1. Guernsey Island is about 6338 hectares
in size which is about 38,660 vergees. Of course anyone
who is not a Guernsey resident will not know what a vergee is!
In rounded terms there are 2.5 vergees in an acre and 2.5 acres
in a hectare. That's not quite right because there are 6.1 vergees
in one hectare.
2. There are about 2500 hectares of agricultural
land in Guernsey (15250 vergees).
3. Dairy farmers use about 10,000 vergees
of land. Commercial potato growers and market gardeners (vegetable
growers) use another 1500 vergees. Therefore about 11500 vergees
are used for commercial agriculture. The remainder is used by
horse owners, and by others for a wide range of leisure uses.
4. The 10,000 vergees of land used by dairy
farmers is divided into just over 4000 fields. The average size
of a Guernsey field is less than 4 vergees, or about 1.4 acres.
No-one knows the average size of fields in England but most must
be over 10 acres even in the livestock rearing western counties,
and many in the cereal growing counties will be well over 100
acres. This gives an idea of how small in scale agriculture in
Guernsey has remained.
5. The small size of fields may originally
be traced back to a Celtic field pattern. They are therefore
some of the oldest historical features that we see in Guernsey.
Later, new fields were created in their present size as they
were reclaimed from scrub or woodland that existed before. Some
fields have been sub-divided due to the old Norman system of
inheritance division of property between the sons - that
remained in the island up to fairly recent time (1948).
6. The fields are fragmented both spatially
and geographically. Farmland is divided into many small fields
by the traditional hedge banks and the land used by farmers is
very divided. This geographical fragmentation causes immense
problems in the management of farms and results in many more
road journeys than on an equivalent English farm.
7. Because of the small field sizes and the
fragmentation of land, farming in Guernsey tends to be small
scale and does not benefit from the economies of scale. Consequently
machinery and labour costs are very high. Labour costs are also
very high compared to the mainland due to the affluent state
of the rest of the island economy.
8. Land tenure is a great problem. Most farms
in England are either owned by the farmer or rented as a whole
on a long term tenancy. Even now as farms have become amalgamated
a farmer may only have 2 or 3 landlords. In Guernsey only 20%
of the farm land is owned by the farmers using it. Some 80% is
rented from many different owners on an 'annual' tenancy. Therefore
farmers here have very little security. Very few have written
tenancy agreements, and most of these would be for only one year.
Farmers may gain or lose up to 10% of their land each year.
9. All dairy cows within the island are of
the Guernsey breed as the island is the 'home' of the breed.
There have been no importations of cattle to the island since
about 1820 and this has meant that the island is free from many
of the normally occurring cattle diseases. The island cattle
are tested free from Tuberculosis, Brucellosis, EBL, IBR, BVD
and Leptospira hardjo. Importations of semen from Guernsey bulls
have been permitted since 1976 and the island is now at the heart
of a Guernsey Global Breeding Programme which has been developed
to stimulate continued genetic improvement of the Guernsey breed.
10. Dairy farming is the main farm enterprise
in Guernsey. There are about 1600 cows in the island and about
1200 other cattle mainly young heifers (female animals
0-2 years of age). There were about 400 farmers keeping 2000
cows in 1950 about 5 cows per farm, and there were over
30 farms keeping about 2000 cows until the year 2000. Now there
are about 20 farms keeping 1600 cows or an average of 72
cows per farm. There are 5 farms with more than 100 cows on each
farm. This reduction in cow numbers has reduced total milk production
so that the island no longer exports dairy products, and the
reduction has also meant that the quantity of manures produced
is less, and so farming is less intense and there is less potential
for water pollution.
11. Each cow produces milk for a 10 month
period (known as a lactation) after calving. She then has about
a 2 month period when she is not milking to build up her body
reserves before giving birth to another calf and starting to
milk again. The amount of milk that cows produce has increased
dramatically over the years with improved breeding (genetics),
feeding and management. In 1950 a Guernsey cow would have produced
about 3000 litres of milk in a lactation (a year). Now some individual
cows produce as much as 12,000 litres per lactation, and on average
they produce about 6,000 litres per lactation.
12. The dairy herds in the
island produce about 8 million litres of milk per year. The local
consumption of fresh milk is about 6.5 million litres and about
1.5 million litres of milk is made into butter and cheese for
local consumption. A small amount of butter is exported. About
10 million litres were produced annually until 2001, when a Countryside
Management Scheme was adopted that included a milk quota. Milk
production has been reduced to the amount needed for local consumption.
Before that about 2 million litres of milk were made into cheese
for export to England.
13. Few people now drink 'full
cream' milk about 5% butter fat. Most milk sold is now
reduced fat - low fat (1.4% fat) or skimmed milk (less than 0.2%
fat). This means that most of the cream has been removed by separation.
The separated cream is used to make ice cream and butter for
local consumption. One farm now makes high quality ice cream
and yoghurt for local for sale in shops and 'farmers' markets'.
14. Cows are mainly fed on grass and imported
cereal 'concentrated' feeds (a mixture of cereal, protein feeds,
vitamins and minerals). During the summer the grass will be grazed
by the cattle in fields, and the cows will be fed 'supplementary'
concentrated feeds when they are milked twice a day. In mid-summer
there is often a drought in Guernsey so sufficient fresh grass
may not be available. The cows will then graze what grass is
available and receivce a 'buffer' feed of baled silage either
in mangers in the fields or in a 'feed yard' at the farm buildings.
During the winter time cows go into their winter quarters and
eat a mixture of silage and concentrates.
