A view from the West

Featuring food, fuel and the future in Jersey

Perennial bit
Sustainability, community, diversity!
This is a personal view of aspects of life in Jersey, Channel Islands. It focuses on the challenges of peak oil, food production, population density and climate change on our Island's fragile social, ecological and political systems

Tomorrow arrives!
The long awaited Rural Economy Strategy is here see

It has been a long wait. The previous policy ran from 2010 to 2015. But in the world of the department that used to be known as EDD, yesterday's arrival of the policy for 2017-2011 was just about in time. Ah well, no surprise really given they are the ones overseeing Condor's performance.

It was nearly three weeks ago that the Minister for the renamed EDD said on radio the report would be published 'tomorrow'. (See A couple of days after that the assistant minister at a scrutiny meeting said it was 'imminent'.

There are glaciers melting faster than this department delivers. Now to see if the contents justify the wait..........

Time for change

No frost this morning for the first time in about a week.  It has been fortunate we have also  had so little wind so though the temperatures have been unusually low it hasn't felt that cold.  I haven't been able to do any vegetable bed preparation involving soil, but there have been a few things to  do.  With help and taking advantage of the still weather  I laid out  and pegged down some mulch sheet to clear grass for new beds. The black sheets appeared white the next morning. Later in the week I'll probably take a few cuttings of fruit bushes to propagate too.

I am trying to get on top of a lot of jobs now as I going to be dragged away in April on a holiday - the first in 4 years.

I've also been thinking ahead on other topics.  I held off thinking on Trump's election in the hope that once he was inaugurated we might see something different from the rhetoric on the campaign trail.  But the first indications are that he's pushing on with it all, and that is very bad news on climate change.  He's spoken about supporting the coal industry in the US and seems to be genuinely in denial, removing references from government web sites etc

It was already going to be a Herculean task to  reach the sort of safe levels of C02 in the atmosphere as indicated at the Paris conference.  Without the USA actively on board it seems to me to be all but impossible.   The targets from Paris already imply -ve emissions  and we really don't yet have a sure way to do that. A few good possibilitites are reforestation and soil carbon sequestration but making them happen on the scale and the speed required isn't likely.

It is true that the implementation of renewables is happening rapidly.  I make it a compound annual growth rate of 6.6%, so doubles in about 10 years. However that is from a base of  20% of electricity production and of course a much smaller proportion of all energy consumption.  How long to we have to get to 0 emissions, how many decades of doubling to get there? And what do we expect to happen to energy demand in the intervening decades?

I've assumed exponential growth in renewables - that's arguably optimistic too.  We are already above 400ppm concentration C02 in the atmosphere and passed the 1 degree C rise above pre industrial levels in 2015. This paper from Nature in 2011 puts the timescale into perspective. Without much more aggressive emissions cuts we hit 2 degree rise somewhere between 2040 and 2060.

We are no longer realistically  looking at preventing serious problems arising from climate change.  There is no credible plan  in sight to do that.  We are at best looking at adaption - what we do to deal with the impacts.  We could have averted this.  If the world had started  that renewables growth just 10 years earlier we could by now of course have double the installed capacity, and  a usefully lower current emissions rate. If we had started seriously following the 1992 RIO Earth Summit we would have had another doubling.

We failed.  We all failed

Press on
Variability is a given for smallholders. No two years are the same. Sometimes bounteous glut, sometimes miserable crop failure. I had some of both last year. Neither the parsnip nor salsify germinted despite several sowings. On the other hand the lettuce, yacon and apples, were in huge abundance. I had to resort to selling a few, and we are still eating apples from store.

In the style of presentation of the States of Jersey I have 'invested' the cash in to something to help with some of the excess -a hand cranked crush and press. Of course next year we'll probably have a crop failure. That's a common occurence with apples. But there will be more years after that.

Delivery was very rapid. The assembly instructions were clear, though in truth there was little to put together beyond bolting on the legs. The only disappointment was a bit of damage to the paintwork which looks likely to happened in transit given the condition of the outer packaging. A quick e-mail with pictures to sales asking for a pot to touch up was promptly answered and they offered a complimentary straining bag by way of good will gesture too. All very satisfactory

Farming mini conference, but don't mention the soil.

