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By Rosewood Farm, Jun 4 2017 09:54PM

You may remember my blog back in January, detailing my concerns about David Attenborough’s excellent series, Planet Earth II. I also mentioned how we didn’t catch the whole series when aired and I particularly wanted another chance to see my favourite habitat and episode from the whole series; Grasslands. The opportunity came when I selflessly invested in the DVD along with a subscription to BBC Wildlife magazine for my wife’s Christmas present.

Despite working alongside it day in, day out, I much prefer reading all about the wildlife I see right here on my doorstep. The Lower Derwent Valley is home to such a rich diversity of mammal, bird, and insect life as a result of being managed continuously in a very traditional way for more than 1000 years. All of these animals depend upon the flood meadows, pastures and woodlands that make up the most complete example of a semi-natural floodplain ecosystem left in the UK, and I feel that it continues to be a much under-appreciated landscape.

The Yorkshire Ings have some of the finest examples of wildflower meadows
The Yorkshire Ings have some of the finest examples of wildflower meadows

The June edition of Wildlife magazine didn’t disappoint me, with an article by BBC Springwatch presenter Chris Packham dedicated to wildflower meadows. As Chris says, up to 98% of our natural grasslands have already gone in the space of just 50 years. I highlighted this in my last blog, about how these High Nature Value grasslands are very special. What makes Rosewood Farm extra special is that 95% of the 450 acres we farm are traditional, species-rich meadows.

Meadows are currently missing their champion - both veganism & reduced meat consumption are on trend with many celebrities at the moment and this is bad news for our wildflower meadows and grazing livestock. As a result, with fewer animals on farms, meadows have lost their reason for being and are instead being turned over by the plough to grow the foods that people demand more of.

But why have other farmers given them up?

In tough economic times, farmers have to weigh up the value of the grass produced from these meadows against the cost of time and fuel turning them into hay and grazing them. In better times for farming, more intensive cropping elsewhere may have subsidised, to a degree, the work but now it’s much harder to justify continuing to do something that you know represents an added cost to your business.

A couple of things changed for farmers in the post war years that made mono-cropping easier and altered the fortunes of traditional meadows. The first was the availability of selective herbicides in 1945. You are probably familiar with the most notorious of herbicides - Monsanto’s RoundUp, which kills any plant it touches (unless the plant is genetically modified to withstand it). Instead selective herbicides work by allowing certain plants to be killed whilst leaving the crop unharmed. By eliminating competition from other plants, the crop thrives and any fertilisers applied feed only the crop and not the ‘weeds’.

The plastic perforated drainage pipe killed many a meadow
The plastic perforated drainage pipe killed many a meadow

The second change was the invention of the perforated plastic drainage pipe in the late 1950’s. This made drainage of farmland far cheaper and easier than ever before and as a result land that was once only good for damp-tolerant perennial plants such as grasses can now grow a whole variety of annual cultivated crops.

Continuing with the article, my hopes were built up when I read the line ‘the only way we can hope to preserve these species-rich places is…’. However, hope turned to dismay at an opportunity lost as he continued ‘ visiting and celebrating them’. I’m all for spreading the word about how important grasslands are to wildlife and to us all, but the only way, seriously? I think not. The best way we can preserve meadows in the long term is to maintain their value and continue the traditional use that created them in the first place - with grazing animals.

Breaking with my habit of only reading about our local wildlife, I moved next to another article in the same magazine titled ‘Of Bison & Burgers’, which was all about how the demise of the both the wild bison of North America and the Great Plains on which they grazed. This resonated with me as it sounded very much like the loss of traditional grasslands from the previous article. However, the author of this piece proposed a very different solution for the preservation of wild bison - eating them!

The Ings are Yorkshire’s Great Plains
The Ings are Yorkshire’s Great Plains

I didn’t realise until the very end that I had been reading an article by Philip Lymbery of Compassion in World Farming, but I felt that he had grasped the crux of the problem far better than Chris Packham had. If we are to preserve a landscape, and the wildlife within it, influenced by man for millennia, it is wishful thinking to expect a totally hands-off approach to achieve the same results. This is what they have found in America’s Yellowstone National Park, one of the few remaining places you can still find wild bison, which culls the bison to avoid them becoming over populated and suffering due to lack of grazing.

Philip also highlighted another crucial issue - the fact that whenever a solution like eating wild bison becomes popular, a whole host of cheaper pseudo-versions spring up to take advantage of the ethical reputation of the name without going to the bother of supplying the genuine article. This has happened too in the UK, when ‘grassfed’ beef became the latest ethical cuisine. The problem for the consumer is that 100% grassfed can mean anything from our 1000-year old hay meadows to the latest varieties of mono-cultured ryegrasses sprayed with liquid nitrogen fertiliser and various herbicides to ensure that ‘weeds’ (or wildflowers, as we know them) don’t take hold.

