388.4 - Food security - Milk | Scoins.net | DJS

388.4 - Food security - Milk


Increasing energy costs significantly affect the price of fertiliser and a shortage of wheat drives up feed costs. So arable farmers are hit with significantly rising costs and the fixed prices for many crops means that margins rapidly vanish, so that the choice of what to grow next year is directed by what might permit costs to change. An animal farmer is thus hit twice and I heard a pig farmer explaining that he is losing £30 per pig a proper loss, not a reduction in profit. So where is the sense in continuing to produce pork? Couple this with an incentive for any existing farmer to take a cash reward [the Lump Sum Exit Scheme] for giving up (putting the whole farm under trees, rent/sell the land, surrender the tenancy). Large-scale rewilding may also be a route to losing farm tenancies.

The necessary phrase is food security. We need sustainable domestic food production at a volume that means we are in net balance, exporting about as much food as we import. At the moment, [100], the UK currently  produces about 60% of its domestic food consumption by economic value, part of which is exported. This means just under half of the actual food on plates is produced in the UK, including the majority of grains, meat, dairy, and eggs. This figure would be higher without exports. UK supply comprises domestic production excluding exports, plus imported food. The production to supply ratio, important for understanding the UK’s self-sufficiency, has remained stable over the last two decades, and for crops that can be commercially grown in the UK has been around 75%. [...] the UK’s food supply is concentrated on the UK and Europe, with over 80% of supply coming from these main sources. The remainder is mostly spread between Africa, Asia, North America, and South America. This picture has changed little in the last 10 years. Having read more of [100], one area for which we could sensibly act is fruit & veg: the UK produces over 50% [54%] of vegetables consumed domestically, but only 16% of fruit. 93% of domestic consumption of fresh vegetables was fulfilled by domestic and European production, while fruit supply is more widely spread across the EU, Africa, the Americas, and the UK. 

As we have made transfer of all goods with Europe more difficult, so there is very good reason to move more land toward production of fruit and vegetables. Not instead of anything else, unless we make a reduction in meat production; the gov't has said that our personal objectives toward climate change should include less air travel and less meat. I agree and am quite happy to contemplate few to none subsequent air miles and to reduce meat to twice a week or less, where I'm already at less than once a day. The missus disagrees and would happily have meat every meal and virtually no veg. But then she still thinks rice and noodles (and possibly potatoes) count as substitutes for greenstuff. In 2020, the UK imported 46% of the food it consumed. No one country provides more than 11% of those imports, a picture which has been stable for some time. By value, £48 billion of FFD (food, feed, drink) was imported and £21.4 billion was exported.

In terms of sustainability, we need to recognise (and act upon) the steady loss of land, of soils and the degradation of the climate. As a consequence of unusual weather patterns linked to climate change, wheat yields in 2018 were 7% below the 2016 to 2020 average, and 17% down in 2020. Total economic losses for wheat, potatoes and oilseed rape in the UK caused by ozone were calculated to be £185 million in 2018, with more than 97% of those losses occurring in England. Based on modelling by the Met Office, significant future risks to UK food production include heat stress to livestock, drought, pests and pathogens, and increased soil erosion risks.

In June 2020, 71% of the UK’s land, or 17.3 million hectares, was used for agricultural production, of which 72% was grassland and 26% cropland, with the remainder being set-aside or fallow land. Trends in land use have been generally stable over the last 30 years, but climate change poses a threat to high quality arable farmland and competition for land use is increasing. A previous attempt to count area under trees, much of which could be land otherwise unsuitable for anything but moorland grazing, came up with 1.42 million hectares and 3.2 million hectares.. However, Defra-commissioned research suggests climate change impacts under a medium emissions scenario could reduce the proportion of ’best and most versatile’ arable farmland (ALC 1, 2, and 3a) from 38.1% of agricultural land on a 1961 to 1990 baseline to 11.4% by 2050, with consequences for food production and meeting Net Zero. That is a very scary scenario if it means that the total crop produced is going to fall. We need, therefore, to be already working towards having more land under food production and to have a clear path forwards that renders food production to be as efficient as possible. Where I'd measure efficiency as somethiing like end-result calories over used land area.

One suspects that there is a fairly large amount of land used as pasture that would be better used for arable farming. But, until we accept that we need to urgently address this at a national level, we are going to have few reasons to change.

