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Farming

Family farms on the brink

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Under threat: Over 80% of small farms are struggling

FEWER than one in five family farms are making a profit from their farming activity, according to research undertaken by the Andersons Centre on behalf of The Prince’s Countryside Fund.

Analysis of data from 172 participants in the first year of The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme has shown that the average farm made more than £20,000 loss from farming activities, and instead is reliant on other income streams to make a profit.

The shortfall was made up by income from non-farming activity, such as tourism enterprises, renewables, direct selling of products to the consumer, or income from working off farm as well as farm payments.

According to the report, broadly speaking, farmers face two business choices in order to cope with declining economic fortunes: either to focus on a farming solution or to redeploy resources away from agricultural production. In reality, it may be a combination of the two or farmers may vacillate between the two courses of action with periods of off-farm work generating income interspersed with a focus on the farm.

There are, of course, two further options open to farmers. First, they may cease farming, either entirely through selling up the farm or by letting their land. Or secondly, they might tighten the belt and continue business as usual.

Worryingly, many operators of small farms, believe the near future will see them retiring or otherwise leaving agriculture altogether.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle, chairman of The Prince’s Countryside Fund said: “Although the initial figure is startling, the research from the Andersons Centre shows that farmers are increasingly looking at their farms as a business, and are proactively looking for how they can generate an income from diversified sources to remain profitable.

“This is more crucial now than ever. Farmers must develop their skills and improve their business confidence to survive. If they do not, the risk of extinction for the family farm is very real; farmers must act now to both strengthen their core farming business and to spread the risk.

“The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme is vital, because it equips farmers with the tools they need to remain financially stable. Maintaining diversity of farm size is essential to protect the British countryside and our rural communities.”

The Andersons Centre developed a bespoke and easy to use Business Health Check Tool for The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme, allowing farmers on the programme to benchmark their performance, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and make informed business decisions as a result. Data from this tool was analysed to identify trends and performance in the farm businesses involved in the initiative.

The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme aims to help 300 family farms, across 15 locations, each year. It brings together like minded family farm enterprises in local networks, to review their current activity and identify improvements and opportunities that can be made on-farm to build resilience, effectively helping farmers to take control of their businesses. Farmers who took part in the first year have confirmed they have higher levels of confidence in their business, better business management, and stronger communication within their family.

The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme directly addresses some of the issues raised in a report commissioned by the Fund from the University of Exeter, ‘Is there a future for the small family farm in the UK?’

The report detailed how the loss of small family farms would have devastating effects for the British countryside, leading to loss of employment, breakdown of rural communities, and potential negative environmental consequences. The report concluded that it was essential to maintain a diverse range of farm sizes, but that this was in significant jeopardy.

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Farming

2018 Rural Crime Survey opens

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IT’S THREE years since the last National Rural Crime Survey revealed the huge cost of crime to rural communities – both financial, at £800 million per year, and ​psychologically​ with chronic under-reporting, anger and frustration at the police and government – says the National Rural Crime Network (NRCN)
NRCN produced a series of recommendations and, in many areas, the police took steps to improve matters. So, now, it wants to know what’s changed.

Do you think crime has gone up or down? Do you feel safer? What’s your view of the police in your community?

In short, ​they want to know the true picture of crime and anti-social behaviour in rural communities across England and Wales – and the impact it has where you live or work.

Questions cover a range of issues – from whether you report crimes that you or your business suffer, to the impact crime and anti-social behaviour has on you and your area, and whether you believe enough is done to catch those who carry out the offences.

According to NRCN, it’s all about making sure the voice of rural communities is heard by those who can make a difference to where we live and work – from the Police to Government.

The survey is now available online here and is open for submissions until June 10.

The survey last took place in 2015. Then, 13,000 responded to give their impressions of crime and anti-social behaviour and revealed the financial cost of rural crime was significant – around £800 million every year.

One of this year’s focuses as ​they rerun the research is whether rural crime continues to be underreported. Three years ago, one in four said they didn’t report the last crime they’d been a victim of because they didn’t see the point.

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Farming

Global plant pest standards agreed

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Global pest: The Oriental Fruit Fly is rapidly spreading

THE BODY charged with keeping global trade in plants and plant products safe has adopted several new phytosanitary standards aimed at preventing destructive agricultural and environmental pests from jumping borders and spreading internationally.

The standardized norms developed by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) cover a range of strategies and techniques used to prevent the introduction and spread of plant diseases and pests to new environments, thereby avoiding their often-devastating impacts on biodiversity, food security and trade.

“This is challenging work with high stakes: each year an estimated 10-16 percent of our global harvest is lost to plant pests. A loss estimated at $220 billion​,​” FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo said at the opening of this year’s IPPC annual meeting in Rome.

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year, with food accounting for over 80 percent of that total, according to FAO data.

New measures adopted this week by the IPPC’s governing body, the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures(CPM), include:

Standard on the use of various temperature treatments against agricultural pests. The standard aims at ensuring that such treatments are consistently and effectively used in different operational contexts.

