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Agriculture

A Realistic Look at Healthy Food for People and the Planet

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If we followed pure idealism we would starve the majority of the world.

World Population growth peaked in 1962/63 at 2.2%. In a world with 3 billion people, that was 66,000,000 births per year, or 181,000 people per day.

Today, world population growth is only 1.1%. But in a world with 7.8 billion people, we now have 85,800,000 births per year, or 235,000 people per day.

We have 75 tight years before the world population numbers are predicted to start falling somewhere around 2100, but following that we can expect populations to shrink considerably.

We have used all of the arable land we currently have available, yet activists want farmers to farm less intensively. This is a clear demonstration that ecological activists are failing to take basic human needs into account. Before any government or industry will invest in any extremely expensive changes to the world’s massive and complex supply lines (that enable us to feed the vast majority of the world), our objectives must be realistic.

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What does a healthy diet look like for me and the planet? It depends where you live

Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Sean Beer, Bournemouth University

I want people to think about the food that they eat not just from “field to fork” but from “seed to soul”. I’ve studied how to make the world’s food supply sustainable for more than 30 years, so people often ask me what’s the best diet for the planet. The problem is, most people want easy answers to that question. Sadly, there are none.

For example, I’ve often thought about becoming vegetarian for ethical and environmental reasons. But I wouldn’t want to eat soya or other foodstuffs imported from the other side of the world because of the carbon emissions involved in transporting them. And if we’re going to acknowledge the ethical quandary of eating animals, what about the animals in the soil? Why is crushing, slicing, and dicing mini beasts in agricultural operations alright, but not for the big beasts? When I follow these arguments through to their full conclusions, I end up as an organic, temperate, fruitarian – only eating fruit grown close to home, without the use of pesticides.


Read more:
Should vegans avoid avocados and almonds?


When it comes to finding a sustainable diet, there are many contradictions. A concept such as food miles can be helpful for figuring out the carbon emissions involved in bringing particular food items to your plate. It’s simple to understand – but it’s also likely to be meaningless. After all, it’s not just about how far something has travelled, but the environmental cost of that journey and how it was originally produced.

It can be argued that New Zealand lamb consumed in the UK has less of an environmental impact than locally produced lamb. New Zealand lamb production involves fewer carbon “rich” inputs such as fertilisers. There is also a highly efficient transport system in New Zealand that is based on bigger farms and bigger lorries – producing and transporting more meat with less land and fewer emissions. This results in less greenhouse gas per kilogram of meat.

New Zealand lamb is exported all over the world.
Klanarong Chitmung/Shutterstock

But just because things are complicated, it doesn’t mean that we should give up. It’s clear that our health and the planet would benefit if people ate more fruit and vegetables and less meat. Eating seasonal produce, or food fresh from the fields, is a good idea too, particularly as it reconnects people with food and the land in which it’s produced. It forces us to engage with the reality that different crops are produced at different times of the year. Strawberries are a celebration of summer, spring greens of the spring.

But what does a seasonal diet look like for someone living in a temperate climate such as the UK’s? With the help of technology, we can grow many exotic crops in the UK which would otherwise perish in the climate. The problem is that much of this involves carbon-hungry technology, such as glasshouses heated by burning gas or vast fields of plastic polytunnels.

What would our diet look like if we grew all our food within the natural seasons and climate of our local area?

Dinner dates

Summer is great as we can feast on a wide range of fruits and vegetables. It’s easier during this season to follow the health advice to eat the rainbow. That is, to eat as broad a spectrum of colourful fruit and vegetables as possible. British summer affords strawberries, radishes, tomatoes and blueberries.

There are salads and summer puddings to enjoy for an injection of other colours, particularly green. If people are clever, many crops can be preserved for the coming winter. Ironically, during summer when much of our natural produce is plentiful, the UK still imports much of its food.

As we move into autumn, unless crops are protected by growing them inside a glasshouse or polytunnel, many of the more delicate foodstuffs start to wither away. We become increasingly dependent on roots such as beetroot, carrots, potatoes, swede and parsnips, and the leafy brassicas such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale. Of course there are other ingredients – let’s not forget leeks and swiss chard – but this is a time to hunker down and embrace what the Scandinavians call “hygge”. Getting cosy and comfortable with stews, soups and broths.

