“SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.”
What would Keats have made of Autumn in West Dorset these days?
Maize fields are harvested – for dairy farms or biodigesters, their stubble is left over winter. Compacted soils prevent water from infiltrating. Soil, or rather the pale shadow that passes for a substrate used by so many arable farmers these days, is washed away into streams and rivers, or onto roads. The River Bride, into which this and many other maize -stubble fields empties, was a muddy-brown lifeless thing as it approached the sea.
Maize isn’t just bad for rivers and soil – it’s bad for cattle too. I’ve written many times about Maize and the problems growing it creates.
Research published yesterday has added to the mounting evidence that farmers who grow maize, increase the chances of their cattle getting bovine TB. A study of 1300 farms in high TB areas is a big study by any standards.
The team found that farms with herds of 150 cattle or more were 50% more likely to suffer a bovine TB outbreak than those with herds of 50 or fewer. Patterns of crop production and feeding were also important, with the risks increasing with practices linked with higher productivity systems. For every 10 hectares of maize – a favourite food of the badgers that play a role in transmitting the disease – bTB risk increased by 20%. The feeding of silage was linked with a doubling of the risk in both dairy and beef systems. Landscape features such as deciduous woodland, marshes and hedgerows were also important. For example, on farms with 50km of field boundaries, each extra 1km of hedgerow was linked with a 37% reduction in risk. This is likely to be because there is less contamination of pasture by badger faeces and urine in hedgerow-rich areas. Marshland was associated with increased risk, possibly as a secondary effect of infection with liver fluke – a disease linked with wet environments and which interferes with the diagnosis of bTB in cattle. (Read more here)
There is a solution. If you drink milk, buy organic milk. Organic dairy farms do not use maize to feed their cows. Maize production, which is increasing exponentially, also needs to be much more tightly controlled, so it is not allowed by watercourses or on steep slopes and undersowing with winter cover crops should be mandatory if stubbles are left overwinter. If necessary maize growing should be subject to a polluter pays approach and be taxed, with the income used to mitigate its impacts downstream and on soil.