The coronavirus crisis proves the importance of UK farming

In an attempt to fight the invisible enemy we find ourselves at war with, measures have been taken across the globe. Borders have been closed, areas quarantined and flights cancelled. And yet as the walls came down, a glimmer of light has been found amidst the darkness. The environment appeared to breathe a sign of relief. 

 

The canals of Venice turned clear for the first time in decades, encouraging fish to return and dolphins to visit. European pollution levels have fallen, leading experts to believe there is reason for cautious optimism - and data from the European Space Agency clearly displays a decline in nitrogen dioxide levels in the air.

 

London has also shown significant improvements with a drop in traffic in hotspots such as Marylebone. Yet there has been one factor at this time that has remained constant. 

 

There have been no fewer cows in the fields, and no drop in the number of tractors on the roads has been seen. The British public mostly stays in nowadays, but the homes of farmers remain vacant in working hours. Farmers occupy a different type of frontline, in lambing sheds, milking parlours or out in the fields. To keep up with supermarket demands, not to mention the needs of local corner stores and farm shops, they have continued to work as they always do.

 

The Independent reports that the farming sector is now under increasing pressure to 'feed the nation'. To show our gratitude, it is time for us to understand that the industry is neither as evil nor as dangerous as it is sometimes portrayed.

 

There is an ultimate irony behind the Veganuary pledge made by so many in the new year. It is during this month when most produce is out of season in the UK, aside from several root vegetables. To stick to this new diet, shoppers were filling their baskets with broccoli from Kenya and sugar snap peas from China - produce that had travelled thousands of miles before ending its journey on supermarket shelves. Naturally, there are ways to consume this diet in a sustainable manner, but the same can be said of one that contains meat. The solution is not necessarily to go to the other extreme and adopt a vegan lifestyle but rather to consume locally sourced produce.

 

In the same supermarket stores you will likely find New Zealand lamb lining the meat isles. There is nothing wrong with this product in and of itself, but there are too many high quality sheep farms across the UK for this to be happening. 

 

The agricultural sector is not perfect, but is any industry? There are ways to make the practice more sustainable. The Global Animal Medicine Association explains how efforts can be made to change nutrition mix or to look at products to target methane reduction. 

 

But another of the association's suggestions is of a more concerning nature. It advises taking better care of animal welfare to prevent premature death. The insinuation the association makes is that the health of farmers' livestock is not already a high priority for them. This demonstrates the incoherence between policy makers and those directly involved with agriculture, as this way of thinking feeds in to the dangerous modern narrative that all farming is centred around profit margins produced through an ongoing assembly line. This narrative is false. 

 

For agricultural families, farming is more than an accumulation of soil, grass or cattle. It is a livelihood that has been passed down through generations, from grandfather to grandchild and on again. 

 

With secrets of the land being whispered in the ears of children at an early age, who then go on to manage the farms themselves and pass the tales on to their youngsters, it is not a tradition that should be made light of.

 

In the new era that emerges once the dust settles, let these issues of sustainability be discussed with a new attitude. Where the term climate change is thrown around, at times, as more of a buzzword than a policy topic, farmers find themselves constantly having to defend their work. It is time to give British farming a chance; it is the least we can do to recognise the chance farmers have given us to survive this crisis. 

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