Most marketeers of grassfed meat will wax lyrical about the value of traditional wildflower meadows, but how many actually feed their cattle on them?

Rosewood is all about supplying the genuine article. We have built everything around preserving our local Yorkshire landscape of wildflower meadows by turning back the clock on cattle farming. This starts with breeding cattle of the right size that can traverse the damp ground damaging neither the soils nor the plants. Careful management also ensures that our pastures provide the ideal habitat for insect and birdlife that once existed in abundance, before the advent of pesticides. Our cattle feed only on grasses & wildflowers grown without any artificial fertilisers or pesticides, including our own hay made right here on the farm.

You can celebrate our wildflower meadows and help to keep them alive. Throw a party or go for a picnic but don’t forget that the food on your plate has the biggest impact upon the landscape around you. We’ll happily keep preserving the meadows here at Rosewood for as long as you keep buying the beef.

By Rosewood Farm, Jan 23 2017 01:38PM

We love a bit of mythbusting at Rosewood. We also occupy a strange kind of hinterland, with militant ‘Cowspiracy’ viewers on one side and our own industry on the other; we sympathise with both, but fit in with neither. Whilst we defend the role livestock can play turning around the environmental damage done, we are under no illusions that some practises from some farmers and companies are far from ideal and have caused this damage. In a change from our usual defence against Cowspiracy disciples, the Peterson Farm Bros. blog and accompanying meme of ’17 myths about Agriculture in 2017’ handed us the ideal opportunity to do some mythbusting of our own in the other direction.

Some of the 17 points raised we agree with of course – we (famously) don’t believe that veganism is an effective answer to the sustainability issues of our food system, and we don’t believe that meat and dairy are inherently unhealthy. We also don’t believe that ‘Organic’ is always healthier or safer. What is healthy will vary from person to person, organic and conventional methods vary, a lot, and human beings are actually a very resilient, successful species so it takes something quite extreme in our food to make it actually ‘unsafe’.

Some of the others we partially agree with – not all farmers are uncaring to their animals or the environment, but it’s simply a shocking lie to pretend that no individuals exist in the farming industry who do not care about welfare or the environment…we’ve met them! The key, as always, if consumers don’t want these people to continue, is to get to know your farmer/s!

But, that still leaves us with 14 mythbusts to mythbust.

GM or not maize is an all-or-nothing crop providing little wildlife habitat
GM or not maize is an all-or-nothing crop providing little wildlife habitat

The Peterson Brothers focus their pro-GMO argument on safety. This doesn’t really bust any myths about their “evilness” though. Very, very few consumers out there are concerned about the safety of GMOs, the industry just tells us we should not be scared and then demonstrates how safe they are…in order to neatly sidestep the point, exactly as the PFBros have done. The “evil” perceived in GM comes from their close link to Monsanto and companies like them. GM are a big business thing, I can’t cook them up in my backyard, which is why they are inextricably linked to big business, just like our food supply will be if we come to rely on them.

The PFBros have a good stab at making Monsanto appear cute and cuddly, saying that they don’t set out to harm the environment. This is a similar argument to the ‘safety/non safety’ one related to GMOs – it tells us nothing. When we walk most of us don’t set out to kill snails, but in our single minded mission to get from A to B, we inevitably step on some. People are snails to Monsanto & Co. Their mission is to make money and unfortunately for the rest of us, what makes them money isn’t always what keeps us or our ecosystems happy and healthy.

Monsanto etc. don’t force anyone to use their products directly, the PFBros are correct on that, there’s no guns pointed at heads. But, they can give your competitors a fossil-fuel based shortcut to short term higher profits, putting you out of business unless you get on board with them and compete. They can tie you into contracts raising chickens for 2p. They can use their economic might and excellent lawyers to suck you into their seed and GM patent wars if you refuse to get on board. Hey, maybe I’ll get a lawsuit for saying this? That would shut me up real quick, I can’t afford it. They can, despite the PFBros protestations of Monsanto’s relative poverty (just how much money does one need to be considered rich these days?!).

Perpetuating the myth of overpopulation is another such tool in the arsenal of making people OK with exploitation from these companies, one the PFBros are keen to hop aboard with. Everyone worried about population growth should stop what they are doing and watch ROSLING’S WORK right now. They should also stop a minute to consider what’s going on with farming right now, amidst all the wailing about this population boom. Low prices, that’s what. Farmers struggling and going out of business, whatever their crop, left right and centre. It’s very simple supply and demand – if food was in short supply, farmers would be makin’ hay right now. In fact, farm incomes in the US keep on dropping and things are no better here in the UK.

