Archive for June, 2011

A-maize-ing

Today, I discovered that I like flying in helicopters over farmland.

sheeo maize maze
Sometimes my job’s pretty good.

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The mega WI

“You youngsters like things big,” the old dear in the back of the taxi said to me yesterday morning, sucking in her cheeks. “We prefer small things – small businesses, small farms.

“Whole villages will be ripped up to make way for those giant diary farms, it’s disgusting. I hope the resolution gets passed.”

I’d thought it was going to be a fairly despairing day after it started off like this. I’d arrived in Liverpool for the Women’s Institute AGM to hear whether the organisation was going to pass a resolution which would in effect lead to the WI campaigning against so-called ‘factory farms’.

“This meeting abhors the practice of factory farming particularly large animals such as pigs and cows,” the resolution said.

“[It] urges H.M. Government to ensure planning permission is not granted for such projects.”

Tough stuff from a group of ladies who I always assumed just got themselves involved in jam-making and singing Jerusalem – which the 4500 members at the Liverpool Echo Arena did do – and very nicely, I might add:

I should probably point out at this juncture that I’m not actually pro- or anti-large-scale farming. I’ve visited a 10,000 indoor dairy unit in the US which made me cringe because – while its hygiene and welfare was impeccable – it felt clinical and like a factory. But I’ve been to another which was so airy, pleasant and homely that I would’ve preferred shacking up there than in my flat in London.

On the same front, I’ve seen some dodgy small-scale, family farms which I wouldn’t feel particularly happy knowing the foodI consume came from them.

(You might be happy to know that no splinters were sustained during that moment of fence-sitting).

My issue with the resolution was its inflammatory language, and the fact that few of the women I spoke to at the AGM yesterday rarely had any clue about what they were supposed to be voting on.

Like my taxi friend, several of them had got completely the wrong stick about the reality of the state UK agriculture, while one woman admitted she didn’t really feel happy about voting on it because she didn’t understand it.

Luckily, it turned out that the majority of the 4500 ladies at the AGM didn’t feel comfortable casting their vote either way, and the lovely members of the WI made history by refusing to vote on the resolution.

The farming industry has got off pretty lightly this time, but that doesn’t mean it can just sit back and relax now.

Judging by the amount of feeling in the audience and the debate that’s raged on for the last few months, this isn’t a subject the WI is going to let drop.

The organisation’s chairwoman said the resolution’s collapse should mark the start of an open debate about largescale farming, and past experience has shown when the WI’s 200,000+ members get behind something, they can really generate attention and make changes. I really wouldn’t be surprised if this resolution popped up at next year’s AGM, albeit in a differently-worded way.

Farming’s really got to make an effort now to engage with both the WI and with pressure groups – some of whom are being very vocal with messages which are often based more on emotion than truth. Regardless of the outcome, the future of UK agriculture should be based on facts, and not on the thoughts of ill-informed ladies in the back of cabs.

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An attempt at resuming normal service

Avid fans will notice I’ve haven’t been hangin’ around here much lately. I’ve been lacking a bit in the creative-writing inspiration front so I thought it was best to steer clear until my writer’s block disappeared.

I’ve not been completely lazy in my absence though – my blogging time has been filled with Nuffield report writing. I’m now the proud parent of a 10,000 word report which I’m sure will fascinate, excite and enthrall the tens of people I envisage will read the whole thing.

I actually enjoyed going backthrough my notes and reminding myself of all the things over the past year, so I hope at least a few people will take the time to flick through it to see what I got up to – even if it is only to look at the pretty photos.

Documents

Chapters 1 - 7 of my report

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