Environment

The face of farming has changed drastically in the past 50 years. Farming is treated like any other industry now, rather than an activity that is central to urban and rural communities alike. Trade has become increasingly globalised and this has put pressure on traditional producer-supplier relationships. Small farms are being swallowed up by larger farms, and intensive farming methods such as increasing mechanisation and a dependency on agro-chemicals are leading to losses in biodiversity and high levels of pollution.

In 2002 the Environment Agency estimated that intensive farming costs this country £500 million annually to counter the effects of water pollution, soil erosion and resulting flood damage. Considering the damaging effects of these methods it is surprising that intensive farming continues to receive huge subsidies. In comparison the support given to sustainable farming and environmental schemes is very small. Continuing to promote damaging practices is leading to a rapid reduction in diversity of wild plants, birds and insects, ancient woodlands and wildflower meadows.

Environmentally-sensitive and organic farming methods aim to work with nature as closely as possible. Using compost and manure as fertilisers reduces the need for artificial fertilisers and improves the condition and long-term fertility of the soil. Biodiversity on sustainably farmed land is far higher than on the monocultures that have resulted from intensive farming. Organic farms in lowland areas support many more plant species than intensive farms.

Pesticide use is of high concern for both wildlife and human health. Over 500 pesticides are used across the country and farms are now dependent on these chemicals to control production. Sustainable farming methods try to find alternatives to artificial fertilisers for example by using natural predators.

The shift toward supermarkets has led to longer food chains that span the globe: the average distance that food has travelled has doubled in the past 20 years. Sustainable farming means that production processing and distribution of food is done as closely together as possible. This leads to fewer food miles and CO2 emissions as food travels shorter distances from farm to plate.