Autumn – a time for root veg and brassicas.
Arnaldo Aldana/Unsplash, CC BY

Things get more austere as winter progresses. This is one reason why our ancestors had midwinter feasts around Christmas and the winter solstice. Nights were long, they needed to have a party to forget the winter and look forward to spring. Even in late February and March, when we start thinking of spring, there’s a hidden problem – the hunger gap. This is when the autumn crops that have survived through winter start to die off and the spring crops are yet to come.

Little things such as purple sprouting broccoli – also known as poor people’s asparagus – can offer some solace as they are ready to eat in winter. Of course, we can also preserve food from one season to another, but this requires energy. There are traditional skills that require less energy, but at the same time demand increasingly rare knowledge and time.

For example, how many people bottle their surplus fruit and vegetables or pickle eggs? Consuming local seasonal food in large amounts throughout the year will mean restructuring traditional food production systems and supply chains. These have been decimated by the concentration of food supply in the hands of fewer and fewer retailers and contract caterers. Winter would test our ability to preserve the bounty of summer and autumn, but spring would relieve us with artichokes, beetroot, new potatoes, rhubarb, rocket, sorrel and spinach. After that, the cycle begins again.

As I say, a truly sustainable food supply isn’t going to be simple. Much of it involves reviving cultural knowledge and processes that commercial supermarket chains have replaced. But the rewards of a local and seasonal food supply are great for nature and your health. Reconnecting with the land and its seasonal rhythms could do us all a great amount of good.


This article is part of The Covering Climate Now series

This is a concerted effort among news organisations to put the climate crisis at the forefront of our coverage. This article is published under a Creative Commons license and can be reproduced for free – just hit the “Republish this article” button on the page to copy the full HTML coding. The Conversation also runs Imagine, a newsletter in which academics explore how the world can rise to the challenge of climate change. Sign up here.The Conversation


Sean Beer, Senior Lecturer in Agriculture, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Agriculture

Why Canadians Should Care About Land Loss

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Why Canadians Should Care About Land Loss

Developments are increasingly taking over Canadian farmland. Farms once took up much of Canadian land. However, that case is not true today. Only about 5% of Canada’s land is considered prime farmland. This prime land borders one of Canada’s fastest-growing regions, and once suburban development overtakes it, Canadian farmers will have a challenging time providing food for the cities.

Farmers in Canada make their livelihood by planting, growing, harvesting and distributing food to the Canadian populations. Without land, both farmers and the rest of those living in Canada will not get fresh, Canadian grown produce.

Here are some reasons why Canadian farmers should care about land loss:

  1. Farmland Provides Food

While this is an apparent reason, it’s an essential one. Prime farmland in Canada produces food for major Canadian cities. As farmers continue to lose land, they have to rely on a smaller acreage to make the same amount of food — if not more — for the growing population.

Over the past 10 years, almost 1 million hectares of agricultural land has diminished due to development and growing populations. Agriculture continues to adapt to land loss. However, further technological advancements must first take place to grow enough produce vertically rather than horizontally.

  1. Land Preservation Will Help the Economy

Farmland preservations come with a wealth of economic benefits. Agriculture contributes to the economy through the following ways:

  • Sales: For the economy to survive, there needs to be consumer demands and sales. Almost everyone purchases produce, so there will always be a demand for those goods. Without land to grow agricultural products, no sales will be made, and the economy could suffer.
  • Job opportunities: Less than 2% of Canada’s population works in the agriculture industry. While it’s not much, that’s still over 750,000 people. Preserving farmland shows a commitment to the industry. Land loss would create job loss. However, maintaining the farmland — and even reclaiming it, along with pastures — could boost the sector and, therefore, the economy. It would provide unemployed people with job security.
  • Secondary markets: Farmers are just one part of the food business. Because of farmers and farmland, secondary markets can thrive. These would include processing businesses, restaurants, schools, grocery stores and even waste management companies.

Canadian farmers should care about land loss because standing back and allowing companies to overtake the farmland could seriously affect the economy.

  1. Farmland Benefits the Environment

Wildlife often depends upon farmland for both food and habitat. Various types of farmland create diverse habitats for many different species. Without land protection, these habitats and food sources would be destroyed, leaving many animals without a place to survive. Many would have difficulty finding a native habitat.

Additionally, growing crops helps eliminate some of the carbon dioxide released into the air. Air pollution could decrease for Canadian cities as long as no more farmland is used for development.

