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Farming

Blight resistant potatoes

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Back to the future: An alternative to GM spuds

Back to the future: An alternative to GM spuds

AN INNOVATIVE farmers field lab tested heritage varieties of potato and found that all varieties, including newer breeds, performed well for yield and blight resistance. A taste test also found that all tasted good when cooked as chips and mash.

The Soil Association, an Innovative Farmers partner, hopes that highlighting the benefits of alternative potato varieties will help find alternative techniques to manage blight.

Ben Raskin, head of horticulture at the Soil Association said: “Late blight is likely to challenge all potato growers as conventional chemistry becomes more restricted. There are some systems and management strategies that can help, for instance agroforestry planting can slow the spread of the disease across a field, and plant tonics and stimulant can help boost the crops natural resistance.

“However these are limited and the reality is that most certified organic growers either top the crop (using a burner or a flail mower) when late blight arrives, or use copper to control its onset and spread.

“By raising awareness of different varieties amongst growers and consumers in this Innovative Farmers field lab we hope to find more natural answers to such a common and devastating problem as blight.”

The most dangerous current strain of blight is the 13_A2 and traditionally resistant varieties such as Cara and Lady Balfour are now no longer able to withstand the disease.

Breeding by the Savari trust and Agrico has helped increase the number of blight resistant varieties available but not all meet appearance and taste specifications.

The field lab involved a small number of growers across the UK (two growers in Gloucestershire and one in Scotland) as an introductory trial.

The group tested the performance of up to 11 varieties of potato against blight, and then performed a taste test to help convince consumers and retailers that different varieties can also be good to eat.

Andy Dibben of Abbey Home Farm was involved in the field lab. He said; “I have been growing blight resistant varieties for a while now and have seen categorical evidence that blight resistance can be achieved through good plant breeding.

Some of the Sapo varieties have had astounding blight resistance but have lacked a little in taste, however each time I try a new variety the taste gets better.

“Achieving great taste alongside blight resistance appears to be the real challenge for potato breeders. Field labs are a great way for farmers to find well trialled solutions to problems that affect their production, and crucially trials often involve testing techniques rather than products.

“Lots of research and development goes into new products as they can be sold for profit, less research seems to be done on using existing products and equipment in a different way as there is no commercial incentive and because it’s harder to sell a new technique than a new product. Field labs are great way of ensuring this kind of research progresses.”

Full results are available on the Innovative Farmers website and there are plans for further trials into taste and yield at Abbey Home Farm.

Raskin continued, “There are already so many varieties of blight resistant potato out there, it seems pointless to spend so much time and money developing GM versions of the same thing.

“Trials like this are generally cheaper, easier to run and less exclusive. I’d encourage any grower looking for an alternative to chemical sprays to get involved in the Innovative Farmers network.”

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Farming

HCC take red meat message to health professionals

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HCC Consumer Executive Elwen Roberts: Chats to health professionals at the Nursing in Practise conference

NURSING and health professionals from Wales have been improving their knowledge about the health benefits of eating red meat and its vital role in a healthy diet.

Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) was present at the recent Nursing in Practice conference, held in Cardiff at the All Nations Centre to improve knowledge and understanding amongst health professionals of the importance of red meat in a health context.

The conference, which is held annually, drew in an audience of 200 nurses and community healthcare workers from across Wales and surrounding areas, all eager to improve their professional knowledge and development.

Conference delegates were pleased to visit the HCC stand to engage with the interactive displays and discuss how the role of red meat in a balanced diet could contribute to patient and client health. Delegates were also challenged to test their red meat knowledge with a survey which showed that 100% of delegates would recommend red meat to patients who are iron deficient or anaemic.

HCC’s Consumer Executive Elwen Roberts commented:

“It was great to see so many nurses and healthcare practitioners genuinely interested in the relationship between red meat and health. Many of the people we spoke to were already aware that Welsh red meat was a great source of protein, but left with a greater understanding of how Welsh red meat plays a pivotal role in a healthy diet and lifestyle.”

“Many delegates were surprised to learn that 100g of standard cottage cheese actually has more fat than 100g of lean grilled pork which goes to show some of the misconceptions around red meat being healthy.”

