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Farming

Market volatility hitting family farms

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REBECCA EVANS AM – Deputy Minister for Farms and Food, visited the Haverfordwest Creamery to better understand the challenges facing the dairy sector and the plans that farmer-owned First Milk have in place for the future.
Haverfordwest Creamery processes the milk from nearly 300 local dairy farmers, who are all co-owners of the factory and located within a radius of 50 miles.
After completing a factory tour, which included speaking with local employees and a local farmer representative, the Deputy Minister said:
“In the last 12 months we have witnessed volatility and low prices in dairy markets around the world, which has had a direct impact on family farms across Wales. We are working closely with the industry, through our Dairy Task Force, to increase the demand and add value for Welsh milk and milk products.
“I believe that well-invested farmer-owned facilities, such as this creamery in Haverfordwest, are vital to the long-term vision of an efficient and sustainable dairy sector in Wales. One which delivers benefits for the wider rural economy.”
First Milk’s site director at the creamery, Paul Rowe commented: “Haverfordwest Creamery creates approximately £70 million of economic activity per year in West Wales. It processes over 260 million litres of local milk and turns it into 28,000 tonnes of award-winning cheeses, with over 100 local people employed in our cheese making and distribution operations.
“Haverfordwest Creamery is one of the most efficient in the UK and a large proportion of the investments we have made, over the last few years, have only been possible with the support of the Welsh government.
“Dairy markets are very tough right now and dealing with this is our immediate priority. However over the longer-term we firmly believe that the Haverfordwest Creamery is well placed to take advantage of the growing global demand for dairy products. We will continue to work closely with the Welsh government in developing these opportunities for the benefit of our local farming members and owners.”
Addressing the annual DairyCo conference at the University of Aberystwyth the following day (Friday, March 6), Rebecca Evans, announced the completion of the Welsh Dairy Review.
In October, the Deputy Minister announced she was commissioning an independent review of the Welsh dairy sector. She asked Andy Richardson, a member of the Dairy Task Force for Wales, to lead the review, which was commissioned in response to difficulties faced by dairy farmers last autumn, as well as an opportunity to review the voluntary code which had been in operation for two years.
She recently received the final report from Mr Richardson, who categorised his recommendations under five key headings: Leadership, Market Focus, Efficiency, Knowledge and Skills and the Environment.
The Deputy Minister said: “One of the things that has particularly concerned me about the recent cut in the price of milk is the impact on confidence and the possible knock-on effect this could have on investment within the sector.
“Andy Richardson’s review suggests that the mood, both amongst farmers and processors, may be more positive than perhaps is being portrayed and that is good news – without continued investment the future will look very bleak.
“As the price paid for milk continues to fall, many farmers and processors in Wales continue to operate under extremely challenging conditions on a daily basis, as the industry faces a very difficult period, one fundamentally driven by an over-supply.
“I am however confident there is a secure and profitable future for dairy in Wales. As I have said many times before, we have the land, the animals, the labour and the infrastructure. Evident from Andy’s review is that we also have the commitment, the passion and the willingness to change and to adapt that will see us through our current difficulties.
“It is so important to me that we continue to support the sector by taking on board the views of those working within it, and help to grasp the opportunities that exist.
“Following discussions with farmers and processors across Wales, Andy has been able to provide a vision of the future for the whole of the dairy sector which sets the direction for a more sustainable industry in the future.
“I would like to thank Andy for his work, undertaken in such a short period of time. I expect to publish the report, alongside the Welsh Government’s formal response, in the form of an action plan once I have given it due consideration.”
The Dairy Review was intended to draw on the work already undertaken by the Dairy Task Force but looked wider, taking views from all parts of the supply chain. It also considered what support the RDP 2014 – 2020 may provide to dairy farmers and the milk processing sector in Wales.
Meanwhile at Carmarthenshire’s recent NFU-Cymru conference, NFU President Meurig Raymond assured union members that the NFU was doing it all it can to assist its milk producing members get through the current price volatility when he spoke at the recent Carmarthenshire NFU Cymru conference.
Mr Raymond explained helping farmers within the milk industry was the Union’s top priority at present. He said he has met with the leading banks to ask them to help farmers at this difficult time. He has met with Government to discuss tax concessions. They’ve given evidence to the Efra Committee asking for more powers to the Groceries Code Adjudicator. The NFU has spoken to milk buyers, particularly First Milk. Mr Raymond also told those present how he has personally had some very difficult meetings with the major retailers and has had some assurances that they will stock more British dairy products in the future.
Mr Raymond said, “We are grateful to shoppers for the positive messages we’ve received as dairy producers and pleased that so many consumers have come out and backed British dairy farmers at this time. We’ve been inundated on social media in particular by shoppers wanting to know where they should buy their dairy products to help us most. In response we have said that shoppers have to check the labels to make sure they are definitely buying British produce – not something that looks British. The Red Tractor mark is a good quick indicator. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the British public for all their support at this time.”

