11 Jun
2018

A Lovely day in the Levels

Yesterday (Sunday) was a lovely day for a trip to Thorney Lakes for the annual scything beanfeast. This year I didn’t camp but drove up on Sunday morning;  good weather and a bit of a queue to get in, but we made it in time for the heats.

The less said about that from my point of view the better. Having missed last year I had forgotten how different the grass is from that at home. Much much tougher and denser. I made the mistake of not bringing my 65cm ditch blade which would have been better for the heats where it is about distance in a minute not width of swath. With my new(ish) 85cm I found myself continually digging the nose in and struggling to get any kind of rythmn. The upshot was only 2.1m with one of the crappest quality scores of the whole day.

However the rest of the day was well up to standard. Lots of familiar faces from SABI to greet and chat with, plus this year a surprising number of other familiar faces – perhaps a measure of its growing popularity (apparently they had to shut the gates at 12, not long after we got in, because it was full!).

A shout out to Adam who came down from Stroud, Robert and Lydia all the way from Hertfordshire in a day and Richard who is localish but I didn’t know also wields a blade. Plus many others.

The main debate session was on post Brexit Agriculture and was quite interesting featuring Molly who as MEP does a lot of good on farming and agriculture within the context of the EU parliament, James Small who is SW Regional chair of the NFU, and Rebecca (Bea) Laughton from the Landworkers Alliance who represent and are the voice of small scale ecological agriculture.

All three gave good intros on their perspective, I missed most of Molly’s ‘cos I was chatting with Nikki-No-Nukes on the other side of the field and didn’t notice the time, but from her summing up she focussed on the politics (of course).

Rebecca talked about ecological agriculture and then need for diversity of scale and of course was right on message for most of the crowd; very good and clear.

James was interesting – there is a fairly common perception from those in the ecology movement that the NFU tends to speak for business agriculture, and within that it tends to promote growth and big-agri as desirable. He pointed out that the SW is the region with the most members in the NFU, and that most of the SW members are “small” family farms with up to 200 acres. He also said that farmers have to work within the policy framework that is set by politicians – although he later clarified that NFU does attempt to influence policy making. The biggest problem from his perspective was uncertainty and endemic short-term thinking by politicians formulating policy. A problem that all of the panel could agree on.

It occurred to me that while the NFU membership, at least in the SW, might be skewed towards the smaller farms rather than the mega ones, it is the big boys who will have the capacity to be able to devote time and resources to doing the lobbying – both inside the NFU and out, and thus in influencing what the NFU says to government.

It was also clear from Rebecca that the eco-agri approach is very different from the biz-agri one, and one organisation is never going to be able to represent both – and is probably going to have difficulty even representing both family scale and corporate scale biz-agri interests.

Clearly the Landworkers Alliance, and internationally Via Campesina, need to become significant forces to counter the drive for growth, agri-tech and globalisation coming from the other end of the scale.

Climate change impacts, and the potential for them to change the whole game was briefly discussed in answer to a question – all agreed that it was a very serious problem and introducing massive unknowns into the resilience of farming systems.

The question of meat and shouldn’t we all be vegan was neatly and correctly batted away to the boundary by all three panelists, which was encouraging.

However none of them delved down into the underlying problem of ecological sustainability in an industrial capitalist context, or the issue of what type of diet could 67 million people in the British Isles expect to live on from within their own means.

Finally much credit to Molly for sticking to her guns over her term as being “the MEP who doesn’t fly”.

 

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