European Agriculture: Policies, Production, and Trade

European Agriculture: Policies, Production, and Trade

European Agriculture: Policies, Production, and Trade

European Agriculture: Policies, Production, and Trade

Synopsis

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is central to both economic and environmental developments in Europe. But with the advent of new environmental legislation and political change the CAP faces increasing pressure to reform.

Excerpt

Down on the Dutch polders there is a farm where the cows are untouched by human hand. The cows come in from the lush pastureland of what has been for centuries one of Europe's great dairy regions, they enter their 'milking parlour' – a building more like a modern car factory than the rustic shippon of yore – machines, whirr, buzz and click, food drops into troughs in front of the cows' noses, mechanical hands and hoses wash the cows' udders and robot arms slap milking-machine cups onto the teats of each animal. Milking completed, in about half the time it used to take Gelda with her wooden pail, milking stool and practised hands to extract about a third as much milk – the details of the whole operation are recorded on the farm's comprehensive computer system. Not only are all the mechanical actions of the robotic cow herding system controlled by the computer, but so too are the details of each cow that passes through the system: her daily milk yield, food intake, weight gain or loss and other details that are essential to the precision husbandry that is rapidly replacing the picturesque but unprofitable farming beloved of the folklorists.

This Dutch dairy farm is of course at the frontiers of modern agricultural technology, and this degree of sophisticated use of computers and machinery to replace the routine work traditionally performed by men and women is unusual. Computerised information systems have, however, been used by farmers and the agricultural industry as long as in Europe's manufacturing industries. European agriculture now probably has more incentive to use machines in place of people; the post-war industrial revolution sucked people away from the countryside on an enormous scale and skilled wage rates in the areas of the most intensive farming close to the big urban areas soared. Farming can only be profitable, as in any other business, if output per person is maximised. For successful farmers, the computer is becoming the nerve centre which allows optimal exploitation of modern machines, crop chemicals and plant and animal genetic developments.

Farmers now use computers to predict the weather, to tell them when to spray their crops, to control breeding programmes and often to monitor the whole of their year's cultivating, planting, crop protection, harvesting and . . .

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