15. 'Concentrates' or 'concentrated feeds'
are expensive because they are bulky and have to be imported
high transport costs to the island (about £50 per
tonne) add to the cost of farming here. The concentrates are
a mixture of many different feeds to achieve a defined quantity
of protein and energy. The miller that makes and 'compounds'
the feeds will use a computer programme to calculate a 'least
cost ration' and then mix all the various feeds available to
provide this. The 'raw material' feeds include a vast range such
as wheat, barley and other cereals, and by-products such as cotton
seed meal (from USA and China), Soya Bean meal (from Europe,
USA or South America), etc.
16. Each cow will eat about 15 tonnes of grass
during the summer and about 10 12 tonnes of silage during
the winter. In Guernsey the silage may be made from grass, from
maize harvested for forage, and from whole cereal crops sometimes
mixed with legume crops such as peas. About 2 tonnes per year of 'concentrates' are fed
to each cow to 'supplement' her diet this is equivalent to about
0.3kgs per litre of milk produced.
17. Dairy cows can live to over 10 years of
age but most will be slaughtered earlier due to an infection,
such as mastitis; foot problems, such as a bacterial infection;
infertility (they must breed each year if they are to produce
milk); or just because they are not very efficient at producing
milk. On average cows start producing milk for the first time
at about two and a quarter years of age and then milk for 3 'lactations'
before being slaughtered.
18. Due to BSE disease the bodies of all cull
cows are now incinerated but previously (before 1996) they were
eaten as beef, particularly in meat pies and beef burgers. The
island has had no cases of BSE in recent years, and a sample
from the brains of culled cows is tested before incineration,
these have all proved negative.
19. Every dairy herd needs to have a number
of young female (heifer) cattle being reared to come into the
dairy herd. A herd of 100 cows will need to rear about 25 replacement
heifers each year, so as they are 2 2.5 years of age when
they first come into the herd, a herd of 100 cows will normally
have between 50 65 young heifers being reared as replacement
members of the herd.
are about 70 cattle reared specifically for beef each year. One
farmer has a successful farm butchery that sells local beef and
rose veal from calves reared in straw pens under high welfare
standards. There is a growing market for high quality home grown
products. There are about 100 sheep in the island kept by 4 or
5 people, mainly as a hobby. In general, Guernsey beef, sheep
and pig farming are not really profitable, this is because all
the food has to be imported into the island and the small scale
of operation cannot compete with external large scale producers.
21. Cereal farming would not be profitable
in such small areas but some dairy farmers grow cereals as a
'break crop' because by growing cereals they produce grain that
can be fed to the cows and, more importantly, they produce cereal
straw that can be used as bedding for the cows. Both grain and
cereal straw would have to be imported if it was not grown locally.
However, in the main cereal farming could not be profitable here
as a 'stand alone' farming enterprise.
22. If cereal growing was expanded in the
island then more 'combine harvesters' would need to be purchased.
These are very expensive large machines that are usually used
in large arable (cereal) fields. The normal ones could not travel
along the narrow Guernsey roads or go through the narrow gateways
into the small sized fields. There is just one combine harvester
in the island and that was built in England for use on trial
plots on an experimental farm!
23. Potato growing has increased in recent
years. These are mainly 'maincrop' potatoes grown to substitute
for more expensive imported potatoes. A higher price is obtained
than on the mainland because imported potatoes incur a cost of
transport. This is quite high compared to the value of the crop
because potatoes are heavy and bulky. Therefore, it is economic
to grow a small area of maincrop potatoes for home use in the
island. It would not be economically viable to export maincrop
potatoes. Jersey produces very early potatoes of a particular
branded 'Jersey Royal' variety. This is only economic because
they obtain a higher price in England due to heavy (and expensive)
promotional marketing and due to the fact that they reach the
market a week or two before English grown varieties. However
this market is under attack from cheaper imports of early potatoes
grown in North Africa and Mediterranean countries.
24. Other vegetable crops cauliflower,
lettuce, carrots, onions, etc., are grown in the island in small-scale
market garden operations for direct sale to the public. Currently
the price is dictated by the cost of importing vegetables grown
in Jersey or on the mainland. These farming operations are only
profitable when they supply the local market - which is of a
limited size. The enterprises could not expand because they would
then compete with each other and reduce the price of fresh vegetables.
The enterprises could not be expanded for an export trade because
there is a substantial transport cost to the mainland and they
would then be competing with vegetables grown in much larger
field scale operations at a lower unit cost.
25. In general, farming in Guernsey is expensive
because it is insular from mainland UK and European markets.
Consequently, all the feeds, fertilisers, building materials,
equipment and supplies have to be imported. The size of farms,
fragmentation of land, size of fields, lack of security of tenure
and labour costs all make farming in the island much more expensive
than in England or in Europe. Therefore without special help
farming here could not compete.
26. The maintenance of farming in Guernsey is very important
because it maintains a traditional environment, preserves wildlife
habitats and manages the open land areas of the island. This
open land is very important because it provides the open 'green
lungs' of the island and the environment in which we all live.
27. There are a number of 'agri-environmental
issues and problems. The main problems within the island are:
pollution and dirty water run off to streams;
pollution of water supplies;
of landscape character and wildlife habitats.
28. A Guernsey Countryside Management Scheme
was introduced in 2001 to reduce pollution and conserve wildlife.
This scheme makes payments to dairy farmers for compliance with
a wide range of wildlife, animal welfare and environmental (water
pollution) protection measures. Grants have been provided so
that all farms must now have winter storage for organic manures
cow dung and urine for at least a 4 month period. There
is a 'closed period' between 1st October 31st December
each year, during which time nitrogen containing fertilisers
and organic manures, including slurry, must not be applied to
Dr. Andrew Casebow
Agriculture and Environment Adviser, States of Guernsey Commerce
and Employment Department