 I wondered next about land use—how much is under housing, or owned by the masses (not quite the same thing), how much might we have available for more food production, keeping the ability to grow our own at home in reserve. I was surprised to learn that 6% of the UK is housing (let's say domestic use) but 9% is bog land. I went looking for land we might add to the growing area and there isn't much more available. The biggest change I could see would be to plant trees on the moors and convert likely (excess, in my head) pasture land to crops. One such would be to move from cow's milk to something like oats, which has three times the yield per acre. I then wondered what we'd lose; beef would decline in availability, but we've been told for years to eat less meat; we'd reduce things like leather, too. I think the gains would be significant. I'm not advocating no dairy, no beef; I'm saying we need a lot less, maybe 20% of what we have.

Apparently, [100] says, we're self-sufficient in grains, meat, milk and eggs (that is, we produce roughly as much as we consume). We grow about 70% of potatoes, 60% sugar beet and 80% of oil seeds (as a percentage of what we consume) but only 50% of vegetables and 16% of fruit. At sea, what we eat isn't fished here so we export most of our catch and import most of what we eat.


DJS 20220710


I feel there is more to be written, but as yet have no content to insert.  20220725










[100] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/united-kingdom-food-security-report-2021/united-kingdom-food-security-report-2021-theme-2-uk-food-supply-sources

[101]     https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/900910/Land_Use_in_England__2018_-_Statistical_Release.pdf  and the attached 'live tables', which actually proved more difficult to find and are here: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/land-use-in-England under 'live tables'. Under 'forest, open land and water' for England we have, in millions of hectares, 1.35 forestry/woodland, 0.8 natural land, 0.4 rough grassland and 0.18 water, totalling 2.8Mha. Compare this with the total under agriculture 8.3 and the absolute English total of 13.25Mha and relate these numbers to the pie chart above. So there is relatively little land whose purpose we could change (I'd suggest the  1.2Mha of rough and natural land might be targets) but mostly we need to repurpose the land already labelled as used for agriculture, specifically targeting that 72%, 6Mha of grassland (pasture) and how much of that could be used more effectively for food production.

[102] https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/news/nr/land-cover-atlas-uk-1.744440 provided the Corine land cover map. More peat bogland than urban area (9%, 6%). 2012 data, and I'd like for there to be updates.

[103] disappointingly, I found little agreement with my postulation. The consensus appears to be that our grassland is a major resource (used for growing meat) and that we'd be better off trading meat for other foods. I do not see this as 'food security', especially in the political climate that makes international transfers so easily damaged.

[104] https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/History_of_Soybeans_and_Soyfoods_in_the/WEfiCQAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=Production+of+soya+milk+in+UK&pg=PA1328&printsec=frontcover

Side issue here, looking at soy milk, where the UK is the largest market in Europe (40% of total European consumption and the highest per capita consumption). In 2015 soy milk was priced at 2-3 times that of cow's milk. Soy must be packed in something different from the tetrapak as this is not at all easily recycled. I understand that the price of dairy milk is heavily subsidised, under a set of assumptions that I think I can easily disagree with. Dairy farming needs to be reduced  in intensity; we need to pay significantly more for it, too.

[105] https://www.farmersguide.co.uk/cows-milk-better-for-the-planet-than-soya-study/   A review of evidence by the Sustainable Food Trust found that 85 litres of milk is produced in the UK for every kilo of soya bean meal consumed by dairy cows – whereas no more than 7.5 litres of soya drink are produced from a kilo of whole soya beans. This deserves striking down, since the comparison is only valid if the cows ONLY eat soy.  Argument is easily found that says soya is grown in such volume that the market is the cause of lost forest – this is a demand issue. In Britain we might be very much better off making milk from oats. See wikipedia.  Oat milk, compared with other milks, is very low in carbon dioxide and has no methane.   Oat milk production requires 1/15th the amount of water of milk production and 1/8th the water of almond milk. What I have not found is a tonnage of oats for a volume of milk, so as to compare land usage of pasture vs oat arable growth. Hidden in the raucous comment here I found 100g oats makes 1 litre oat milk, implying twice that farm-gate oats, so 60,000t for the 300 million litres Oatly promise to produce in Peterborough. Oats crop at about 7 tonnes per hectare. So on the large scale we might have 35000 litres per hectare per year on a single crop.

