11 August 2013

We all know food is getting more expensive and this is putting a strain on many people and their family budgets, but how often, if ever, do we think about this, and is there any particular food item that brings this message home to you?
I fancied an apple at coffee time the other day and went down to the shops for half a dozen. To my astonishment, they came to a whopping £4.17, or almost exactly seventy pence each! Nothing fancy, just fairly standard eating apples. What is wrong with the world today that apples are this price, when an apple should be a fairly basic food item that we can grow ourselves in Scotland?. How can we expect people to have a healthy diet when an apple is more expensive than a bar of chocolate?
We could and should be growing more apples and other fruit ourselves. Many people do indeed plant trees in their gardens, and modern varieties will start to produce fruit from a very young age. There is a very good community orchard initiative in Dunkeld/ Birnam, and the Forestry Commission have been taking forward an important traditional orchard project in the Carse of Gowrie.
Things tend to become expensive when we stop doing them ourselves and rely on others to provide them for us. In the case of apples, this is compounded by the fact that many are imported or at least are transported a very large distance. A huge proportion of fruit is also discarded because of “imperfections” of one type or another, and many perfectly good apples go to waste. This all adds in to the current price.
Apples are not the only thing that we can get from the trees around us. Fuel costs are increasing, and this is increasing the demand for firewood. The positive aspect of this is that many woodlands are now possible to thin and manage that were not previously because income would not cover the costs involved. Others are starting to plant mixed native woodlands with a view to providing a fuelwood resource for the future, and new smaller scale equipment is now allowing extraction from small woods without ground damage. Several operators in Highland Perthshire now have these.
Farmers don’t like people planting trees on what might be good food producing ground, whatever the outputs being sought, but there is plenty of land around that is under-utilized. At this time of year, you can see thousands of acres of grass blowing in the wind, in places that will never be cut for hay or silage. Some of this is in effect deferred grazing, where grass is allowed to get away in the summer and grazed off in the winter, and this reduces the need for making hay or silage and then having to carry it out to animals. But the greater part of this sea of grass arises simply because many farmers have less animals than before and are going through the motions a bit, and the grass will simply turn white and fall over in the winter and never be utilized in any useful way.
It follows on from this that there is indeed enough land out there to produce both food and wood if we can get a better joined up approach to doing this. We are supposed to have a Land Use Strategy in Scotland, but I am unconvinced that it is delivering anything useful at present.
Any land use strategy that delivers you six apples for a fiver with very little change is not working very well. Better to grow your own if you can and not rely on others to bring them to you.

Victor Clements
Scottish Native Woods


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