THE FARMERS’ Union of Wales (FUW) has welcomed commitments by Secretary of State Michael Gove to focus on supply chain policies and his acknowledgement of the need for an appropriate balance between devolution and common UK frameworks post Brexit.
Speaking at a National Farmers Union conference in Birmingham, Michael Gove gave a number of commitments to English farmers, while also acknowledging the need for Brexit to be considered in terms of entire supply chains which operate across the UK.
Michael Gove also said: “Leaving the EU requires us to develop new policies on food and farming. For the first time in almost half a century, we are free to design policies from first principles that put British farmers, and consumers, first.”
Responding, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “In light of Brexit, there is an understandable focus on farming, environmental and land use policies, but the FUW has been arguing for entire supply chains to be considered – be it the supply chain for food, carbon, green energy or wildlife.
“Farmers are key links in lengthy supply chains which involve all sorts of industries and deliver a host of public benefits – not least the food which arrives daily on supermarket shelves. We need holistic Government policies which deliver benefits for consumers and fair rewards for farmers, and interventions where there is market failure.”
Mr Roberts said it was therefore welcome that the UK Government has accepted the need to consider entire supply chains, including those which extend across the UK and further afield.
“There has been welcome engagement by UK Governments with farming and environmental bodies over the past eighteen months, but there is concern that government engagement with others along supply chains needs to be stepped up,” he added.
Mr Roberts also welcomed the Secretary of State’s acknowledgement of the need for devolved powers over agriculture to remain firmly in the hands of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – but for there to be a balance between such powers and frameworks which prevent distortions within the UK and wider markets.
“The FUW is an emphatic supporter of devolution, but all mature governments recognise the importance of agreeing frameworks with other nations and countries. The alternative is a free-for-all which distorts markets and leads to inequality between producers which damages relationships and compromises trade.”
Mr Roberts said agreement on such frameworks needed to be reached urgently given the thirteen or so months before the UK left the EU. He therefore welcomed Mr Gove’s assurance that UK Governments were “…working together to ensure there will be UK-wide frameworks on areas of common concern like animal and plant health and no decisions are taken that harm our own internal UK market.”
Responding to the UK Government’s plan to introduce a cap on English farm payments, Mr Roberts said that capping payments had been FUW policy since 2007, and that as a result Welsh payments had been capped under new regulations introduced in 2015.
“However, we have already written to DEFRA minister George Eustice to highlight our concerns that the benefits of capping would be lost if no limit is applied to agri-environmental payments, as large estates and charities would cream off money which would be better spent on family farms,” he added.
“The FUW has made it clear since June 2016 that Wales’ funding should continue at at least current levels, and clarity on this and other matters is essential. England seems to have had these assurances, yet Wales is still in the dark.”
Mr Roberts said the FUW welcomed Mr Gove’s assurance that devolved powers would not be diluted, and that UK Governments were working together on common frameworks, but highlighted the degree to which planning in Wales by both farmers and government was hampered by a lack of certainty.
“With the budget for the 2019 BPS due to be finalised in October this year, there is a real sense of urgency.”
Mr Roberts also highlighted the need for well-meaning policies to be carefully assessed rather than taken at face value.
“Well intentioned policies set out in lengthy sentences must be thoroughly investigated in terms of actual figures and their likely impacts on our farms, rural communities and supply chains,” he said.
Big Farmland Bird Count returns
JIM EGAN has sent out a rallying cry for people to pick up their binoculars and go bird-spotting for the Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC) which returns on Friday, February 8.
The passionate organiser of the count, organised by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), is urging farmers, land managers, gamekeepers and all wildlife enthusiasts to spend 30 minutes recording what species they see on their patch of land from February 8th to the 17th.
Your support will help identify the farmland birds that are flourishing due to good conservation methods and ones in need of most support.
“It would be fantastic to see even more farmers to take part in the count this year,” said Jim.
“Counting birds on farms is a great way to recognise what species are there as well as being an opportunity to take time out and see the benefits of work such as wild seed mix and supplementary feeding.
“Taking part and submitting results enables us at GWCT to shout about the important conservation work many farmers are doing.
“We want landowners to be proud of their efforts. We will make sure that the public and policymakers hear about what can be achieved on Britain’s farms. The BFBC is a very positive way to showcase what can be achieved.”
Backing this vital citizen-science project, running for the sixth successive year, is the NFU, which is this year’s sponsor.
President Minette Batters is vowing her support to the count by going bird-watching on her farm in Downton, Wiltshire.
She will be joined on day one with GWCT biodiversity advisor Pete Thompson, an advocate of the count, both of whom will be ready with their binoculars, notepads and sharpened pencils, recording what they see.
“I am delighted to be taking part in this year’s GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count which the NFU is pleased to be sponsoring for the very first time,” she said.
“It’s becoming an important national event where thousands of farmers and growers around the country are able to take stock of and importantly, take pride in what they find on their land.
