THE ELECTION on May 7 is widely touted as being one of the closest of recent times. Away from the photo opportunities and soundbites, farmers around the UK are keeping a close eye on political developments.
Both the FUW and the NFU have made no bones that they are looking towards central government to support farming and the wider agricultural industry. With votes precious, the question is how far political parties are prepared to bend their policies to meet farmers’ expectations. While votes in the shires of England tend to aggregate towards the Conservatives, the picture in Wales is rather more complex.
For a start, there are more small independent farms per head of population than there are in England and income from agriculture and food production make up a larger part of Wales’ own domestic product.
When one focuses on the commitments of the larger parties in Wales, there is little meat in any of the manifestos, which focus on large picture macro-economic concerns rather than practical proposals to improve the lot of farmers and agricultural workers and farming communities in the short to medium term.
The Conservative manifesto has promised a lot for the longer term:
- 25 year growth plan for food industry
- Commitment to 25 year TB strategy (including culling)
- 5 year tax averaging
- Single farm inspection taskforce to co-ordinate visits, including Red Tractor
- Treble food, farming and Agri-tech apprenticeships
- Great British Food Unit to promote British exports
- Push for Country of Origin Labelling for dairy in Europe
The long term is all very well, but at a time when farming incomes for family farms are being squeezed tighter than ever, most farmers will be most interested in the here and now. Farmers need certainty about their income and about the support they can expect from government now and tomorrow and not in the sweet bye and bye.
The Conservatives have promised to deliver in 2017 a referendum on whether Britain should stay in or stay out of the European Union. What they have not said is what they will do to help farmers replace European funding payments, upon which many farmers rely, if, in 2017, the British people choose to leave the EU. In addition, the Conservatives have not said how British farmers will be able to continue to access European markets for their produce if tariffs on imports to the EU from the UK follow, as they surely would.
The Labour Party has a significant problem with rural and farming affairs. From being an industry that commanded a seat at the centre of Cabinet discussions, farming was side-lined during the last Labour Government and there is no dedicated minister for agriculture and rural affairs in the Cabinet on the Bay.
Lingering resentment exists in some parts of the Welsh countryside over the ban on hunting with dogs, particularly on upland farms where predation by foxes is a particular problem. There also remains considerable disquiet at the way the Welsh Labour government caved in to those protesting against badger culls. In both cases, it seemed to most farmers that Labour was more interested in appeasing voters who had perhaps a more rosy view of Reynard the Fox and Brock the Badger than most farmers experience in their daily lives.
So, where Labour has a policy at all on agriculture, it is more concerned with issues at the end of the food-delivery process than those issues at source level. Labour’s manifesto commitments on agriculture (in the broader sense) are:
- End the badger cull pilots
- Expand the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator
- Ban zero-hours contracts – workers have right to permanent contract after 12 weeks
- Long-term food strategy
- Maximum-permitted levels of sugar, salt and fat in food marketed to children
- Broadband rollout
In times past, the old Liberal Party was the last redoubt of Welsh farmers. Broadly put, large landowners backed the Tories, farmers and rural communities tended to back the Liberals. The splintering of old ties is, however, likely to see the Liberal Democrat vote across large parts of Wales shrink significantly: while Mark Williams seems likely to hold Ceredigion, Brecon and Radnor is on a knife’s edge. With the Liberal Democrats looking to be coalition partners with any new government, its ability deliver manifesto commitments is necessarily limited, but it is likely that promises to review policies rather than put forward specific measures of their own would make them relatively easy to slot back in to either of the main party’s farming commitments.
Plaid Cymru’s pitch is, perhaps, predictably to wish a plague on both the houses of the Conservative and Labour parties, with Carmarthen East & Dinefwr candidate Jonathan Edwards claiming that: “Plaid Cymru is the champion of rural Wales. We are the only party that has a strong record of standing up for farmers and rural businesses, and opposing the establishment parties’ threats to the EU funding that the sector depends on.”
Cabinet Secretary kick starts land management debate
CABINET SECRETARY for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, has outlined her vision for land management in Wales post-Brexit and has kick-started a conversation with the industry on how this can be delivered.
