Groundswell in Telegraph

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Farmers and environmentalists are natural allies​

The government spends £2.6 billion on food each year - by doing this more wisely it can make Britain healthier and more beautiful
CHARLES MOORE28 June 2022 • 7:00am
Charles Moore


Farmers tend to be presented today either as greedy villains raping the land or as quaint survivals fighting a losing battle against the modern world. Examples of both types exist, but they are untypical. I sense British farmers are starting to find a way through this, thanks to our renewed interest in food: its quality, its health value and now – with Putin’s war-driven grain blockade against a hungry world – its security.
Last week, I went to Groundswell, a Hertfordshire festival organised “by farmers, for farmers”. I must declare a bias. The organising farmers, John and Paul Cherry, are my cousins; but I don’t think it is mere family piety to claim success for their cause.

For 12 years, their Weston Park estate has been farming by the increasingly widespread “no till” method. They deploy Franklin Roosevelt’s phrase: “The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” The plough is the most famous agricultural implement, but the Cherrys got rid of it, and fertilisers too. They believe the plough gradually depletes the soil: it is much better for carbon sequestration and fertility if the soil stays covered. They plant their seeds by drill alone.

On their 2,000 acres of chalky boulder clay, their chosen methods produce a decent profit for their various wheats, their oats, millet, beans and peas, not to mention their Beef Shorthorn cross cattle which mob graze there. Yes, their yields are lower than before, but their costs (machinery, chemicals, even vets’ bills) are much lower. And their wildlife – corn buntings, yellow-hammers, the variety of insects, worms – is incomparably improved. The Cherrys started Groundswell in 2016. Then, 450 people came. Last week, it was 6,000. As a not-for-profit event, it is unlike those agricultural shows which, as John puts it, “sell farmers things they don’t really need”. People come not so much to spend, as to learn.

It is the ancient right of farmers to complain – especially about the Government. Some did so, but what was striking about the questions asked of speakers like Henry Dimbleby, the government “food tsar”, was the keen interest of participants in what works.
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They were mainly current or would-be practitioners, rather than doctrinaires whose love of nature leads them to hate mankind. George Monbiot, who condemns all farming of animals, was present, but heavily outnumbered by those who see properly reared animals as good for the soil and for human health.
John Cherry is strong on the health point. “Food is medicine,” he says: you could shut half our hospitals if people ate better. The Government’s new mantra is “public money for public goods” yet, perversely, food is not seen as a public good. There is a weird disjunction between our concern about obesity and diabetes, and our indifference to procuring good food for hospitals and schools. Farming has not traditionally paid this area much attention, focusing on retail.

In the view of Alexia Robinson, who set up and runs the campaign group Love British Food, it is essential to pitch to the big food service companies. Many of society’s ills can be addressed by serving good, nutritious food to the young and the sick. The public sector provides a robust domestic market that gives farmers the confidence to invest.
Currently, the Government spends £2.6 billion annually on food in the public sector. The NHS buys more than one pint of milk per patient per day. Yet food, in the administrative mind, comes under “soft facilities management” and is not seen as the stuff of life. Whenever she breaks through this, she finds public-sector catering managers longing to improve the food they serve and engage in the farming discussion. They enthuse about the close relationships with suppliers which can be built up.#

Government procurement policy won’t work without enthused people, Henry Dimbleby tells me: “Every school or hospital I have ever visited that serves nutritious, delicious food does so because a leader has personally brought about the change. You can’t pass a law that makes people cook well.”

This autumn, every school and hospital is being invited by Love British Food to run a British-sourced menu during the national food celebrations, British Food Fortnight. Many have already signed up.
This is confirmed by Oliver Hemsley, the former boss of Numis Securities, who sold up and now runs a 1,500-acre business, Hollis Mead Dairy, in Dorset. He is fascinated by nature, and complains that many agricultural colleges still teach their students “chemical warfare”; but he does not follow the “rewilding” fashion of many of his fellow self-made millionaires.
Most of Britain is well suited to agriculture. He believes nature’s future here lies in its best coexistence with man and beast, not in producing nothing. Since he switched his style of farming, he reports, he has seen the return of lesser spotted woodpeckers, stonechats, linnets, hares and three pairs of breeding barn owls. Equally important, he has seen the return of human beings.
Previously, Hemsley employed one man. He now has 14 staff making butter, cream, yoghurt and cheese from 220 dairy cows, pasture-fed only. The business turned its first profit last year. In Hemsley’s view, farmers forgot about marketing in the days of guaranteed prices. Produce such as his cannot compete on price alone, but “That is fine, if you are prepared to go out and sell it.” This he does, through vending machines in the surrounding counties, hotels and farmers’ markets. He is now attempting to seduce public-sector procurers with the joyful sight of his farm’s larks ascending.
 

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HSENI names new farm safety champions

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Written by William Kellett from Agriland

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The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) alongside the Farm Safety Partnership (FSP), has named new farm safety champions and commended the outstanding work on farm safety that has been carried out in the farming community in the last 20 years.

Two of these champions are Malcom Downey, retired principal inspector for the Agri/Food team in HSENI and Harry Sinclair, current chair of the Farm Safety Partnership and former president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

Improving farm safety is the key aim of HSENI’s and the FSP’s work and...
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