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Farming

Conservation groups don’t like ‘unpalatable truth’

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Post-badger: A hedgehog experiences nature

THE FARMERS’ Union of Wales has warned that conservation bodies have their heads in the sand over the devastating impact badgers have had on hedgehog numbers, and are doing conservation a great disservice by scapegoating farmers.

The State of British Hedgehogs 2018 report released on February 7 by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species estimates that hedgehog numbers have halved since the beginning of the century, and places the lion’s share of the blame on intensive farming.

However, world leading hedgehog expert Dr Pat Morris, author of The New Hedgehog Book, wrote in his 2006 book “The implications [of high badger population densities] for hedgehog survival are serious…ignoring the issue or pretending that badgers exist only by harmless drinking of rainwater doesn’t help at all.”

A survey of badger numbers between November 2011 and March 2013 found that badger numbers in England and Wales have increased by between 70% and 105% in the past 25 years.

“Dr Morris is named in the State of British Hedgehogs 2018 report as the instigator of the first survey of hedgehogs based on animals killed on roads, but no mention is made of his concerns regarding high badger numbers having such a devastating impact on hedgehogs.

The issue is dismissed and swept under the carpet, despite overwhelming scientific evidence of the impact of badger predation, while farmers are effectively singled out as being to blame,” said FUW President Glyn Roberts.

A 2014 peer reviewed study of hedgehog numbers in ten 100km2 areas where badgers were culled in England found that “…counts of hedgehogs more than doubled over a 5-year period from the start of badger culling, whereas hedgehog counts did not change where there was no badger culling.”

Mr Roberts said: “Of course there are areas where intensive farming has had a detrimental impact on hedgehog numbers, but it is simply wrong to paint the whole of the UK as being like that – the fall in hedgehog numbers has in fact coincided with farmers planting more hedges.”

Mr Roberts added that this view was backed up by the RSPB, who said that losses of managed hedges appear to have halted in the mid-1990s, while the net length of hedges in the UK was stable or increasing.

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species report said it was planning to engage with the farming community to ‘stem the alarming decline of our country hedgehogs’.

The likelihood is that there is a range of events causing impacts on the hedgehog population. Certain types of pesticides affect the hedgehog’s food chain, while larger and more open fields with less substantial hedgerows might also contribute to hedgehog predation and decline. The increased use of road vehicles is a certain factor, as is urban and suburban spread. Unusually, domestic pets are not a major hazard for hedgehog populations.

In rural Wales, however, the dramatic explosion in badger populations cannot be ignored as a significant factor in driving the decline of hedgehog numbers.

In the early-2000s, an investigation was carried out by the Small Mammal Specialist Group into patterns in hedgehog and badger populations across hundreds of square kilometres of rural southwest England and the midlands. One important finding was that hedgehogs appeared to be absent from large swathes of pastoral grasslands where they are thought to have once been commonplace. The group surveyed hedgehogs in a number of areas which were geographically and ecologically similar, but with different levels of badger culling.