It’s a story repeated the world over. For over a decade we’ve heard there is a dairy shortage, and there’s still no sign of that actually kicking in anytime soon. We overproduce food like it’s going out of fashion, and we waste a third of it, just because we can. To our mind at Rosewood, it does not feel like we are at a point of desperation that justifies burning up our dwindling resources even faster. Because that’s all the ‘lower inputs’ of GM and chem based agricultures does. It’s not enough to pat yourselves on the back for using less of a finite resource we don’t actually need to use anyway, like the PFBros do while they ‘bust’ the 7th myth.

It also strikes us at Rosewood as a little stupid to base the food supply of this monster population on resources which WILL run out at some point. Will all the profit now be worth the turmoil and suffering then? But then, the PFBros are remarkably blasé about such things. In their ‘bust’ of myth 3 – that organic is the only sustainable way to farm; they seem to be arguing that because we need diversity, everything farmers ever choose to do should be above reproach. We should have no brakes, no limits, no questioning of our decisions. Everything any farmer does is legit. Does anyone really think that is a desirable reality?

But then, the PFBros do set the bar remarkably low for beginning to worry about environmental impact, as they explain that farmer’s pesticide sprays are 95% water and very little of what isn’t actually goes onto the crop. It is, apparently, irrelevant that the bit that isn’t water is poison potent enough to kill insects and so on. While the PFBros are quick to argue for diversity amongst farmers, apparently this does not extend to the rest of the living world.

Insect-life aplenty even in our most 'intensive' grass crops at Rosewood
Insect-life aplenty even in our most 'intensive' grass crops at Rosewood

Likewise, monocropping is apparently nothing to worry about. They claim it’s all OK because farmers will, for example, rotate three crops on a piece of land. I don’t know how much the PFBros know about nature, but 3 species, one at a time, is a totally woeful total compared to, well, anything anywhere else apart from sterile desert. Our own pasture contains 94 species of plant and we feel a bit happier about our biodiversity figures, but perhaps that’s just us? Maybe ‘nature’ can function on just 3 species in rotation?

They are right that factory farming is the most efficient way to raise animals. As long as you don’t take all inputs and impacts into account, of course. In terms of kilos of flesh churned out for £s in, sure, it wins hands down. But in terms of energy in vs energy out, or acreage used to produce Xkg, it only works with some creative mathematical and logical gymnastics. That’s without even beginning to measure the environmental cost which of course, farmers and Monsanto don’t pick up the bill for. Try taking into account all the land used for all the resources which go into a factory farm, all the machinery and transport it takes to make those pieces match up, it all falls down. That’s why we’re stuck with good old tried and true organic even when the 9billion get here. Because even if there isn’t enough meat to go round without factory farming – tough. We can’t magic up more fossil fuels!

We’ll write a blog specifically dealing with the maths and efficiency of ‘factory’ vs ‘extensive’ livestock another day, since it is very important as a lot of both anti-livestock and pro-factory farming arguments hinge on the idea that factory farming is most ‘efficient’. Which should, in itself, tell the logical person that the truth lies somewhere in between and that neither livestock-free or factory farming supplies the answer, but rather the same mixed system we’ve relied on for millennia…

We do however agree with the PFBros that labelling is a minefield, but the PFBros apply their classic ‘point-missing’ justification to defending a complete lack of labelling beyond ‘beef’. All cattle are, according to them, “grassfed” because they eat some grass….If the PFBros can’t even comprehend a world or system in which cattle receive no grain at all in life, no wonder they don’t understand ‘grassfed’ at all. To clarify, all cattle eat some grass and most eat rather a lot of grain throughout their lives, and it’s the lack of grain and all its associated problems that consumers are, rightly in our opinion, concerned about. Our own cattle live on nothing but grass from conception to slaughter. That’s grass fed. Not the ‘grass and grain fed’ which most cattle are. Nor is it simply ‘grass finished’ as the PFBros suggest it should be called.

When we say grass fed, we mean grass fed
When we say grass fed, we mean grass fed

Whilst happily sailing past the point, the PFBros take the opportunity to gloss over an important issue with grassfeeding – the stage of life in which the cattle receive the grain. Grass finished (grain early on, grass before slaughter) is far more preferable for those concerned to the feedlot model the PFBros defend (grass early on, grain to finish) as the benefits of grass and the issues with high grain diets are quickly lost as cattle adapt to either. For example, high grain cows put onto grass lose 80% of the harmful e. coli in their gut within just two weeks –imagine what happens over months.

Labels have their limitations however and as always, the only true way to make sure you are voting with that £ in your pocket every time you eat for the countryside and community you want to live amongst, is to follow that chain and get to know the producers directly. If you are locked out of a chicken shed due to ‘biosecurity’, ask if that sits right with you, whether chickens should be able to survive the same airspace as human beings. If you can’t have access to records of chemical use or mortality rates, what does that tell you? Are you truly happy sending money to Monsanto and the like? We are all about choice at Rosewood – eat GM if you want, eat meat if you want, eat vegan if you want, just please, look into the production behind it and check it’s what you really believe in.

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