I’m standing on a country road by the edge of a rather large field in Picardy. Nothing stirs, apart from a tractor in the distance, slowly wending its way across the field.
It seems like a desert. Except that, in my experience, most deserts actually support a fair population of vegetation and wildlife – probably much more than this godforsaken space.
How is the fertility/ biodiversity/ microorganisms/ health of the soil maintained in this space where fertiliser and weedkiller are probably the only inputs, apart from sun and rain? And should we really be surprised if heavy rainfall, increasingly common, causes run-off, flooding and loss of topsoil? And if long dry spells lead to dust storms?
There is no alleviation, even at the roadside. A thin strip of grass is all there is – no hedge, no trees, no ditch. No environment for small mammals, birds, insects – no space for the natural world. All confined to the nearby small village and woodland.
This shows quite clearly the alienation of the money economy from the nature on which it is dependent – and the alienation of European politics, such as in the Common Agricultural Policy that would appear to have encouraged this sort of thing.
Just imagine the difference if each field could only be so big, and had to be surrounded by hedges with trees, and space for grasses and wildflowers – well you don’t actually have to imagine it, as there are still plenty of examples in England and the rest of Europe. We spent millennia learning how to farm sustainably alongside nature. Yes, crop yields might be less in the short term, but I suggest they would be much greater in the long run.
Economy cannot win this battle with ecology. We will all be the losers.
Please note that I am not criticising Picardy itself – a mostly charming part of France with many examples of small farms and rolling countryside. However, this mega farming is quite prevalent in that large area of northern France you drive through as quickly as possible to get to the nice bits! Having toured in the USA, I know where it came from.