November on the Farm, 2020

Friesian Dairy Cows as kept by Richard Fonge in 1975

Richard Fonge writes:

This November just like last year is turning out to be a wet one. As there is very little to observe around the Parish at the moment, I thought I would write about how farming has developed and its Environmental impact on the countryside, and why it is so important that we strike a balance between food production and conservation. Back in 1972 a White Paper was published by the government called “Food from our own resources”. This predicted that by the mid nineties we as a country would be short of food. A series of measures were put in place to increase the production of food, with new farm buildings, concrete, hedge removal, plant and machinery etc all attracting grants of up to 30% to 50% with an accompanying business plan submitted to your local Min of Ag office. The response was positive, and the way forward was led by the larger landowners, amongst whom there were now insurance companies and pension funds and others from the square mile who were buying land as an investment with the high rates of inflation at the time. Up to 18% at one time!

What our experts at the time hadn’t factored in was that science and new technology would by the early eighties bring about huge surpluses. For example: A fungicide spray was manufactured for the first time, this meant that the leaf of the plant could be kept free of disease allowing photosynthesis to have a greater effect. Result – yields went up by 50% or so. The nutritionists came forward with better diets for dairy cows and along with much improved genetics, milk yields increased. I was responsible in 1975  for a herd of 160 dairy cows whose average lactation yield was 5,500 litres, by the end of the decade the yield had risen to 7,500 litres (A lactation is 305 days). The cumulative result was corn mountains, excess butter and cheese, even wine lakes. Milk quotas were introduced, with each producer allotted their own amount they could produce, and we had to leave 10% of the arable land fallow.

The industry and those that serve it were a victim of their own entrepreneurial success and with farms getting bigger, labour getting less and greater awareness from the general public, farmers and land managers had to take heed of the Environmental impact.

The coming of the 1990s saw the greater influence of the Environmental lobby, and I will write a follow up to this article next month explaining as I see it how the different interests have developed.

Richard Fonge



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