Unlike previous years, the Farming Conference tomorrow has had very little publicity. It doesn't even appear on the States own web site. Anyway I now have the agenda (they sent it out in a Microsoft specific format so I had to get a file converter just to open it).

09.00-09.10 Opening Remarks Senator Lyndon Farnham (Minister for EDTSC)
09.10-09.30 Rural Economic Strategy Scott Meadows (Assistant Director EMRE)
09.30-10.15 LEAF Marque and Jersey Kathryn Green (Sustainability Manager – LEAF)
10.15-11.00 Alternative Crops Part II Lucy Hopwood (NNFCC)
11.00-11.30 Tea/coffee
11.305-12.00 Audax Report Industry Update Mike Renouard (The Jersey Royal Company)
12.00-12.30 Water Catchment – a UK farmers perspective
Fiona Waller (Water Quality Manager – Affinity Water) Ian Waller (Farmer & chairman for NFU in Bucks, Berks & Oxon area).
12.30-13.00 Ecosystem Services Paul Silcock (Cumulus)
13.00-13.10 Closing Remarks Deputy Steve Luce (Minister for the Environment)

So only half a day, instead of the previous day affair, and obviously no lunch - I guess someone spent that money for a private jet to bring the Estonian ambassador. Nothing specifically on soil either. A point brought into sharp focus today for me by a report on the BBC site "They project that an increase of 1C (1.8F) will release an additional 55 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere by 2050. This could trigger a "positive feedback" and push the planet's climate system past the point of no-return " How much more risk do we want to take, especially when it is generally beneficial to crops and yields to increase the carbon content of the soil.

It may not be apparent to the casual observer, but really this half a day 'conference' (there's not much time to confer with the attendees) is all about the potato industry. RES is the to date secret on how farmers will be supported. We already know the JFU has been privy to it, and the potato growers don't like it.

Leaf marque is a bit like the red tractor scheme. It is a marketing and presentation exercise. It all sounds lovely Linking Environment And Farming. There isnt a link, there is a dependency. And of cource Jersey likes LEAF, because unlike the Soil Association organic standards, the Leaf standards are weak. They dont prohibit or limit fertiliser or pesticide use, just require that approrpiately trained people and maintianed equipment is used to apply them and records are kept. Of course they love it , Jersey Royal growers can carry on spraying and still get the symbol to show the world our environment is being looked after. Leaf is right - they just forgot to draw the logo in the proper shape - a fig leaf.

Lucy Hopwoods presentation on alternative crops, is of course all about what comes after the Royal. It is afolow up on last year presentatisn she did. Nothing much wrong with what she said then. Still in the same old mind set of searching a lucrative monoculture crop. Its not the crop that is problem - it isnt an alternative crop that will solve the problem.

The Audax report update is specific to Royal growers. Water catchment, well thats all about nitrate and oxadixyl ,and who know what else that we haven't tested for in our ground water. And the source of those?

It isnt until we get to the very last item on ecoservices that possibly we have something not driven or dominated by potato growing.

It is all about the ££££££££

In the field
Yesterday I slipped on a muddy slope and fell flat. I heard a popping sound as I did so. I hobbled in to the house by which time the area above my knee was burning. Helen immediately fell back on her first aid from girl guides and put an ice pack on it then a compression bandage. Apparently this helps things heal, taking down any swelling like that and raising the leg for a few days. So I've been catching up on some paperwork and perusing videos. I should have bene sorting out the storm damage - some dislodged mulch sheets and smashed cloches, but that will have to wait a few days.

This is a video clip from Sweden. It is very interesting to me because he is doing on a rather larger scale a very simmilar approach to how I manage my beds. I have the mylar sheets he dislikes and I have to say I agee with his reasons. I dont use as much compost as he does - but if I could make more from my own materials I might. The growing season in Sweden is much shorter than here and of course the winter temperatues much lower, so we have things over winter that he probably woudln't even attempt. Like the broad beans I was on my way to plant out when I slipped.

Our Soil Association inspection went fine. It wa an new inspector Id not met before, but he seem more intrigued by the precision planting of my oats than worrying about anything else. We have never had a problem with the inspections, and often the inspectors take two steps into the field and you can see then visibly relax as it is apparent to then that this is a field run very organically, not maximising for production, yield etc.