The norm covers cold treatment techniques that freeze and kill pests as well as those that raise temperatures past their survival threshold. This can be achieved by submerging them in extremely hot water or exposing them to super-heated steam (for commodities vulnerable to drying out, such as fruits, vegetables or flower bulbs) or dry heat (ideal for low moisture-content items such as seeds or grain).

Revised standard for sanitation of wood packing materials. An existing standard, known as ISPM-15, was updated to include the use of sulphuryl fluoride — a gas insecticide — and new-generation heating technologies that employ microwave and radio frequency waves to generate pest-killing temperatures deep inside wood products.

An expanded standard on the use of heat vapour to kill Oriental Fruit Flies. The highly destructive, fruit-attacking Bactrocera dorsalis originated in Asia but has now spread to at least 65 countries. Its presence in Africa, where it first appeared in 2003, costs the continent an estimated $2 billion in annual losses due to fruit export bans. The control technique outlined under the new measure kills 99.98​%​ of the bug’s eggs and larvae when used correctly.

The IPPC Commission also approved revisions that streamline existing standards targeting fruit flies to make it easier for countries to comply with them and improve their effectiveness, as well as revisions to a standard that establishes best-practice benchmarks for the operation of national pest surveillance programs.

And it endorsed new diagnostic protocols for sudden oak death, a fungi-like organism of unknown origin that attacks a wide range of trees and shrubs in nurseries, introduced into western North America and western Europe through the ornamental plants trade. And it approved new diagnostic protocol for tospoviruses, which affect 1,000 plant species and are causing devastating losses, especially to tomato, potato and squash and cucumber yields.

BENEFITS AND RISKS OF GLOBAL TRADE

The dangerous hitchhikers carried by global trade — plant pests and diseases — once introduced into new environments can quickly take root and spread, impacting food production and causing billions in economic damages and control cost. One recent study in East Africa, for instance, found that just five invasive alien species could be causing as much as $1.1 billion in economic losses annually to smallholder farmers in the region.

Not only can fruits, crops and seeds become infected, but the containers and boxes they travel in, as well. Packaging for overseas shipments is commonly constructed from wood, which is relatively inexpensive, and easily manufactured — but also easily infested with a variety of bark and wood pests, and so act as a vector. Timber and wood-made products like furniture can harbour stowaways, also.

This means that not only are food crops at risk, but forests and trees as well. Recent studies shared during this week’s meeting have shown that the loss of tree cover due to invasive pests may result in an increase in stress related-diseases and possibly elevated human mortality rates.

In another example, the Republic of Korea was recently forced to cut down some 3.5 million trees as a result of the pinewood nematode, and over the past three decades has spent nearly a half a billion dollars on control programs to fight this deadly pest. Additional sums have been spent in Canada and the United States in attempts to stop the thus far unstoppable Emerald Ash Borer.

The need to contain threats such as these are why the IPPC was established in 1952. Since then, it has promulgated some 100 standards covering a broad range of phytosanitary issues. It also runs a number of programs that work to share information on best-practices and build the capacity of developing countries to manage plant diseases and pests, both at home and in trade flows.

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Farming

Tenant farming must not be ‘Cinderella Sector’

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Seeking assurances: George Dunn, TFA

THE TENANT F​ARMERS ASSOCIATION (TFA) is seeking assurances from Government that the farmers represented by the TFA will not be left behind as the Government develops new farming and environmental policies for the post Brexit era.

TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn​,​ said​:​ “BREXIT has provided a long agenda of things to do. However there is a danger that we will see Government focus on a small number of priorities in order to manage its workload over the coming months. This could lead to many sensible ideas for the development of farm tenancies falling by the wayside.

“The Government has challenged the farming industry to achieve greater levels of productivity to ensure long-term resilience. It is widely recognised that, in comparison to their owner occupier counterparts, tenant farmers are routinely some of the most efficient farmers within the UK. However they are hampered by restrictive agreements and short lengths of term leading to under investment. Also, the combination of these factors leave many tenant farmers unable to participate in existing agri environment schemes. The TFA has been in the vanguard of encouraging Government to address these issues both by amending the legislative and taxation environments within which agricultural tenancies operate,” said Mr Dunn.

The TFA was pleased when, last year, DEFRA reconvened the Tenancy Reform Industry Group (TRIG) with a remit to advise on legislative and other changes that would be necessary to ensure the success of the tenanted sector of agriculture in meeting the Government’s productivity and resilience agendas.

“TRIG produced a comprehensive report for DEFRA’s consideration towards the end of last year. Whilst I am pleased that the Government’s ‘Health and Harmony’ consultation has identified the importance of the tenanted farm sector, it was disappointing that the opportunity was not taken to respond to the recommendations from TRIG and to identify which priorities the Government was minded to pursue. We are encouraging DEFRA not to sideline the valuable work that TRIG has already done in this space,” said Mr Dunn.

“Whilst it is important to address the future of the Basic Payment Scheme, trade, access to labour and look for new agri environment measures, these must not be prioritised at the expense of ensuring that tenant farmers have a flexible, long-term environment within which to develop their businesses and participate in future schemes to reward farmers for producing public goods​.”

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