Tuesday, 26 October 2010


In 1979, President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the roof of the White House West Wing. The panels were used to heat water for the staff eating area and were a symbol of a new solar strategy that Carter had said was going to “move our Nation toward true energy security and abundant, readily available, energy supplies.” In 1986, President Ronald Reagan removed the solar panels while the White House roof was being repaired. They were never reinstalled.

In 1991, the panels were retrieved from government storage and brought to the environmentally-minded Unity College near of Bangor in Maine. There, with help of actress Glenn Close, the panels were refurbished and used to heat water in the cafeteria up until 2005. They are still there, although they no longer function.

Swiss directors Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller follow the route the panels took, using them as a backdrop to explore the American oil dependency and the total lack of political will to pursue alternative energy sources.

In the movie ‘A Road Not Taken’, the filmmakers took two solar panels from Unity, placed them in the back of two students’ 1990 Dodge Ram pick-up truck, which runs on vegetable oil, and delivered one of them to the Jimmy Carter Library & Museum in Atlanta and the other to the National Museum of American History in Washington.

In 1979, Carter warned in the speech he gave when the panels were first commissioned, “a generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people - harnessing the power of the sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.”

Two of Carter’s solar panels are now museum pieces, the chance was missed, and instead we have, in President Carter's prophetic words "our crippling dependence on foreign oil”.

Monday, 18 October 2010


Left are rejected potatoes

A few weeks ago a colleague and I walked the fields around West Malling in Kent. We passed rows of lettuce ready for picking but left in the field to be ploughed in, why? Easy answer, they was not quite the right shape and /or size.

A couple of weeks later I drove past Kent orchards where apples had been left on the tree and are now rotting on the ground, why? Yes, you are there already, they were not quite the right shape and /or size.

All over the UK some of the potatoes, cauliflowers, apples, carrots, tomatoes and other produce we grow are rejected by supermarkets because they are not the right size, shape, or colour. Tomatoes, like apples and many other fruit and veg actually have to be a certain grade of colour and as for apples; those that are picked in the UK have a reject rate of around one fifth, they are perfectly OK to eat but don’t quite make ‘the standard’. The UK imports 70% of the apples bought and these have to conform to the supermarkets standards; they need to be blemish-less and weigh on average about 150g. The size and appearance of fruit and veg is all important, I would hope that taste comes in there somewhere but I have the idea that it’s somewhat behind the shelf-life demands!

The class structure in the UK has now filtered down to fruit and veg; there is ‘Class 1’, so this must be the best surely? ‘Class 2’, so obviously not so good, and then we may well have ‘cooking’ or ‘fun size’. I find myself somewhat confused when the term ‘cooking’ is applied to an onion, does this mean it cannot be eaten raw or used for pickling? When ‘fun size’ is applied to apples, does this mean that the other apples are a miserable lot?

In the supermarkets drive for sales, presentation seems to be all. Fruit and veg are displayed in a way that would have seemed over the top in an amateur grower’s competition. Farmers are dictated to by the supermarkets as to what they will purchase and so have to conform or go out of business. There is concern in the UK about the ever increasing spread of polytunnels on our farms but it is neither realistic nor economic to grow, for example, strawberries in the UK climate to the standards demanded by the supermarkets without tunnel protection.

So instead of selling almost all of the fruit and veg we produce much is fed to animals or simply ploughed back into the soil, and instead the UK imports, among many others, apples from all over the world, green beans and salads from Africa, and tomatoes from Spain. I know that the same applies in the U.S., in Australia and New Zealand also, and I expect also applies in much of the EU as well.

So the consumer is educated away from anything that looks less than perfect, the price they pay goes up and produce is then imported from abroad to make up for the rejected shortfall. Food miles increase enormously, pollution increases enormously, and, as I said prices increase enormously. Are there times when you look at a situation and feel that reality and common sense are unrelated?

Saturday, 2 October 2010


In the UK, a company by the name of Nocton Dairies Ltd is planning to build an 8,100 cow ‘Super Dairy’ at Nocton in Lincolnshire. The cows will be permanently housed indoors and subjected to a high-yielding regime producing over 250,000 litres of milk per day. You may think that cows housed permanently indoors is wrong and that they should be grazed on grass as God intended but Nocton Dairies director, Mr. Willes believes otherwise, or at least he did until he realised what he had said in a BBC interview with Ian Glaister; hear this 50 second broadcast HERE, an amazing example of totally ignoring/denying what was said!

