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Muddy, or waters?

As noted yesterday, Lord Deben is concerned about the loss of peat soils in East Anglia. According to his CCC report:

Peat soils have high organic content (over 50%) and as such tend to be very fertile. Such land provides a comparative advantage for intensive high-value cropping, including vegetables, salads and horticulture.

It was therefore interesting to read David Derbyshire's article in the Mail today about how soil-free market gardeners are becoming significant players in the battle to supply UK supermarkets:

In Britain, around 10 per cent of strawberries and other summer fruit are grown in glass houses. The biggest of these operations is Thanet Earth, an extraordinary £135 million array of four massive glasshouses — each the size of 14 football pitches — in Kent.

Three more greenhouses are in the pipeline. Using the hydroponic technique, they are thought to generate 225 million tomatoes, 16 million peppers and 13 million cucumbers a year.

Not one of those vegetables — sold in major supermarkets such as Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s — has ever come close to real soil.

Perhaps Lord D will need to find something else to worry himself about.



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Reader Comments (24)

You can lead an horticulture, but you can't make Lord D think.

Jul 16, 2015 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

Aren't advances in business, industry, & agriculture, marvellous? How we keep managing to improve our output, especially agriculture on less land, & the effwits keep moaning about intensive farming, because they want to use more & more land to produce less & less, produce!

Jul 16, 2015 at 11:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Deben is a total hypocrite:

windfarms and peat-bogs Scotland - (also

On a related point:
windfarms and tree-felling Scotland - (Jan 2014)

Jul 16, 2015 at 11:34 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

Whenever I hear of Lord Deben, I get this mental image.

Jul 16, 2015 at 11:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

They probably sell a premium version where they've dunked them in mud to satisfy the "organic" customers.

Jul 16, 2015 at 12:19 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

This sort of thing makes some people shudder but I love the way we keep on improving on the past. Sure, we take backward steps every now and then but generally the motion has been forward. There has been an issue with tasteless, tough produce in the past but growers are now balancing taste with disease resistance and high cropping and I reckon in another 20/30 years fruit and veg grown commercially will be as good as almost anything we remember from the past.

Jul 16, 2015 at 12:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

LOL @ michael hart. Will they have slugs on little leashes to give them a bit of a nibble as well?

Jul 16, 2015 at 12:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Lord Deben has no scientific qualifications nor has he any understanding of any science. "Empty vessels make most sound"

All he really cares about is the sound of money rolling into his bank account!

Jul 16, 2015 at 12:31 PM | Unregistered Commentercharmingquark

Competent critics of wind power quantified the impact of building wind farms on organic soils EIGHT years ago.

I don't recall the noble lord pitching in to that debate.

Jul 16, 2015 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveB

Irony alert:

'Rude’ and ‘touchy’ climate sceptics losing UK battle, says Lord Deben

Worth its own post perhaps Bish, with some recent tweets from the man himself?

Jul 16, 2015 at 12:47 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Presumably those glasshouses will have CO2 blown through them to improve yields...

Jul 16, 2015 at 1:00 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1


"growers are now balancing taste with disease resistance and high cropping"

I was on a tomato taste panel nearly 20 years ago, assessing varieties for a local consortium of greenhouse growers. They cared a lot about flavour, but the only obstacle was (and still is) the insistence of the supermarkets for the longest possible shelf life, which meant that the fruit was always picked too early. The rejected 'over-ripe' fruit always tasted delicious...

Tomatoes have been grown hydroponically under glass for at least 30 years* and often, more recently, with enhanced CO2 levels around 1200ppm.

*Longer than that, according to Wikipedia:

"One of the earliest successes of hydroponics occurred on Wake Island, a rocky atoll in the Pacific Ocean used as a refuelling stop for Pan American Airlines. Hydroponics was used there in the 1930s to grow vegetables for the passengers. Hydroponics was a necessity on Wake Island because there was no soil, and it was prohibitively expensive to airlift in fresh vegetables."

Jul 16, 2015 at 1:09 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

jamesp, true but part of the conspiracy is the shopper. They've been complicit in chosing things for looks rather than taste. Recently though there's been a move towards flavour and I've noticed better fruit and veg varieties in the shops. It will still take time but eventually they'll be able to get the best of both worlds.

Meat is sadly going in the opposite direction. In the demand for leaner meat, they're killing the tenderness, the texture and the flavour.

Jul 16, 2015 at 1:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

The Norfolk Broads were created by peat extraction, and now contribute to tourism, wildlife, the economy etc. The surrounding land remains fertile agricultural soil.

The Somerset levels flooded due to the land drains becoming obstructed, because the Green Blob would not allow land owners to keep them clear. Historically the dredged mud etc was ploughed into the land.

Green Blob interference is wrecking artificial environments that have been successfully managed for 100's of years.

Time for Fenland Broads?

Jul 16, 2015 at 1:53 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

golf Charlie asked

"Time for Fenland Broads?"

Actually there is already a major boating network in place with the rivers Nene, Great Ouse, Cam, Welland, Lark etc all being interconnected and having a minimal number of locks compared to most UK inland waterways. With much of the rivers in the deep fens now being embanked above the surrounding land the experience can be surreal as you find yourself boating along 10ft above the land surface.

