Those people who strive to make a meagre living from agriculture are in the news again. A recent report from PlantLife Scotland revealed that huge swathes of the country are being afflicted by excess nitrogen and ammonia levels. Whilst it was inevitably transport that is to blame for nitrogen, the figure for excess ammonia was pointed directly at farming; specifically livestock.
Whilst all sorts of techniques for reducing ammonia (mostly from manure management) were suggested, leaving farmers very likely to be paying the bill, the report failed to highlight the real issue.
It is all very well and easy to blame farmers for excess ammonia, nitrate runoff and pollution caused by chemical cocktails, but rather less easy to balance our searing need and demand for agricultural products such as cereals and meat. Moreover, as well as eating these to excess, we also demand that it is cheap.
The real cost of producing food for billions of people is that our planet was not designed to allow it. We've mitigated for that, as people have a way of doing, by loading the land up with fertilisers, genetically modifying plants and boosting the size of our livestock. The farmers, at the mercy of big buyers and supermarkets, have to produce more for less. But there is a price to be paid and we are now feeling the final tally of decades of human demand.
There's no easy solution here. In the best possible world our food would be sourced locally. Farmers would sell their own products directly to us without the need to carry the stuff over hundreds or thousands of miles, probably making a decent living in the process as well as reducing storage costs and packaging. What a great world that would be!
Alas, the sheer numbers of people demanding instant food availability all year round means that such systems are likely to remain few and far between.
So please don't blame farmers for the slow deterioration of our landscape so much as each and every one of us for our consumer hankerings for transport and cheap food.