I rarely shout at the radio. After all the presenter and his guests can’t hear me. A few weeks ago was an exception. Listening to a fanatical vegan activist shouting at Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 made my blood boil. He seemed incapable of having an intelligent and balanced conversation and continually accused farmers of being murderers. Putting aside my personal view of the unsuitability of a totally plant-based diet for the highly-evolved animal that the human being is, my perception of vegans is that they are peaceful beings with an abhorrence for cruelty (which many of us share). Why then are we getting increased reports of organised protests at livestock markets and farmers being threatened, and sometimes attacked, by a small minority of vegan activists?
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind what you eat or wear or use in your daily life. What I do mind is uneducated people trying to inhibit the ability of others to go about their lawful business and disrupting an already struggling industry. The UK has some of the highest levels of animal welfare in the world and our livestock markets are governed by the Welfare of Animals at Markets order 1990 and the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006. At our Shropshire-based Market Drayton livestock market our primary concern is bio-security and animal welfare.
There are, however, much wider issues to consider if we are going to go ‘meat free’. Scientists from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council are predicting that, when our global population hits the forecasted 9.5 billion in 2050, we will need 60% more food just to survive. As Brexit negotiations trundle slowly on, the rest of the world is gearing up its meat production to feed the growing population. Couple this with the developments in engineered food and UK farmers may struggle to compete in the wider-world meat-market.
More fundamentally let’s consider what happens to pasture land if we don’t graze stock? Jane Rickson, Professor of Soil Erosion and Conservation at Cranfield and Agrifood Institute, is involved in research for Government and private sector clients on the total costs of soil degradation and loss of ecosystems. She warns that we need to focus on maintaining the integrity of the soil to protect it for the future. After all, as an island, the land is all we have. What better for the land than the natural fertiliser of manure from grazing stock?
In 2010 the UK Agricultural Census reported that the British agricultural area consisted of 61.9% permanent grassland and meadow. With no grazing stock, active farming or conservation management, nearly two thirds of our land could become derelict, barren and, more importantly, worthless in no time. Farmers live in a constant dichotomy of balancing maximum production with their role as custodians of the land for the next generation but, like the rest of the population, they need to make a living. In the Midlands land prices are currently ranging between £6,000 and £12,000 an acre and, being in the heart of a dairy belt, much of the land is focused on dairy production. A global shift to a plant-based diet could, undoubtedly, have a dramatic effect on the value of land – arguably the farmer’s greatest asset.
If succession planning was important on your farm before, it should now be one of your primary objectives. We need to be able to compete in world markets; we need to preserve, protect and improve the land for the future; and we need to protect the value of our land.
Louise Taylor MA, MSc, Dip HRD is Managing Partner in Barbers Rural Consultancy LLP and Managing Director of Taylor Millbrook Ltd. She is an RICS Accredited Mediator and specialises in Succession Planning. 01630 692500 or firstname.lastname@example.org