The major problem at the moment is our old friend the Environment Agency who are trying to evade their statutory responsibility to keep navigations open by replacing locks with coffer dams arguing that the river is still navigable above and below that point. The savings are of course minimal, they simply want humans gone from an environment that is in fact human created.

Go figure.

Jul 16, 2015 at 2:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith Willshaw

Bish you may have missed my new info about that fracking opinion report, so I'll repeat it here
..Bish's comment : "Remarkably, almost nobody seems to have thought that a new industry in their area would bring any benefits at all. "
is contradicted by an earlier report SAME data, SAME author
- A POSITIVE phrase is in the old report, but NOT the new one based on the same data !
"Many participants OFTEN spoke for the relative merits of domestic unconventionals, with energy security, domestic production, and shorter transport distances seen as their main benefits. "pg 84-85 Jan 2014
..see that word "often" wasn't just an odd comment. the change "sexing up" ?

Jul 16, 2015 at 2:28 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Have a look at this comparison of hydroponic vs soil by weight. TL;DR hydroponic wins hands down.

Jul 16, 2015 at 3:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterCW

Perhaps Lord D will need to find something else to worry himself about

Burgers? The next green £ ?

Jul 16, 2015 at 3:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

Keith Willshaw, thank you for that. I was aware there was historic commercial use of Fenland waterways, and limited leisure use today, though I don't think Deben is.

Man has always adapted the landscape, and adapted his/her way of life to suit. If we are to return to a hunter/gatherer lfestyle, the Greens would be the first to be hunted, gathered, and left to starve, as they would serve no survival or evolutionary benefit to the human race.

I hope that the Fens can be seen as an evolving environment for man and nature. Currently Greenman is trying to destroy it.

Jul 16, 2015 at 5:12 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Take a look at the website to see the factory farms of the future already producing e.g. 10000 lettuce per day on a 25000 sq.ft. property, summer or winter. Take a derelict city structure add shelves of reusable 'root nets' to the ceiling, with purpose-designed 'daylight' LED lights above and moisture/ fertiliser ducts below, plant seedlings and wait for harvest time. Optimum 'daylight' hours, optimum temperature, optimum moisture/fertiliser = 100 times greater productivity, with no waste, no bugs (so no insecticides), no weather damages (so no crop insurance), minimal water usage, minimal delivery costs and unbeatable quality. What's not to like? Today's farms can be returned to the woods and forests of yesteryear, before the wooden sailing ship era devastated them. After all, charcoal is the ONLY 100% sustainable fuel source. Better still, convert the wood to coal (ask de Beers how to do that - optimum pressure, temperature and time - not long), convert the coal to coke and let everybody save a bundle on the ever-escalating cost of 'green' electricity.

Jul 16, 2015 at 6:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrian S

Michael Hart,

Worth noting here that the (1930s politics-spawned) Soil Association completely bans any notion of hydroponics for its acolytes. Therefore merely spraying hydroponically-grown products with soil is insufficient to attain the approved degree of 'purity'.

Jul 16, 2015 at 9:20 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor


Where are the 'artificial nutrients' coming from. Presumably from rock in its purest form as found in mountains/volcanoes etc and an energy intensive process.
But we've got oodles of energy to play with - thorium anyone?
Energy again to power the lighting - good - thorium, to the rescue.

Where's the CO2 you add to the polytunnels or whatever coming from? You either burn fossil fuel, organic material from where? or possibly decompose limestone. Great, where's the energy coming from?

Main problem I see is why grow this nutrient free mush?
Tomatoes are 96% water, nobody can survive on a diet of tomatoes. Lets get real.
Strawberries = fruit = fructose = sugar = glucose > obesity > heart disease > diabetes > feet fall off >> horrible death. Fantastic.

So you grow lettuces. They have to be bright crispy and green or no-one will touch them and guess what keeps/makes them like that.
There's probably more nitrate in one lettuce than drinking a litre per day of farmland run-off for a whole year.
These hydroponics folks are growing high value faddish/expensive stuff. Let them have it and kill themselves off if the so desire but lets not promote it as any sort of food solution.
Unless of course, we let sheep/goats/cows or even snails eat the stuff and we then eat them, as its meant to be.

Jul 17, 2015 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeta in Cumbria

We have the tennis ball tomatoes here in Australia as well, but recently I have noticed that they are tasting better. There has been competition from what are described as "vine ripened" toms, which are more expensive, but taste a lot better. So, they have been forced to lift their game. Since most people don't buy huge amounts of tomatoes per purchase, paying a dollar or two more for a tastier product is no biggie. The market at work.

As for Peta's post, all I can say is that I am more than happy to "kill myself off" by eating yummy food. YMMV, Peta. :)

Jul 17, 2015 at 8:33 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Peta " There's.. more nitrate in one lettuce..."
Yes and that's probably why its good for you, just like beetroot (according to 'science daily'):

Jul 17, 2015 at 9:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterChas

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