Speaking at the NFU conference in Birmingham, the Cabinet Secretary outlined the importance of devolution and reiterated her commitment to ensure Wales does not lose a penny of funding as a result.
Speaking at the conference, the Cabinet Secretary said: “As we prepare to leave the EU, the case for devolution is stronger than ever. The nature of our farming is different and our rural communities are different. There is no one size that fits all.
“Farming is a vital part of our rural economy. I often have to remind people from outside the sector that over 80% of Welsh land is owned and managed by Welsh farmers, foresters and environmental bodies. We need them and the work they do to help deliver our ambitions for a prosperous Wales.
“I want to start detailed discussion with stakeholders about the details and to get their input on what works.
“We must work towards a shared vision. I know farmers can adapt but it is government’s job to give them the time and tools to do so.
“The transition period must be a real one, it must be well-planned and it must take place over a number of years. There is too much at stake – economically, socially and environmentally – to not get this right.
“This is worth taking the time to get right. It is a once in a generation opportunity and I am confident we can make swift progress.”
Responding to her comments, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “Within days of the June 2016 EU referendum we had issued a call for a realistic post-Brexit transition period for farming, and for future policies to be developed slowly and investigated thoroughly, so the Cabinet Secretaries comments are naturally welcome.”
During her speech, Mrs Griffiths highlighted the need for clarity over UK funding arrangements for Wales, and that Wales should not lose a penny in rural funding, echoing calls made earlier in the day by the FUW President.
The Cabinet Secretary also gave assurances that she would “…fight to protect funding returning to Wales from going elsewhere,” adding, “We must continue this vital support because I cannot think of another part of Welsh society which makes such a multi-faceted contribution to our nation. Farming is a vital part of the rural economy. It is the social anchor of our rural communities, and farmers are the custodians of the land that underpins our natural environment.”
“We need to make the most of the opportunities we have to improve what we already do, while also ensuring tools are in place to cater for possible adverse impacts of Brexit,” Glyn Roberts said.
Mr Roberts added that: “The FUW has valued and seen the fruits of our recent work with the Cabinet Secretary and her wider team and we are pleased to see such significant progress. We look forward to continuing to work closely with the WG as we seek to protect the future of family farming in Wales.”
It’s all go for Moat Goats
GOAT farming couple Meg and Damian McNamara of Moat Village Farm, New Moat, Pembrokeshire, have been recognised for keeping the countryside vibrant by the Pembrokeshire FUW Countryside Business Award 2017.
The award, a £200 cash prize, perpetual trophy and a year’s free membership of the FUW, is presented every two years to someone who, 40 years of age or under, has developed their own business in rural Pembrokeshire.
“In presenting the award we recognise the fantastic work our young people are doing to keep our rural areas of Pembrokeshire vibrant and economically active places. Meg and Damian are very worthy winners of the award indeed and we can be proud to have such an inspirational farming couple in our midst,” said FUW Pembrokeshire County Executive Officer Rebecca Voyle.
Meg and Damian were both raised on dairy farms in Pembrokeshire, and always had a strong ambition to farm themselves. Although they both work outside of agriculture, Damian works as a Process Operator at Valero Refinery and Meg is a qualified Bank nurse, currently on Maternity Leave, they have managed to fulfil their farming ambition alongside keeping their day jobs. Meg also participated in the 2017 Agri Academy Business and Innovation Programme.
They bought their first land, a 12.5 acre field, in April 2015 and also farm 72 acres of Meg’s family’s farm. Their first goats arrived just 7 months later, having decided that this diversification would be both challenging and rewarding. Their herd now numbers 200 breeding female Boer goats.
Their agri-food business, Moat Goats, operates from farm to fork with home-bred kids reared by their dams. The male kids are finished for meat and the females are retained to increase the size of the breeding herd. Grass is grown both for grazing and for silage, with surplus sold for extra revenue. Mixed leys with herbs are also being tried to exploit health and production benefits.
