Promotions of buy one get one free all create food wastage

YET another week of dry weather. Rain was promised overnight at one point last week, but failed to materialise. It is now getting dry, and many farmers and growers are worried.

Thursday, 28th April 2011, 10:19 am

If we get into May without any rain, then crops and grass growth will suffer, as every day extends in length and the power of the sun increases.

We have managed to keep our grass seedlings alive with dirty water, but they must now be given a chance to grow before we apply any more.

The sun bakes the dirty water on to the leaf, and although we are providing much needed moisture and nutrients, we are also inhibiting their ability to harvest the sun and turn it into energy- a delicate balance, which of course a few showers of rain would solve.

The grass is shooting away now, and the worry of not having enough grass is turning into concern regarding our ability to keep on top of the grazing during this peak growth period.

At Tillington, matters are complicated by the fact that growth is slowing down as the sandy soil dries out, but should it rain, will grow very rapidly indeed.

Plans to take more young-stock to graze the grass over there are on hold as we wait to see what develops.

The dew continuous to be heavy and that helps matters to a degree, and on the clay, fence posts are still very easy to drive in the ground once through the top six inches.

We are in France over Easter and not in search of better weather! Having said that, it is 28 degrees down here in the Dordogne, but they are forecasting rain.

Travelling down through Northern France, the crops look very good indeed, and I was astonished to see field after field of grass silage in Normandy, all baled up and looking very tasty indeed.

I believe some of it to be Lucerne, but difficult to be sure as we sped past. The oil seed is in flower, just as it is in England, but down here in the Dordogne, the oilseed has set, with no flower to be seen, and the maize is out of the ground; I would say a good two to three weeks ahead, as you would expect.

The French are still building new roads, and with no traffic to speak of, driving it is a very different experience to the South East of England.

I was in east Yorkshire last week looking at a large food waste plant, with Anaerobic Digestion.

It was the official opening of this £10 million project, carried out by Lord Henley.

This plant runs on food waste, and is not located on farm, but has similar machinery to ours at Crouchlands.

The experience of building it had also been similar, with the company manufacturing and installing the equipment running into financial trouble during installation.

In this case the farmer concerned assisted in a management takeover, and his project was completed eventually.

The operation starts with lorries of food waste (more about that later) arriving to unload plastic bags full of food waste of every kind imaginable, all mixed up in an unholy mess.

A series of machines then take the bags and their contents, and sort out all the different components, opening cans, emptying trays, squeezing all the various foods together, which turns into a grey soup.

Our guide informed us that regardless of food content, the soup is always grey.

The plastic, metal, cardboard, and all other types of packaging, of which there is a huge amount, is sorted out into various skips to be taken away for recycling.

The ready meal trays and other food containers are washed out until the plastic is again bright, thus removing every bit of energy freed, and preparing the plastic for further use.

The soup is heated to a certain temperature for a fixed amount of time in order to pasteurise it; killing all the harmful pathogens.

It is then fed into the AD plant, acting as feed stock in exactly the same way as our own AD plant fed on various wastes from the dairy unit and silages at home.

The substrate produced at the other end is separated, but to a higher dry matter than we do at home, and looks like elephant dung!

The liquid is then processed through a complex piece of equipment, which puts it through a number of semi-permeable membranes, but is in fact a ‘reverse osmosis’ plant.

The farmer is then left with a small amount of concentrated liquor which looks when in a glass, like a pint of ‘Guinness’, and a huge quantity of clean water, which is of drinking quality.

This was drunk by the farmer to demonstrate the fact, but none of us volunteered to do the same, although it was quite possibly of higher standard than some of the water we do drink from time to time.

Food waste at retail and consumer end of the chain is huge. I see that there are proposals to do away with the ‘best before’ dates on food, which it is claimed leads to £13 billion of waste.

This costs each household on average approaching £700 every year; a large amount out of taxed income during recession.

Local government associations are also condemning supermarkets over ‘buy one get one free’ promotions, which lead to over buying and more waste.

They would like ‘best before’ dates to be scrapped and replaced by ‘use-by dates’. A risk based approach is being considered, and the Secretary of State is expected to make an announcement in the next few weeks.

Defra, however, point out that pre-packaged foods legally need to be labelled ‘best before’ even though they may still be safe; which is very different to the date after which they may not still be safe.

I shall wait with anticipation to see the outcome of this common sense approach versus the bureaucrat.

Here in France, things are very different, although it is about the most bureaucratic country in Europe, cutting across the rights of the individual when it comes to Government plans (the High Speed 2 line would already be going ahead in this country, with little concern for the land owners and environmentalists).

Food is all about taste in France, and although supermarkets and fast food outlets are making serious progress, the ‘occasion’ of a meal is still very strong, with real appreciation of good food.

The amount of preparation for the Easter weekend, involving family meals, especially on Sunday is notable, with cakes and pastries being a particular delight.

As it says in most guide books, vegetarianism is difficult in France, with few bothering to cater much for such a limited approach to good food; understandably failing to see why anyone would forgo the opportunity to taste and enjoy the rich cuisine offered by the countryside, which of course the French people are still in close contact with.