HCC’s continued work promoting red meat as an important part of a healthy and balanced diet comes after the annual HCC Conference in November which this year had health high on the agenda and featured leading dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton.

Dr Ruxton dispelled many of the myths about red meat, and presented evidence that moderate consumption of lean red meat has no link to cancer, type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol.

She emphasized that: “Lean lamb, beef and pork are rich in protein and important nutrients for health, such as iron, zinc, vitamin D and B vitamins. Many people in society, particularly the elderly, women, girls and young children often lack these nutrients and could benefit from eating more red meat.”

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Farming

Gove’s Oxford speech sparks debate on farming’s future

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We must develop coherent food policy: Michael Gove

DEFRA Secretary Michael Gove used a keynote speech to the Oxford Farming Conference to say that if UK agriculture does not embrace change we will be left behind, and Brexit offers the opportunity to shape that change and how we meet the challenges ahead.

SUBSIDIES CONTINUE TO 2024

Mr Gove guaranteed farmers the same level of subsidy until 2024, but said that CAP was created for a post-war world which is no longer relevant.

He said: “Paying land owners for the amount of agricultural land they have is unjust, inefficient and drives perverse outcomes. Indeed, perversely, it rewards farmers for sticking to methods of production that are resource-inefficient.”

In his paper, Farming for the Next Generation, as well as moving away from subsidies, Mr Gove’s proposals for future agricultural policy are based on incentivising innovation and giving the farmers the tools they need to progress, maintaining the UK’s reputation for quality food and high welfare, and building on natural capital to sustain the countryside for the future. He is also aware of the Government’s responsibility to public health.

Mr Gove told his audience: “I want to ensure we develop a coherent policy on food – integrating the needs of agriculture businesses, other enterprises, consumers, public health and the environment.

“I want to develop a new method of providing financial support for farmers which moves away from subsidies for inefficiency to public money for public goods.

“I want to give farmers and land managers time and the tools to adapt to the future, so we avoid a precipitate cliff edge but also prepare properly for the changes which are coming.

“And I want to ensure that we build natural capital thinking into our approach towards land use and management so we develop a truly sustainable future for our countryside.”

Addressing both the pace of demographic change and the challenges posed by Brexit, Mr Gove said: “We can’t stop change coming, we simply leave ourselves less equipped to deal with the change. There is a tremendous opportunity for productivity in our farms. We have some of the best performing farms in the world and there is no reason why our farmers cannot lead the way in achieving better levels of productivity throughout adoption of best practice and new technologies.”

Touching on the vexed issue of migrant labour’s importance to farming, Mr Gove suggested that seasonal labour would still be easily available and looked to a future where labour-intensive farming was replaced by as yet undefined new technology.

The government now proposes to keep similar payments to the BPS available until 2024. The current EU payments may well end at the end of 2020 to tie in with the EU budget, and Mr Gove suggested that area-based support payments would be phased out over a longer period after that, but “we won’t perpetuate that forever”.

‘PERVERSE’ SUBSIDY SYSTEM BENEFITS THE WEALTHY

Responding to Michael Gove’s speech, Professor Ian Bateman, Director of the Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute (LEEP), at the University of Exeter, said: “Michael Gove’s reaffirmation that the public money supporting farm subsidies should be spent on delivering public goods is to be welcomed; if this is carried through then he will deserve to be congratulated on breaking more than four decades of failure in agricultural policy. But it is disappointing to see that the system of paying most subsidies on a per acre basis is going to carry on for several years.

“At present 75% of public subsidies go to just 25% of farms; the largest farms in the country. This rewards multi-millionaire estate owners while other farmers remain in poverty. I have no problem with large farms getting payments if they produce high levels of public goods; but to get these payments just because they are large is perverse. It’s good to hear that this scheme may be capped, but it needs to end.”

INCENTIVES SHOULD TARGET ANIMAL WELFARE

RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles said: “Paying farmers to achieve high animal welfare standards is a no-brainer. Farm subsidies targeted at animal welfare will be good for new trade deals, good for consumers and good for the animals.

“If post-Brexit farm support schemes include ring-fenced incentives for farmers to improve animal welfare, the government’s laudable ambitions for the UK to produce the highest quality food will be met. This, coupled with Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s newly announced comprehensive food labelling system which includes, amongst other things, indicators on animal welfare standards, would be the icing on the cake.