One major problem occurring with Canadian farmland is desertification. This happens when the soil loses nutrients and becomes barren. The urbanization of Canadian farmland is the primary contributor to desertification, which speeds up climate change and harms the environment. Keeping farmland as-is will slow down climate change.

  1. Land Loss Affects Farmers’ Jobs

Perhaps the main reason why Canadian farmers should care about land loss is because their livelihood could be taken away. If they don’t have the means to keep up with technological advancements in the agricultural industry, they will not be able to continue their jobs if they experience land loss.

Agriculture is an essential industry. Not everyone can pick up the skills needed to grow their own food, and so many people depend upon farmers for nutrition and goods.

Take a Stand to Preserve Farmland

Farmland is a worthwhile and precious resource for many people. Reduction in farmland acreage will hurt Canadian farmers and the rest of the population, the economy and the environment. Taking steps to prevent more land loss can slow the rates of destruction and keep natural habitats thriving for both humans and animalls.

Click here read more stories by Emily Folk. 

I’m Emily Folk, and I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. Growing up I had a love of animals, and after countless marathons of watching Animal Planet documentaries, I developed a passion for ecology and conservation.

Canadian Agriculture More Energy Intensive, More Efficient

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Agriculture

Canadian Agriculture More Energy Intensive, More Efficient

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Canadian Agriculture More Energy Intensive, More Efficient

It’s no secret that agriculture has contributed to climate change through various means. For example, you may know that livestock generates greenhouse gas emissions due to how farms process it. That said, it’s now clear that farmers have found sustainable ways to offset those contributions. In Canada, it’s all about energy use.

Here’s how Canadian farmers have become more efficient as they raise crops and livestock, setting a standard the world should follow.

Energy Demand and Consumption Have Fluctuated

The demand for energy has increased across the agricultural sector as a whole. However, it’s key to note that farmers have begun to use less energy despite that fact. That points to more efficient practices. The farmers who complete their work productively save time, money and energy. As a result, Canadian workers have reduced their energy consumption per dollar by 17%. That’s thanks to sustainability.

The most common energy sources include fuel, gas and electricity. It’s how farmers use those resources that counts. Combined with technology choices and new practices, it’s clear that efficiency is more achievable than ever.

What Contributes to This Phenomenon?

It’s crucial for people in agriculture to explore eco-friendly alternatives. The grasslands that many western Canadian farmers cultivate contains excess carbon, so you can imagine what the country as a whole holds underneath its surface. Farmers have now adopted new methods to adjust how they harvest their crops. These systems are better for production, as well as soil and seed health overall.

The agriculture industry has gone through many changes, too. There are fewer farms — but those that still operate have employed agricultural technology to be as efficient as possible. These tools include different equipment that cuts down on time to increase proficiency. Plus, it’s now more common to use solar power as an alternative to traditional energy solutions.

Why Accuracy and Precision Matters

It’s a lot easier to be energy efficient when you don’t waste your resources. The means farmers practiced before they used specific innovations often created a time deficit. If you have a smaller machine, you likely need to do twice as much work. However, when you have access to equipment that fits your field, you don’t have to be as wasteful. The accuracy and precision created by technology make this a reality.

Soil Conservation Is Led by Ranchers

Many farmers have looked to ranchers for help. It’s a native part of ranching to preserve topsoil and other elements that are inherently sustainable. As a result, it seems like ranchers have been leading the charge against climate change for decades. The tactics they use to avoid tilling soil, for example, help preserve the amount of carbon that lies underneath the Earth’s surface.

The “no-till” practice is efficient in its own right. Rather than till your soil to plant a new crop, you simply leave behind what’s already there. This method is much better for soil nutrition, and it can keep carbon exposure at bay. As a result, you have much fewer carbon emissions. In general, the idea of soil conservation isn’t a new one, but old tricks can still work alongside modern technology.

The Future of Agriculture in Canada Looks Bright

If farmers continue on this path, it’ll be clear that climate solutions are at the forefront of their minds. These efforts create more benefits for them as they save time and money. Plus, there’s always the responsibility of maintaining the planet’s health. After all, without a strong ecosystem, agriculture would suffer. Through means that are more accurate and conservative, Canadian farmers have been able to become more efficient. Click here read more stories by Emily Folk. 

I’m Emily Folk, and I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. Growing up I had a love of animals, and after countless marathons of watching Animal Planet documentaries, I developed a passion for ecology and conservation.

 

 

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