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Thursday, July 18, 2024
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EditorialsUpFront 10/20

UpFront 10/20

In his new book, English Pastoral, Lake District farmer James Rebanks echoes the thoughts of many people when he says he is tired of the ‘absolutes and extremes, and the angriness of this age’. He says ‘we need more kindness, compromise and balance.’ Although he is talking about farming, his words could apply to many arguments in an easily divided world. His farming life was first inspired by his grandfather who made his living on an old fashioned mixed farm. Later, James’s father was influenced by the need for modernisation, although he always instinctively distrusted the direction his industry was taking. A visit to America to see vast tracts of land decimated by overuse of chemicals and ‘mechanical weapons’ confirmed what James had feared for many years; that the direction taken by conglomerates to increase food yield in farming had environmental consequences way beyond anything we could have imagined. Pushed to supply supermarkets with cheap food, many small farmers had become ‘slaves to the gospels of industrial efficiency and consumerism’. The difficulty faced by family businesses that have had to change centuries-old practises, in order to compete with vast mechanised output, is a tragedy. Not just because of the damage to ecosystems, soil and landscape, but also because of the loss of the livelihoods of thousands of families who have looked after the land around them—in most cases, with a natural instinctive care for their environment. Much of James’ concerns are not news to environmentalists, ecologists, conservationists and those who care about a sustainable future. But that in itself brings its own challenges. As in so many other aspects of society, individual voices or groups following one particular view—regardless of how caring that view might be—at some point become tribal, and even so entrenched in their focus that clarity of purpose is forgotten. James highlights our need to work together on how we farm. Organic food, rewilding, locally produced, even larger-scale production all have a role to play in the mixed farming of the future, but there is no simple fix. The logical route is to find a balance between the need to produce more food than ever, and the need to do so in a sustainable fashion. As James puts it, we need to bring ‘clashing ideologies about farming together, to make it as sustainable and as biodiverse as it can be.’

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