“As the UK leaves the EU and nationalises the farming support system this presents us with a once-in-a-generation chance to radically transform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) into a British policy for humane animal and sustainable land management.

“If we get it right now, the UK’s food quality can become the world’s gold standard – and that can only happen with the highest possible animal welfare.”

The RSPCA also welcomed Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s commitment to a much more comprehensive food labelling system that measures how a farmer or food producer performs against a number of indicators, including animal welfare.

ENVIRONMENTAL INCENTIVES WELCOMED

Helen Browning, CEO of the Soil Association said: “We warmly welcome the move towards an agricultural policy that prioritises environmental protection and the new emphasis on the vital links between food, farming and public health. The clear timetable provides much-needed certainty for farmers, whilst the commitments on public procurement and better labelling are important for food producers and consumers alike. We now need to see more detail on how farmers will be enabled and encouraged to shift to higher animal welfare systems, move away from synthetic pesticides, restore degraded soils and improve water quality.

“We don’t see these proposals as leading to a reduction in UK food production – but rather about a fundamental shift in how we produce food so that farming systems are truly sustainable. In many areas, we want to see more domestic production to meet demand, especially fruit and vegetables and organic.

“The greatest test of this transition is whether the UK’s food and farming system measures up to the monumental challenges of public health, which was highlighted in the speech, and climate change, which received just two mentions. The Government must also make an ambitious and unambiguous commitment to organic and other agro-ecological approaches which are proven to deliver on animal welfare, biodiversity, soil health and climate change – both during the transition and after 2024.”

CAP BAD FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE

Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner said: “Michael Gove’s speech confirmed the direction of travel for British agricultural policy post-Brexit.

“The move away from area based payments to rewards for delivering environmental and public goods is far from the revolution some have hailed, but it will be significantly accelerated by a departure from the Common Agricultural Policy.”

Mr Bonner continued: “Interestingly, just about the only thing that all sides of the Brexit argument, from the Liberal Democrats to Farming minister and Brexiteer George Eustice, seem to agree on is that CAP has been bad for the countryside, consumers and farmers. Attempts to reform the CAP have been achingly slow as the EU convoy moves only at the speed of the slowest. Brexit creates an opportunity for the UK to create our own farming policy for the first time in more than 40 years and move ahead of the pack.”

However, Tim Bonner sounded a cautionary note: “That is the good news, but there are also valid reasons for concern. There remains an inherent contradiction between agricultural productivity and protecting the environment which has not yet been addressed in detail by the Government and which goes to the heart of the big long-term question: how much will the public be willing to continue to pay for the countryside that farmers maintain?

“Under the CAP the question of farm support has been decided in Brussels and the combined weight of the European farming lobby has had a significant influence. Post Brexit levels of farm support will become a direct domestic political issue for the first time for a generation. The farm support budget will have to compete with the NHS, Defence, Education and all other areas of Government expenditure in future spending rounds. In order to maintain levels of support farmers will have to persuade the public, and through them politicians of all parties, that the public goods they provide continues to justify the money they receive from the taxpayer. This will be the greatest challenge for UK farming outside the EU.”

‘A TRIUMPH OF HOPE OVER PRACTICALITY’

TFA Chief Executive George Dunn said “We are used to having our hopes dashed of hearing a meaty Oxford Farming Conference speech from incumbents as DEFRA Secretaries of State but not this time. Like or loathe what we heard, we received a fairly firm view of future Government policy, the like of which we have not seen since Hillary Benn’s speech in 2010 in which he set out his 20 year plan to boost domestic food production. That plan fell by the wayside when Labour lost the 2010 General Election later that year and we will have to wait to see if the Gove plan survives the political choppy waters of our time.

“Disappointingly, there was a triumph of hope over practicality in the extent to which Mr Gove seems to be relying upon technological change to provide the swift answers we need to address labour shortages and the urgent need to increase farm productivity. Also on the negative side, there was nothing said specifically about the tenanted sector of agriculture, and there also continues to be too much reliance on the market being the means by which we sort out our food safety and food standards issues in a free trading environment.” said Mr Dunn.

