Are the bees in trouble?
It really is like something out of a fairy tale, the colours are amazing. It should be mandatory that all farms leave aside plots for wildlife, we are only passing through and minding the land for the next generations after all.
Get a happy balance between a production system and a natural system, give and take, that's the way it should be
I was delighted to see action being taken at a national level with the recently published "all Ireland pollinator plan" which is addressing the desperate decline in bee populations in Ireland.
That is the great beauty of organic farming it takes a holistic approach. On our farm we take this very seriously. It isn’t easy, it can be very hard to find the time and the money to plant hedgerows and to take the time out of the busy planting season and set aside areas of land for wild flower planting, but if we don’t do this, what really are we giving back.
How arrogant are we to think we can continually push a natural system further and further each year beyond what is sustainable and then prop it up with artificial stimulants. How can we think this is sustainable in the long-term? It is not.
Yes cheap food is desirable we all want to spend less on food. But is this really the best mindset around food? There is a continuous race to the bottom in trying to produce more for less. What do you think happens when this mentality is adopted for food production? Do chickens that are raised in cages, and subjected to the most inhumane treatment imaginable constitute healthy food?. Never mind the ethical issue associated with raising animals in this way. Each purchase and choice we make supports or denies these industries.
Farming of vegetables is no different. In conventional farming chemicals are used wholesale to control disease and pests I spent years working with chemicals in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry and years working as an organic farmer, I have seen both worlds. The use of the chemicals is a quick sledge hammer approach to a very delicate natural system; where massive monocultures are prevalent they are used in increasing quantities.
We stand this approach to farming on its head. It takes years to bring a farm’s health back into line, to improve the soil structure, to put in place a good healthy rotation, plant natural hedgerows and leave areas to wild life, it is a long-term investment. Of course we still need to be efficient, let’s not forget that we aren’t a bunch of sandal wearing hippies (as I have often been called), we are a business, a modern efficient business. The difference is, we want to do it right, to grow food properly, to protect and improve our land for the good of everybody. Here is the list of stakeholders in our business as I see it and in no particular order:
- The team who work here
- You, our customers
- The wildlife above and below the soil
- My family
- The soil
- The crops
- Future generations
- The community
- The earth
The conventional food production system that is in place is extremely powerful and God knows it is nearly impossible to break out of once you are ensconced in it, it takes courage, money and dedication and can involve a lot of pain, but the rewards are vast, you get to do things your way.
You don’t have to rely on massive distributors and global wholesale prices, which can drive farmers right to the edge, by continually chopping away at the bottom line. This in turn puts huge pressure on the farmer to up yields and cut costs; to produce more from less. What choice do you have as a farmer if you are emeshed in this system. There are some of the best conventional farmers in the world in Ireland and if the market would allow they would be farming with more sustainable practices and some already are anyway.
Finally how about you as the “food eater” what do you think the benefits of organic food are to you? Organic food is more expensive, but it is much better for you (the largest research project of its kind published last year by a leading team of researchers in Newcastle university proved this), and it certainly is much better for the landscape. Equally importantly it gives a viable alternative to farmers that are stuck in the creaking, corporate driven farm production system that is so prevalent.
I started this farm because I believed in saving the environment plain and simple. One small 28 acre farm on the edge of Europe isn’t going to do that, but that is the piece I have direct control over and it will be managed with this idea at it’s core.
Here’s to the future and to the bees