“The NFU supports initiatives like the Big Farmland Bird Count as without sound management of the environment, enhancement of habitats, protection of wildlife and support for pollinators and soils, we do not have farming businesses.
“So, I would encourage all farmers to take part, and also remember to submit your records to the GWCT, so we can pull together a vital national snapshot of the state of the nation when it comes to farmland birds.”
A record-breaking 1,000 people took part in last year’s count, recording 121 species across 950,000 acres.
A total of 25 red-listed species were recorded, with five appearing in the 25 most commonly seen species list. These include fieldfares, starlings, house sparrows, song thrushes and yellowhammers. The most plentiful of these were fieldfares and starlings, which were seen on nearly 40% of the farms taking part.
At the end of the count, the results will be analysed by the Trust. All participants will receive a report on the national results once they have been collated.
New Flock and Herd Health Officers
HYBU Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has appointed two new Flock and Herd Health Officers to its ambitious five-year Red Meat Development Programme, designed to equip Wales’s lamb and beef industry for a changing future.
The posts are key to delivering the programme’s commitment to helping farmers achieve on-farm efficiency and drive best practice in proactive animal health planning.
The programme is supported by the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.
Lowri Reed hails from a farming background near Llanon in central Ceredigion, whereas Lowri Williams is from Llanfihangel y Creuddyn near Aberystwyth, and is a graduate in Animal Management and Welfare from Harper Adams University.
Dr Rebekah Stuart, the coordinator of the Flock and Herd Health Project at HCC, said: “We’re delighted to have recruited two officers with experience and knowledge of agriculture and flock management to this important strand of work.
“There are few things that can have as great an impact on the efficiency and bottom line of a livestock enterprise as a proactive and coordinated approach to animal health and eradicating disease.
“The project will help farmers to work with vets to put health plans in place and monitor their effectiveness. Since opening an initial expression of interest window late last year at the Winter Fair, we’re encouraged by how many farmers are keen to be involved. We look forward to working with them to put this exciting project into action.”
Agri-food robotics centre launched
A NEW advanced training centre in agri-food robotics will create the largest ever cohort of Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) specialists for the global food and farming sectors, thanks to a multi-million-pound funding award.
The world’s first Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) for agri-food robotics is being established by the University of Lincoln, UK, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge and the University of East Anglia.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has awarded £6.6m for the new Centre which will see a massive influx of high-level robotics expertise at a vital time for the agri-food industry. The CDT will provide funding and training for at least 50 doctoral students, who will be supported by major industry partners and specialise in areas such as autonomous mobility in challenging environments, the harvesting of agricultural crops, soft robotics for handling delicate food products, and ‘co-bots’ for maintaining safe human-robot collaboration and interaction in farms and factories.
Professor Tom Duckett, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at Lincoln, is the new Centre Director. He said: “Automation and robotics technologies are set to transform global industries – within the UK alone they will add £183bn to the economy over the next decade.
“Agri-food is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK – twice the scale of automotive and aerospace combined – supporting a food chain, from farm to fork, which generates a Global Value Added (GVA) of £108bn, with 3.9m employees in a truly international industry.
“However, the global food chain is under pressure from population growth, climate change, political pressures affecting migration, population drift from rural to urban regions, and the demographics of an ageing population in advanced economies.
“Addressing these challenges requires a new generation of highly skilled RAS researchers and leaders, and our new CDT will be dedicated to delivering that expertise. It will be a real focal point for robotics innovation in the UK.”
At Lincoln, the CDT represents an important partnership between robotics researchers from the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems (L-CAS) and agricultural experts from the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology (LIAT), as they work together to combat these pressing issues facing the global food chain.
Director of the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology, Professor Simon Pearson, said: “It is widely agreed that robotics will transform the food and farming industries in the coming years, but there is still a major skills gap in this area. Working with our industry and academic partners to design the 50 PhD scholarships will enable us to expand the UK’s science and engineering base, delivering a flood of skills and expertise that will drive our food and farming industries into the future.”
Professor Richard Harvey, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at UEA, added: “Agriculture remains an important and atavistic activity in the UK but it the most dangerous of all the main UK industry sectors. Given that, isn’t it astonishing that so much effort is devoted to robots for driving and delivering parcels to your door?
“This project will initiate a new movement to build robots to handle the unpleasant, difficult and repetitive aspects of farming. At UEA our expertise is in Computer Vision which is making computers that see. We’d like to build robots that can see when an ear of corn has ripened or be able to measure the amount of sunlight falling on a field of wheat or to tell when beans are ready for picking. We look forward to developing new systems that handle the challenge of being on a farm.”
The Centre brings together a unique collaboration of leading researchers from the Universities of Lincoln, Cambridge and East Anglia, together with the Manufacturing Technology Centre, supported by leading industrial partners and stakeholders from across the food, farming and robotics industries. These include John Deere, Syngenta, G’s Growers, Beeswax Dyson, ABB and the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board.
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