Cows average around 21 litres per cow, perhaps 18 litres per cow (per day, 200 days a year) on July grass. Long-term, one needs about an acre per cow (directly or indirectly) so 2.5 cows per hectare and all of that suggests a possible yield of 9000 litres per hectare, allowing that a lot of that land is used for growing the forage and feed for the cattle. I found a figure of 11087 l/ha in 2016 in Ireland. 

[106] https://ahdb.org.uk/dairy/uk-milk-yield UK milk production is 15 million litres (and rising) on a herd of 1.85 million (falling slowly). Litres per cow per annum (one set of numbers divided by the other) has risen in the last twenty years from 6500 to 8150. This puts the UK in the top ten in the world for milk yield. Also see [107] https://www.kingshay.com/wp-content/uploads/Dairy-Costings-Focus-Report-2019-WEB-VERSION.pdf which looks comprehensive but did not tell me any of what I wanted to know.

Table from Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oat_milk which led to [108]

[108]    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46654042    This gives some figures


[109]   https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:b0b53649-5e93-4415-bf07-6b0b1227172f     also https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:b0b53649-5e93-4415-bf07-6b0b1227172f/download_file?file_format=pdf&safe_filename=Reducing_foods_environment_impacts_Science%2B360%2B6392%2B987%2B-%2BAccepted%2BManuscript.pdf&type_of_work=Journal+article   extensive meta - analysis (they read a lot and produced a paper, a bit like me, only 'properly done'). Actually, this paper is close to brilliant, heavily rich in information. For example, on page 8,  For many products, impacts are skewed by producers with particularly high impacts. This creates opportunities for targeted mitigation, making an immense problem more manageable. For example, for beef originating from beef herds, the highest-impact 25% of producers represent 56% of the beef herd’s GHG emissions and 61% of the land use (an estimated 1.3 billion metric tons of CO2eq and 950 million hectares of land, primarily pasture). Across all products, 25% of producers contribute on average 53% of each product’s environmental impact (fig. S3). For scarcity- weighted freshwater withdrawals, the skew is particularly pronounced: Producing just 5% of the world’s food calories creates ~40% of the environmental burden. We will now explore how to access these mitigation opportunities through heterogenous producers. Which is to say that the market for beef means we have beef grown in places where, at a global scale, it would be far better if we did not. To a large extent we don't even attempt to measure environmental impact. The harder we try to grow food on smaller areas, the (significantly) greater emissions and acidification. (P9).



Almonds are demanding in pest control, water and fertiliser.  You would think that we ought to move more towards aquaculture since that doesn't use up land. I paraphrase, since I could not copy text: Although aquaculture can have low land requirements, the lowest-impact acqua systems still exceed the emissions of vegetable proteins". So we have to sort this out by experiment before we rush into common practice. "Though ruminants convert about 2.7 billion tonnes of grass dry matter (every year), 65% of which grows on land unsuitable for crops, into human-edible protein, the impacts of this conversion are immense, whatever production system we practise.

[110]   https://uprootmilk.com/blog/2019/10/1/all-about-soy-milk  reeks of bias. Disregard.

[111]   https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impact-milks  

 Converting some of these numbers, one litre of cow milk requires 8.95 sq m of land, so one hectare could  provide 1117 litres, not the 11 kilolitres (ten times more) discovered earlier. On this basis another hectare would provide 13 kilolitres of oat milk, 15 of soy milk, 20 of almonds and 30 of rice milk.


Typical crop yield for soy is 3 tonnes per hectare, a bit higher in Italy and lower in the UK, In Brazil, 95% or more of soy is consumed by animals (beef). Globally, 75% is animal feed. The biggest consumer is poultry. Even in China, direct animal feed exceeds direct human food, though there very much the most (more than 10x) is turned into processed animal food and vegetable oil.


[111] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/946161/structure-jun2020final-uk-22dec20.pdf   Gives yield per hectare for a variety of crops. Barley: 10% human, 30% drinks industry, remaining 60% animal feed. Wheat:  65% human food.


[112] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/united-kingdom-food-security-report-2021/united-kingdom-food-security-report-2021-theme-4-food-security-at-household-level

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