Tag Archives: China

The World Turned Upside Down

It’s not often you can point to a week in history and say with confidence that ‘today the world changed utterly.’ Unfortunately for us we’ve just had such a week.

Look at the agricultural front, so far nothing has really been said in the west, although I’ve noticed a couple of the papers starting to run stories about possible food shortages. Apparently the Chinese government, which seems to think about these things rather more than our governments do, has stockpiled 70% of world Maize stocks, 51% of world wheat stocks and “Enormous quantities of US Soya.” World food prices are rising as countries scrabble about looking for supplies to carry their own populations through to the next harvest. Given that there isn’t a lot of hope of much planting in the Ukraine this spring, and that Russian farmers have been locked out of the domestic credit market just when a lot of them would be looking to buy seed, Russia might be joining in the desperate scramble for grain.

If looking for agricultural support payments, then I think you might have to look hard. As an example, Germany spent 47 billion euros on defence in 2021. This is 1.5% of GDP. It has announced that it will increase this to at least 2% of GDP which means 62 billion euros a year, but with an extra investment of 100 billion euros as an extra top up.


All this is on top of paying for covid and desperately trying to arrange energy policy. So whilst nations want more food, I will be interested to see what happens to various schemes. At the moment it looks that all government would have to do is point out how food prices are rising, take off the brakes and let us farm.

On the energy front things are mixed. If you want to have another international conference to discuss getting to carbon zero, you could doubtless have one, but obviously to get the Russians you’d have to accept their puppet Ukrainian government as entitled to negotiate for the Ukraine. On the other hand, even the most blinkered politician has realised that relying entirely on Russian gas was never a good idea. So in the long term it looks as if European countries (including the UK) will be going over to renewables, with nuclear to balance out the supply when renewables fall short. (Which was something gas did fairly well for us in the UK)
Unfortunately in the short term, we are probably in for a couple of years of pain and backsliding. Not only are the Germans pondering keeping their nuclear plants going, they are also pondering burning more coal. Apparently the International Energy Agency has pointed out that dropping your thermostat by one degree would save Europe 10 billion cubic meters of gas a year. We may have to see a culture shift, wear more in the home, burn less fuel. There again this has been the message for two or more decades from UK governments of all parties, and indeed Labour, the Coalition and the current Conservative government have all jacked up energy prices to both deter use and to use money raised to subsidise renewables. Now it’s being jacked up even more. As somebody who has never lived in a house with central heating I find people’s homes too warm anyway but I don’t want to trespass on private grief.

Then there are going to be deeper effects that are unquantifiable. I’m sure we can all remember pictures of shattered German cities taken in 1945. But by the time a previous generation saw those pictures the war was largely over and the German death camps had been liberated. Yes they saw Dresden but they also saw British forces liberate Bergen-Belsen. I make no moral equivalents, I point no fingers at our own day, but it is likely you are going to watch European cities destroyed on prime time TV as smart phone footage reaches our broadcasters. This could go on for month after month.

Then we could have millions of Ukrainians settled in European countries. People who can never go home and who may eventually become citizens. What impact will a quarter of a million Ukrainian widows and fatherless children have on British Politics? I suspect those who support Putin’s ‘denazification’ of the Ukraine could struggle to gain electoral acceptance.

Also if we go back to a full cold war, UK defence spending will increase and the armed forces will grow. Will we have to reintroduce conscription? Will it just be for those who self-identify as men, or is it going to be an equal opportunities experience?


There again, what do I know? Speak to the experts

As a reviewer commented, “Another gentle and entertaining read about the pros and cons of Farming, ably assisted by Sal the collie dog and Billy the feral farm cat.
As always, I’m amazed Farmers make enough money to keep their farms and families going, given the ‘guidance’ given by the ‘experts’ in government and the Civil Service…”

Can you see the woods?


Looking round, we’re not doing so badly. I’m comparing things to when I was fourteen or fifteen. I can remember seeing my first buzzard. I had to go up to the Inner Hebrides to do it, and we watched it for about twenty minutes. That was as long as it was in sight. Now we’ve got one which will perch on the telegraph pole at the top of the lane, and I see them most weeks.