It is a fact that Intensive, indoor factory farm methods have long dominated pig and poultry production with the average pig unit housing as many as 5,000 pigs at any one time – the biggest units house upwards of 20,000. In the UK however, the average dairy herd size is just 120. Naturally here are some larger, but vast majority are still much smaller, family-run businesses based in rural areas.

Factory farming is simply about the economics of scale. The needs of individual animals are often seen as totally unimportant in relation to the financial productivity of a herd or flock and are tantamount to torture. If I kept a dog in the way that chickens are factory farmed I would soon be in court and I have no doubt that the same would apply to keeping a dog in the same way that Nocton cows would be kept. The Nocton concept will actually be, if approved, Europe's largest dairy farm.

Anyone that is in a farming area is aware that farm animals attract flies / insects/ vermin; it is an accepted part of life in the country, there are cows grazing the field next to us, but there are no problems with them, but 8,100 confined indoors... can you imagine the problems with the their slurry, let alone the flies / insects / vermin?

The environmental impact is, according to Nocton Dairies, a matter of concern they will address. The environmental standards will be 'beyond the highest environmental and animal welfare standards ever seen in the UK'. A number of benefits from the project have been trumpeted, including slurry from the farm being be fed into an anaerobic digester – producing power for the plant and 2,000 local homes – water sharing arrangements which would see resources managed in conjunction with neighbouring farms and reused, and the creation of a visitor centre, as well as facilities for schools and training and as many as 85 new jobs at the dairy, many filled by local people.

Of course, these high standards will be expensive... very expensive... so an ‘expression of interest’ form was submitted to the EMDA (East Midlands Development Agency) earlier this year by Nocton Dairies seeking an undisclosed sum to part-fund the development. The application to EMDA is for money administered under the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE), itself funded by the European Union and the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, (DEFRA).

Guess what happens if Nocton don’t get the funding? Director Willis Nocton Dairies director admits that if no or reduced levels of RDPE funds are obtained, then ‘enhancements to cattle housing and parlours such as honey comb grooving to concrete floors would not be adopted; water abstraction rights sharing arrangements may not be adopted; waste handling could revolve around lorry based movement and spreading of untreated slurry. At the very least the anaerobic digester would be delayed to a second phase of development.’ Willes also said that ‘importing trained staff from the traditional dairy areas of the country rather than training a local force’ would be a consequence of not securing RDPE cash.

Pat Thomas from Compassion In World Farming said: ‘The owners of Nocton have stressed publicly again and again that they aim to achieve high animal welfare standards. And yet behind the scenes they are saying this can only be achieved if the taxpayer supports them. It’s important to remember that Nocton Dairies has made a financial rod for its own back by choosing to produce milk on an industrial scale and it’s not up to the public, or the government, to bail them out.’

The Ecologist went to California to see just how their 'Super dairies' had affected the local area; you can see their short film HERE.

As a UK dairy farmer said. “This kind of intensive dairy farming (i.e. fed almost constantly and milked thrice daily) was practised in Israel in the early 1970s and was one of the main reasons for my leaving the kibbutz that I worked on. The cows were kept inside 24hours per day. They had to be forced into crushes where food that they were not hungry for, was doled out to them constantly to improve their milk yield. If they ever got out of the sheds, which happened once in a while, they went wild to be outside and just didn't really know what to do. I couldn't bear the effect that this had on the cows; their intelligence and their natural instincts were both being bred out and generally thwarted. In my opinion, cows make milk for their calves and generously overproduce enough for us to have some too but it is NOT their main function to produce milk for human beings. They deserve our respect and they deserve to be looked after with gratitude for the milk and cheese they produce for us”. ... Amen to that!

In the US as well as the UK it seems that very few are happy about the move to ever larger dairies and most farmers don't blame Nocton Dairies for going big, it is, they say, the inevitable consequence of pressure from supermarkets and consumers for ever lower prices.

In addition to the above, fellow Christian/environmentalist Pete Redwood has informed me that Peter Willes was fined several hundred pounds for environmental pollution at his existing super dairy, Parkham Farms, near Bideford, Devon last year, so one assumes that that he knows everything there is to know about pollution control.

Parkham Farms produces 4,000 tonnes of cheddar cheese per year, most of it for Tesco from their own 1,750 cows. This requires 90 tonnes of feed per day with each cow consuming around 60kg of feed (132 lbs) per day. And, as Pete remarked, "what goes in must come out!"

The Nocton project is actually five times the above, I bet that will cause a drop in local property sales/prices...