Hedgehog numbers in suburban areas doubled during the five years of badger culling, and remained static in areas without culling. This demonstrated for the first time that badger predation is a strong limiting factor for hedgehog populations in these particular habitats.

Until the mid to late 20th century, heavy persecution of badgers kept them at low numbers. The Badgers Act of 1973 introduced protections, enhanced by the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act. Consequently surveys published in January 2014 revealed that in the 25 years since the first survey in 1985-88, the number of badger social groups in England has doubled to around 71,600.

In pasture-dominated and mixed agricultural landscapes, and in some suburban habitats, badgers thrive with have plentiful denning opportunities and abundant food resources. The largest increases in the density of badger social groups have occurred in the landscapes that dominate southern, western and eastern England. These are also the areas where hedgehog declines are likely to be most severe.

While nobody is suggesting that badgers be culled to improve biodiversity and give hedgehogs a chance of re-establishing themselves, the refusal to acknowledge evidence which they find inconvenient suggests that the weight that can be given to the Hedgehog Survey is questionable.

Glyn Roberts suggested that those ignoring the evidence were simply unprepared to face the truth about natural predation: “By sweeping under the carpet the unpalatable truth that badgers eat hedgehogs, and that the doubling in badger numbers has had a catastrophic impact on hedgehog numbers, and scapegoating farmers by highlighting outdated ideas about hedge removal, conservation bodies are doing a huge disservice to hedgehogs and conservation.

“In fact, they are doing exactly what Dr Pat Morris warned of in his Hedgehog Book – burying their heads in the sand by pretending increased badger numbers are not a major threat to hedgehog survival.”

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Farming

Charities benefit from breakfast fundraising

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'An incredible job': Glyn Roberts hails FUW members' generosity

THE EQUIVALENT of a year’s farm income (£13,000) has been raised by the Farmers’ Union of Wales, for its charitable causes – Alzheimer’s Society Cymru and The Farming Community Network.

Speaking about the success of the FUW’s farmhouse breakfast week at the end of January, Union President Glyn Roberts said: “Our staff, members and wonderful volunteers have done an incredible job in raising what is the equivalent of a year’s farm income for many farms in Wales for our chosen charities.

“Farming communities are close-knit communities and this shows what can be achieved when we all come together, with a common goal. Through these events, where we all sat around the kitchen table to talk and share our thoughts about #FarmingMatters, we’ve strengthened ongoing and permanent relationships and established new ones.

“The money we have raised in our rural communities will go towards helping others in our communities – we must never forget that our communities are the engine room of people powered change and also that this strength of community has the power to hold governments to account.”

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Farming

FMD plans tested

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Exercise Blackthorn: Testing FMD preparedness

GOVERNMENT departments around the UK are set to carry out simulation exercises to test contingency plans for dealing with any future outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

Exercise Blackthorn involved the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Scottish Government, Welsh Government and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland are set to test their current state of readiness over the next few months.

The EU Directive 2003/85/EC requires Member States to exercise their contingency plans either:

  • ​twice within a five year period; or
  • ​during “the five year period after the outbreak of a major epizootic disease has been effectively controlled and eradicated.”

The first simulation exercise took place on Thursday, February 8, with a further table-top exercise on March 8 followed by a real-time exercise on April 25 and 26 April.

Exercise Blackthorn will end on June 7 with a final table-top exercise. UK chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said regular testing of contingency plans was an important part of making sure the authorities can respond to outbreaks.

“Exercises like this provide an opportunity for teams across government and industry to engage and to learn lessons in a controlled and safe environment,” he said.

“The risk of foot-and-mouth disease arriving in the UK is low but ever present. Government monitors disease outbreaks and incidence around the world assessing risk for the UK and taking action to mitigate risk where possible.”

After being free of FMD since 1968, Great Britain suffered a return of the disease in 2001. The entire outbreak lasted for 221 days and had a devastating impact on the farming industry, rural community and the wider economy across the UK. The UK was officially declared disease free on 22 January 2002.

An exercise evaluation report will be published in the autumn.

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