It’s the same with owls. On Sunday night an owl hit the office window. I went out to rescue it. It was young, barely fledged. So wearing a heavy jacket and fencing gauntlets just in case it didn’t appreciate being rescued I picked it up and set it on a ledge as high up the wall as I could reach. It then proceeded to climb up the drainpipe using its wings like arms! I went back into the house, threw everything I was wearing into the washing machine and had a shower. Bird’s nests and young birds can be bad for fleas and this one was. But we see barn owls and little owls. We’ve got more herons that you can shake a stick at and there are even egrets as well. We’ve more foxes than we need. The other morning I was fetching cows in and heard this strange yowling. Sal had discovered a fox cub. She was circling it warily, dashing in to nip it if she thought its back was turned and she was pulling away if it turned to look at her. I think she was trying to work out what it actually was. It strutted through the meshes in the sheep netting and disappeared.

We’ve also got plenty of badgers. No hedgehogs, but then the more badgers you get, the smaller the number of hedgehogs. And of course we’ve got more deer that we’ve ever had as well.

With regard to birds, the sheer amount of birdsong you hear as you walk down to get cows indicates there’s plenty of them, although I’m not qualified to go into which species.

But all in all there’s far more wildlife than I remember. So one way and another I don’t think we’ve done too badly. Indeed looking around more generally, an increasing number of people are getting regular meals and we’re even managing to increase the wildlife in some places. Farmers are making a reasonable job if it.

But I have to say, the rest of the population haven’t really been pulling their weight. Wander through any city, or look at the litter people tip out of the cars as they drive through the countryside, and it’s obvious things are pretty bad. And then there’s global warming and carbon and whatever.

Actually the whole ‘carbon’ business is remarkably simple. When I was at school we were even taught about the carbon cycle. You breathe it out. Plants take it in, turn it into food, you eat it, and breathe carbon out again. Actually for the purposes of the exercise it doesn’t really matter if you are a person, a bullock or an endangered species.


CarbonCycle_Cr Joyce Farms


Now there’s the storm over methane. But methane is just part of the carbon cycle. It does back into plants which turn it into food and then it gets eaten. We’re just recycling the carbon or methane that we have in the environment at the moment. Feeding livestock or people won’t, in and of itself lead to an increase in carbon dioxide. The problem is that by burning coal, oil and whatever we’re taking carbon out of storage and are returning it back into the atmosphere.

At the moment the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is about 410 parts per million. Back between 600 and 400 million years ago the level of CO2 was over 6,000ppm. That carbon got locked up by geology. We’ve got the oil, gas and coal to prove it. So when you burn them, you’ll putting ancient carbon back in the atmosphere. It’s not for nothing that they’re known as fossil fuels.

So if you want to stop global warming the first thing you can do is stop flying. Then cut the central heating or aircon. If they’re not solar or wind, (or nuclear) just forget them. Actually you can probably burn wood because it’s just recycling atmospheric carbon as well. But then we need a sense of proportion as well.

In 2017 China produced 10,877.218 Mt CO2/year and their output is increasing. Perhaps by 3% a year.

In 2017 the UK produced 379.150  Mt CO2/year. Our output is falling, by about 2.4% per year.

Let us put this in perspective. If the UK spontaneously ceased to exist, we all just disappeared and the carbon emissions dropped to zero, one year’s increase in Chinese emissions would almost replace us. Rather than worrying about whether you should eat less meat (remember methane is an irrelevance so long as it’s not fossil fuel derived, as it’s a natural part of the carbon cycle) you’ll do more good boycotting Chinese goods until they start making major cuts in their emissions. The web site




makes for interesting reading.


Indeed it is entirely possible that if we organised protests outside Chinese embassies around the world it might do some good. Provided of course people travelled there by public transport.


There again, what do I know


As a reviewer commented, “This is the third collection of farmer Jim Webster’s anecdotes about his sheep, cattle and dogs. This one had added information on the Lake District’s World Heritage status. This largely depends upon the work of around 200 small family farms. Small may not always be beautiful but it can be jolly important. If you want to know the different skills needed by a sheep dog and a cow dog, or to hear tales of some of the old time travelling sales persons – read on! This is real life, Jim, but not as I know it.”