Ian Jack’s got a nicely done piece over at The Guardian about the decline of the British milk producing industry. Yes, of course, there’s a sadness at the idea that the very embodiment of Stout British Yeomanry, the independent farmer, is being driven out of business. I’m also a little surprised that mention isn’t made of the way that the milk quota regime imposed by the EU is deliberately skewed against said Stout British Yeoman.
But there’s one little line in there which is the reason we should really be celebrating.
Years of genetic engineering and dietary supplements mean increased milk yields and fewer cows;
Fewer cows of course means fewer farmers needed to tend to them. This is really the story of increasing efficiency, increasing productivity, in farming. Something that we really should be celebrating, for it’s the key to this whole civilisation thing. A society where everyone has to work full time in the fields in order to keep that society fed is really not much of a society. In order to develop anything other than just that peasant farming, you know, things like libraries, the NHS, symphonies, jet travel, absolutely anything other than a pure subsistence lifestyle, it is necessary that farming become more productive. That one person working upon the land can produce the food for 2 people, or 49 (as it is in our own, with some 2% working upon the land) or even 1.001 people’s food.
It is only if there is this sort of surplus production over and above the necessary food for those doing the labouring that we can develop and build a society of any real sort.
So while we might indeed be sentimental about the disappearance of part of Ye Olde Englande, we really ought to be celebrating the process which has been going on for some10,000 years now, the ever increasing producivity of farming. For it’s to that that we owe the rest of this wonderful world we see around us.