“On the plus side there was a clear understanding of the need for a sufficient period of transition to a new policy framework. A commitment for the Government to act as a strong champion of British produce at home and abroad. A pledge to deal with market failure in the food chain and a promise that no one entering into an agri-environment scheme today will be disadvantaged when new schemes are developed for the post Brexit era,” Mr Dunn concluded.

FUW WANTS ‘MEAT ON BONES’

The Farmers’ Union of Wales described the as welcome, but says Welsh farmers remain in the dark over many important issues.

FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “We very much welcome Mr Gove’s apparent commitment to agricultural funding until 2024, and the general thrust of his speech, which described a prosperous and forward looking post-Brexit industry which is rewarded for delivering the very best in terms of food, the environment and social contributions to society.

“However, the nuts and bolts of turning such a vision into reality are where the obstacles will lie, and we look forward to seeing more meat on the bones in the long-awaited DEFRA white paper, due in the spring.”

Mr Roberts said many Welsh farmers would also be concerned that nothing was said about progress on talks between devolved regions on how devolved powers and funding might operate once we leave the legal framework of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

“Wales currently has devolved powers over agricultural and rural development spending and policy, but this is within the limits laid down in the CAP framework.

“The FUW fully supports such devolved powers continuing. But, we now need to ensure that devolved powers are fully respected by all 4 nations and that we don’t see the creation of support mechanisms that benefit one nation over another. Therefore we need to develop a UK framework which ensures equivalence between producers in the four nations, which respects devolved powers and allows a degree of flexibility.”

While acknowledging that this was a difficult balance to strike, especially given political differences between devolved regions, Mr Roberts said progress was necessary.

“We currently have such a system, so it is not difficult to see how a framework could be developed which strikes a sensible balance between respecting devolved powers and avoiding the dangers of a free-for-all.”

Mr Roberts said reaching sensible agreement on spending frameworks should be a priority, in order to avoid inappropriate and unfair divergence between spending areas in devolved nations.

He also emphasised the need for Mr Gove’s vision for the future of UK agriculture to be underpinned by an acceptable post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.

“I therefore welcome his fellow speaker’s, Professor De Castro’s, confirmation of the EU’s desire to ensure tariff-free trade between the UK and EU post-Brexit,” he added.

Mr Roberts also welcomed USA Under-Secretary McKinney’s comments regarding the desire to increase agricultural trade between the UK and US, but warned that care needed to be taken to ensure any new arrangements did not compromise existing markets.

“Standards in the US are very different to those in established UK and EU markets, and we need to ensure new arrangements do not compromise or undermine established markets.”

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Producers face milk price cut

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Need for better market data: NFU wants government action

NFU-CYMRU says many dairy producers in Wales are facing a milk price cut and these cuts will impact on those farmers paid on a basket pricing mechanism, in particular.

While NFU Cymru recognises that this may not be the case for all processors, with a number of dairy companies choosing to hold their prices for January, news of price cuts will be of concern to dairy farmers across Wales.

Gareth Richards, Chairman of NFU Cymru’s Milk Board, said: “What is extremely concerning and irresponsible at the moment is the unsubstantiated sentiment from various industry commentators, who have been talking the market – if we are not careful – into a new market crash. Welsh dairy farmers have been through huge swings in dairy price volatility and we now, it seems, have commentators urging milk buyers to drop prices.

“NFU Cymru is continuing to call for better dairy market signals as milk price cuts, as recognised by the commentators themselves, don’t work, partly because the impact is too late and too slow in achieving its ultimate aim. We are therefore repeating our call on government, both at a UK and Welsh level, to ensure that market data is collected, audited and published to give dairy farmers the right signals as to what’s happening in the market – both on price discovery and demand. This is already done in other parts of the world, and should be the starting point for dairy risk management mechanisms in Wales and the UK.

“It’s telling that on milk volume notifications Defra and AHDB Dairy are in disagreement on recent milk production with Defra’s monthly volumes well below the daily delivery figures collected by AHDB. The discrepancy has meant that Defra have not published recent UK milk volume figures and the data for August and September is being investigated and subject to change.

“Up to date, accurate figures on price volume and demand are essential moving forward. Farmers having to base their future milk production plans on inaccurate or incomplete data or industry commentators, as there is no alternative, is extremely concerning and damaging to the industry and we urge government to step up to ensure better transparency in the dairy markets.”

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