Farming with the Prince of Darkness

Mark Barrett marknbarrett at
Fri Dec 18 21:01:53 GMT 2009
Farming with the Prince of Darkness

Small, mixed farms could climate-proof our food supply. Once again,
Mandelson's political instincts are right on the button

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 Who'd have thought it? Lord Mandelson, Prince of Darkness, Grand Wizard of
the Political Arts, harbours a secret desire to become a
Or so he confided to Fraser Nelson from the Spectator.

It seems the scourge of the Tories longs to be – like many of them – the
master of his own acres. His dearest wish is to gaze into a lowering sky and
worry about getting his wheat harvested. Or whistle up his faithful sheepdog
to move the ewes or gather in his happily free-ranging hens. He might even,
he confesses, be willing to take on the odd dairy cow – all to be done
organically, of course.

As someone who has watched the desperate decline of British
agriculture<>over the
years, I'm convinced Lord Mandelson's planned career change can't
come too soon.

What the business secretary is dreaming of – the crops, the hens, the
grazing animals – is the classic small-scale mixed farm. And according to
one leading scientist it's small-scale mixed
farming<>that the world
needs to undo the damage of modern, high-input crop
production and to climate-proof the global food supply.

A study based on the work of 400 scientists and other specialists reported
earlier this year that current, high-input farming methods were damaging
soils on a massive scale. They were also squandering scarce water resources.
Study director – Professor Robert
chief scientific adviser to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs (Defra <>) – called for scientific
knowledge and new technologies to be targeted at small farmers who made
efficient use of soil nutrients and water.

In other words, it was small, mixed farmers who would feed the world as the
effects of climate
ever more severe. So unerring are Lord Mandelson's political
instincts that even when he's daydreaming he appears to come up with the
right answers.

Sadly for the planet, the business secretary doesn't intend taking up his
small country living any time soon. As he made clear in his interview, it's
something for his retirement, probably around 2029.

This is a pity. Like many others he sees saving British industry as a
worthwhile career objective. Rescuing the world from war and starvation can
wait until his twilight years. No wonder our agriculture is in such a
parlous state.

With luck, circumstances may intervene. It's just possible his lordship will
find himself with considerably less to do after the spring or summer of next
year. Perhaps then he will decide to advance his plans. He can lead a new
army of small farmers in their re-occupation of the British countryside,
allowing us all to eat in the coming decades.

If he wants to discover the importance of such changes he could so worse
than attend an event in Oxford next month. It's called the Oxford Real
Farming Conference <> and it will
explore the best ways of feeding the planet in the 21st century. If the
business secretary can make it I'm sure the organisers will be delighted to
reserve him a seat.
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