bypass the sophisticated food chain, a chief supplier of chemicals in Chinese food, Yao said.

The surge in the number of customers has also encouraged rural eco-farmers, as it suggested a boost in the sluggish market of organic products

the village changed its strategy and invited consumers to participate in the production, so they could take an up-close look at the way the farm operated.

One of the village’s ecological pig farms even created real-time online video feeds for customers to take a look at the pigs whenever they wish.

“The results were great,” Zhang said. “The prices of our cereal-fed pigs were two times higher than that of ordinary pigs, but they still sold well and made a great profit.”

Furthermore, the direct link between buyers and producers helps both sides get rid of intermediary surcharges, which have pushed up food prices while gobbling up the bulk of farmers’ profits.

“Wanna be rich? Grow apples; Wanna be super rich? Raise pigs. Wanna be super, super rich? Grow apples and raise pigs.” The slogan is worded by Ye Weiqiang, a college graduated “village head,” to sell his get-rich “bible” to farmers.

Ye’s bible is called “apple-pig circular economy,” a simple idea to raise pigs (or cattle) with corn, and grow apples on an organic fertilizer that consists of pig (or cattle) excrement mixed with corn straw so to produce organic fruit.

Capitalisms Last Frontier#15 Growing Diffusion & its Limits

We have traced the protohistory of political economy, looking at the origins of agriculture and settlement. We have a picture of villages with agricultural hinterlands, of agriculture requiring sedentism, for four reason, the need to sow, the need to reap, the need to defend crops as they grow, and fourthly and probably more importantly the need to grind grains and bake.

Of course with higher yields a potential for an agricultural surplus. This has two consequences, firstly enabling the expansion of population through expanding the calorific value that could be obtained from an area of land, and secondly the potential of an agricultural surplus if this was not taken up by expanded population. This surplus requires storage, thus reinforcing sedentism.

Humankind would would not expand its population in place to the extent it would overrun its food supply, as populations grew they expanded. As we found in the previous sections the greater numbers of agriculturalists, enjoying their food/energy efficiency advantage, created an advantage in numbers, if not health of individuals, over other hunter gatherers and proto- agriculturalists. These groups either had to retreat to the margins or innovate and defend their territory. In only a few thousand years agricultural sedentism would diffuse from the middle east across Eurasia, and during that period several other independent sources of agriculture grew up, such as in the Ethiopian highlands and in China.

But as these practices grew it would run up against margins of cultivation where local climate and soil made growing marginal or difficult. These edges included mountains, cold dry steppe and hot desert.

In these marginal lands humankind cannot utilise the plants that grow there, but animals can utilise them. Humankind cannot eat grass but goats and cattle can, and we can eat these animals and drink their milk. Such a survival strategy – pastoralism – or to be precise Nomadic Pastoralism – is much less energy efficient, can support lower populations per area of land, but it is the only viable survival strategy beyond the margin of cultivation.  So in these areas vegetarianism is not necessarily the most efficient energy strategy for humans, indeed vegetarians would starve.

How then did pastoralism begin. The Victorian concept was that it was a universal precursor to cultivation. This concept was held by Marx, and repeated by Engels in ‘The Origins of the Family, Private Property and The State’. We now know this to be untrue, as there early sites of cultivation have no records of goats or cattle domestication. This appears to be a later phenomenon.

Let us first consider the issue of animal domestication. Only 12 species of large animal have proven capable of domestication. One key factor leading favouring domestication in sedentary communities is the ability to live off food sources, such as grass or food waste, which humans cannot consume, otherwise domestic animals and humans would be competing in the same space for energy. (see  Diamond, Jared (1999). Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: Norton Press which also lists other traits necessary for domestication).  The key domestications that led to food sources (unlike the earlier domestic of dogs which aided in hunting) were ,  goats, pigs, sheep, and cow, between 6-13,000BP, with cow domestication occurring last.  But domestication of goats and sheep appears to have occurred within hunter gatherer communities, as goats could travel within a nomadic group, hence creating a form of proto-pasoralism.  The wild boar, which became the domestic pig appears to have been first domesticated in the Tigris basin in a similar way to modern new guinea hunter gatherers. With pregnant females captured in the wild and piglets kept close to their tethered mothers.  With the growth of cereal crops more formal tending was needed to avoid competing from th esame food source.   (Ancestors for the pigs: pigs in prehistory Sarah M. Nelson, University of Pennsylvania. Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology UPenn Museum of Archaeology, 1998).

Cattle domestication appears to have occurred from around 6-8,000 BP in several independent areas, with cattle descended from the now extinct Auroch.  It used to be thought that it was first domesticated as a beast of burden, but the archaeological evidence in the last 30 years seems to indicate that Cattle, like pigs, sheep and goats, were domesticated first as a source of meat, and that this domestication occurred first in sedentary cultivating communities.

Andrew Sherratt has developed his thesis of what he calls the the secondary products revolution, the realisation  animals also provided a number of other useful products other than meat and skin, such as manure, wool, meat and traction. This phase in agricultural development enabled humans to make use of the energy possibilities of their animals in new ways.  Sherratt even argues that  and permitted permanent intensive subsistence farming and crop production, and the opening up heavier soils for farming.  It certainly through ploughing allowed more intensive and externive cultivation, but it is going to far to suggest this triggered agriculture per-se.  (A. Sherratt, Plough and pastoralism: aspects of the secondary products revolution, in Pattern of the Past: Studies in honour of David Clarke, edited by I. Hodder, G. Isaac and N. Hammond (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 1981), pp. 261–305.)

Deomestication made possible nomadic pastoralism.  During the younger dryas drying many of the farmers in the middle east were forced to leave, taking their domesticated animals with them, and distributing distribute these animals to the rest of Afroeurasia. This emigration was mainly on an east-west axis of similar climates, as crops usually have a narrow optimal climatic range outside of which they cannot grow.  Jared Diamond has postulated that this is why plant and animal domestication spread so quickly from the Fertile Crescent to the rest of Eurasia and North Africa.

As cultivators expanded they would have pushed against areas occupied by hunter-gatherers/proto-pastoralists some of whom with domesticated herds sheep and goats.  In marginal areas herding will have predominated over hunting and gathering.   Interaction with agriculturalists such as through trade/diffusion of innovation or the expansion of agriculturalists,  led to nomadic pastoralism.

To acquire enough forage, large distances have to be covered by herds, with larger hers requiring nomadism to avoid overexplotation of local grasses. This resulted in a higher labour requirement for animal tending and a divergence and specialism between sedentary cultivation and pastoralism  and specialization took place. Both developed alongside each other, with continuing interactions. (See Levy, T. E. (1983). Emergence of specialized pastoralism in the Levant. World Archaeology 15(1): 15-37. Hole, F. (1996). “The context of caprine domestication in the Zagros region'”. in The Origins and Spread of Agriculture and Pastoralism in Eurasia. D. R. Harris (ed.). London, University College of London: 263-281.)

Nomadism continued to exist  in symbiosis with such settled cultures trading animal products items not produced by the nomadic herders, with trade occurring across the margin of cultivation.  The margin of cultivation being the frontier between pastoral and agricultural ways of producing.

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