I did offer to run off my crop planning and record spreadsheet for him. It is only 22 pages! I've just finished setting up a new one for next year. It actually starts in October with the oats, but I am usually still too busy then. It was a briliant year for the eating apples. So many in fact I had to resort to selling some - about 30kg and the apple rack in the cellar is full . Fortunately Ashmend's Kernel is a very good keeper and we should still be eating them into the New Year.

We are to have another farming conference this year. (2nd December at La Mare?). I did wonder is they might go under as a result of budget cuts. I got an invitation this year (!). I would have posted the agenda but I cannot open the attachment they sent out.

These guys have a message for many in Jersey

World food day

Today, October 16th, is World food day as promoted by the FOA. The offical site is

I haven't spotted much interest in this locally. Hardly surprising really as we have taken the route of regarding farming as just another business, only by chance it happens to produce some edible exports. Food security is a non issue and nutrition seldom gets mentioned by Ministers or in government communications. The challenges are addressed by just a few third sector groups like Caring Cooks, and the Jersey Organic Association and Jersey in Transition.

With that in mind I was interested to read a piece on the JEP web site today from the Farmers Union. The whole piece is very short

"ENVIRONMENTALISTS should work with farmers to protect the Island’s wildlife and not constantly criticise how they manage the countryside, an industry leader has said.

Jersey Farmers’ Union president Graham Le Lay says that his members are becoming increasingly disillusioned by government reports, environmental groups and ornithologists who blame farmers for the decline in the numbers of songbirds and other species such as butterflies and honey bees.

‘Farmers are getting a little punch-drunk with environmentalists knocking them all the time,’ he said. ‘The farmers aren’t very good at defending themselves because they are out working long hours, but they are getting increasingly upset.’

Mr Le Lay acknowledged that some farmers could improve their land management practices, but that overall, the industry was increasingly improving its environmental credentials."

I'd advise Mr Lay and his organisation to get a more sussed PR agency. If he had an argument it was completely undermined in the last paragraph. We are improving is a classic weasel wording by organisations that are failing and all they can say in defence is to play up any minor change for the better. It is a convincing as the State sof jersey teling us lessons have be learned. It isnt about improving its about being good enough. And many would argue the baseline locally is exceedingly low historically.

Not all environmentalists are critical of all farmers. It is possible to be both . You only have to look at the interest and support on the Facebok group trying to save Brian Adiar's Greenacres Farm to see that. But then Brian's Farm is organic and produces for the local market. Perhaps there are some lessons there for the JFU if they really want the public onside.

Another aspect that I'd like to draw attention to is the interaction of food, farming and climate change. This link has some good stats and infographics However it misses a critical element. We have passed the point where simply reducing emissions will keep us on track to a hopefully tolerable warming. We have to actively sequester carbon. The soil is one of the few credible large scale hopes for doing that. By good fortune sequestering carbon in soil generally improves it and the crops that can be produced from it. It real is potentially a big win win scenario. But we cannot do it if farmers insist that they can only make modest slow changes, will only continue to do things with the chemicls and deep ploughing and techniques they are currently used to. It is time for the change, time for farmers to be the saviours of the planet. But it wont happen in small steps. As former prime minster Lloyd George said, Don't be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps. The most dangerous thing in the world is to try to leap a chasm in two jumps.

Draw your own conclusion

I was struck by a bit of synchronicity today.

The news...Toad numbers fall upto 2/3rds in 30 years

And then seeing this as I cleared a new bed for planting next year...

And for any foreign readers, you might not be aware of this
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Just because I can
Black corn and white beetroots.

Environment in Figures
Figures have been released showing the state and progress of various environmental indicators over the period 2011-2015. You can read the summary and report at Pages StatesReports ReportID=2312

The fact that the best the communications unit spin PR could put in it is 'significant challenges ahead' tells you all you need to know. It is a litany of failed projects and missed targets. Almost none of the indicators have improved and there are more reds in the natural environment section than any other colour.

Simply, since we have had ministerial government in Jersey the environment, ecology, natural world, sustainability has never been a priority. Not once in all the governments since 2005 has it been a focus.

This other report State of Nature Report shows biological decline too. The fact it reflects UK decline is not really accpetable. we have the means and authority to do things differently and better, but we havent.

I have asked before, and I ask again, why do we bother having an Environment Minister?


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