Letter from Alan Brown: Soil health must be a key agricultural priority

SIR, – As we come to a crossroads in Scottish agriculture, we must all consider making radical changes.

For our survival, we need oxygen, water and food. All of this has been in abundance over the past few decades, but things can change quickly.

Can you imagine the hunger in the western world? It would make Covid-19 look like a storm in a teacup. We need to keep food security high on our agenda.

If we are going to plant trees on productive land, a high percentage should be food-producing trees – apples, pears, plums, etc. Every school in Scotland might have locally grown fruit available throughout the year and they can then visit their local fruit farm to see how healthy soil leads to healthy fruit and therefore healthy people!

When it comes to everyone who jumps on the carbon train, we need to do our farming systems well first and that starts with the soil. Once our soils are on fire, we will have a fertilizer plant under our feet.

We need a blueprint for Scottish soils and then the carbon will align – for now we are putting the cart before the horse! Subsidies must be used to improve soils – don’t keep feeding us milk, give us a goat!

We must not listen to the chemical vendors who tell us not to put clover in our grass seed. If you are worried about weed versus tons of free nitrogen then you need to think again.

As a 35+ year old dairy farmer, I have always tried to improve my margins by looking at my costs and heard a recent quote from a very knowledgeable consultant saying that the most profitable dairy farmer he has knew did not feed any concentrate.

If we all had to cut down on our diets a bit and make milk a bit more scarce, would you think the price would improve? So cut costs to improve prices – could that be a good idea? The attitude of two farmers who only come together to ‘make’ a third has to change – we have to think together.

The health of our soils actually leads to the health of our nation. We owe it to future generations to get it right!

Alan Brown, Millairies, Sorbie, Newton Stewart.

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