Is This Our Farming Future?

Photographs by Patrick Racher and Patricia Dodd Racher, September 2012. Farm photographs taken at Muckross Farms, Killarney, Kerry.

Much of our best farmland has been built on. We are going to need to produce more food in future, because we will not be able to rely on importing food from the rest of the world. Droughts, floods, erosion, the onward march of deserts, declining availability of the fossil fuels powering agriculture and all the rest of our economic activity, mean that we will struggle to feed 7 billion people, let alone 9 or 10 billion. Somehow, we will have to use poor land more effectively and in sustainable ways. These photos from South West Ireland suggest some of the challenges ahead.

Bantry Bay from the Caha Pass: steep slopes, scant soil, not the place for machinery.

Upper Lake, Killarney. Could more fish be produced from lakes?

This farm would have been 40 or 50 acres with a dozen cows, and some pigs and hens, and probably geese to fatten for Christmas.

Sixty or seventy years ago, life on small upland farms in Ireland was a) simple and (b) very hard work. No car and often no tractor, no mains water, no electricity. How would we cope in such circumstances again?

Vegetables were grown in small, sheltered plots: cabbages, onions and of course potatoes. In wet 2012 blight has affected potatoes badly.

Each farm kept a few pigs. Small farm life was and is a 24-hour responsibility.

Free-range hens must be protected from predators.

Farmyard manure is vital to maintain soil fertility, but spreading it without tractor-drawn machinery is a slow process — and would you want a muck heap outside your front door?

Keeping a wood or peat fire alight requires constant attention.

The working horse (more cob-like than this one) could make a come-back as fuel costs continue to escalate — but a single horse needs up to four acres of pasture.

1930s farm kitchen without a fridge. For the women of the family, it’s a day of chopping peat into small bricks, lighting the fire, fetching water from a well, cooking, hoeing the vegetable garden, looking after the animals and making produce to sell like butter and cheese.  This way of life, which is far more sustainable than energy-intensive agriculture, requires skills that most of us have lost and which are generally not taught in schools. 

2 Comments on “Is This Our Farming Future?”

  1. Rick says:

    Really interesting blog – I watched something a while back called Victorian Farm and it was so fascinating, the methods they used to make cheese and all these Victorian inventions that tried to make farming easier. Even the simple horse-drawn plough was amazing at how effective it was. A 1930s one would be interesting too to see.

    • Thank you. I think we need to become more concerned about food supplies, which are being squeezed in so many ways — weather disasters worsened by climate change, land loss to deserts, erosion, urbanisation etc, the rising costs of fuel and the fossil-fuel-dependent inputs into agriculture such as fertilisers and pesticides. In the UK and Ireland, land is too expensive for new entrants into farming unless they are already millionaires. Gail Tverberg’s blog Our Finite World is very good on these issues.

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