farming has devastated the environment?

‘And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.’ (the Bible Genesis 1:28).

Shouldn’t it be so? Shouldn’t the earth be used to feed the starving in any way she can? A recipe for global disaster! We need the Earth’s diverse and complex ecosystems to support life, give as the oxygen we breathe. Don’t we need it too to inspire us and bring us wonder?

Farming, like any other business is profit driven. The difference between farming and most other businesses is that it uses the Earth, the surface of our planet, as its factory. And that factory floor is important, vital, for so much more than food production.

In England 70% of the country is farmed with the majority of the population living in urban or suburban environments. Should farmers, who are a minority, take on the burden of caring for the landscape, countryside and wildlife for the majority? If they do, it will cost them money. How much of this cost should they fairly be expected to shoulder themselves?

The largest farms in the UK are owned by estates or corporations, such as pension funds and banks. These are businesses whose priority is to give their customers good value for money, not looking after the environment. For them environmental schemes paid for by the tax payer are only worth signing up to when the prices of their agricultural products, like grain, are low. But when prices are high, should they not be willing to forgo some profit for the sake of the environment? How far does their responsibility go, and how much should they expect the public to pay them through green farming schemes to “do the right thing”?

Surely, you may say, this argument applies to all farms, not just the largest. Well, in principle, yes. But small farms on poor land are struggling to survive, and without environmental schemes such as Stewardship many more will sink. It must, surely, be right to pay these farmers for the wildlife, beautiful landscape and public access they provide? Unless they are paid something for these things, how else can they survive – everyone has a right to make a living. They could intensify, put up glass houses, indoor poultry units and the like. On a world scale perhaps, this would be the right thing to do, as Genesis suggest, to feed the starving masses, but what would happen to the soul of our country? And how long would Mother Earth last if everyone adopted this approach? Not long!