Talking about a usual day on the farm Meg said: “We start by feeding the goats, checking and observing that they are ok, then it’s on to bedding down and we also spend time on farm work such as fieldwork and farm maintenance tasks. We also aim to post a picture or post on social media every day, as well as answering phone calls, responding to emails, and making sure that we market the business properly.”
As the male kids fatten and finish, Meg and Damian organise the slaughter in Maesteg, Bridgend and butchering of the carcasses locally at Cig Lodor, Rosebush. They then promote and sell the product online and started selling goat kid meat direct from the farm in October 2016. Now they supply meat boxes to customers throughout the UK via courier delivery, using social media for marketing. They have also supplied several local butchers with their goat meat, such as Chris Rogers in Carmarthen, T.G.Davies in Newport, Andrew Rees in Narberth, Gary the Butcher in Llandysul and DMS Llanelli and sell from the farm itself.
Speaking about the need to diversify, Meg explained: “We were aware that we needed to diversify in farming as we didn’t have enough land or time to compete with dairy, beef, sheep farmers.
“We experimented at home with jam making, cheese making, bought some heritage pigs before falling in love with 2 pet Boer cross goats and deciding to make a business from this interest.”
Meg and Damian exploit every opportunity to raise awareness of their quality produce, devising recipes, posting photos of the goats and the meals online and also supplied meat for a cookery demonstration at the 2017 Pembrokeshire County Show.
The business is going strong but there were some challenges the couple faced when setting the business up. Damian said: “The biggest challenge has been learning how to feed, handle and manage a goat herd – they require attention to detail which we have learnt through trial and error. Juggling farm and business commitments with family life and work off the farm remains an ongoing challenge especially with our young baby.”
Not ones to sit on their laurels, the couple are very aware that there are challenges the sector and their business faces. “Marketing and increasing our customer base remains a top priority for us but it’s also about raising awareness and promoting the benefits of goat meat – it’s low fat, low cholesterol, and high in iron.
“But of course, farming goats in north Pembrokeshire there is always the concern of a TB breakdown. So we take care of complying with all the necessary biosecurity and work hard to minimise contact with other herds,” said Meg.
Damian added: “We will deal with all of these challenges as a family unit and will continue to raise awareness of our business and the nutritional value of goat meat through social media. That way we hope to be selling more carcasses to the retail customer. We also intend to expand the business and therefore retain all the female kids for a few more years. Currently, we’re aiming for a herd of approximately 400 breeding females.”
It is clear that Meg and Damian are passionate about their produce and they encourage everyone to give goat meat a try.
“Goat meat is really tasty! It’s similar in texture to lamb and really easy to cook. Try something like pulled shoulder of goat kid or a simple quick-cook recipe such as chops, cutlets or sausages and have a look on our Facebook page for inspiration,” said Meg.
Reducing nitrogen emissions from cattle
SCIENTISTS at Aberystwyth University are leading a new international research project to find ways of reducing nitrogen pollution from dairy production.
The Horizon 2020 funded CowficieNcy project involves the exchange of staff between commercial and academic partners to upgrade and implement dairy cow diet formulation models, to increase the efficiency of nitrogen use on dairy farms.
Scientists at the University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) are working with four industry partners that consult on thousands of European dairy farms, and five prestigious European and American academic institutions.
Dr Jon Moorby is leading the work at IBERS: “Dairy cows are good at producing highly nutritious food for us from feedstuffs that we cannot eat. However, they can have negative impacts on the wider environment, by excreting excess nitrogen.
“We know from a scientific standpoint how we can minimise this to reduce pollution from dairy production, although relatively few strategies have been converted into agricultural practice because of the lack of research linking through to on-farm application by the dairy industry.
“The Cowficiency project is addressing this by providing tools that can help the dairy industry shift towards more efficient and less polluting methods”, added Dr Moorby.
Nitrogen is an essential nutrient used by farmers worldwide in both feeds (as protein) and fertilisers.
Used strategically, it increases pasture growth and is a key element in the production of meat and milk.
However, it is continually cycling through the soil, atmosphere and the farm system and its extended use has led to considerable negative effects on the environment.
The Cowficiency team will be working with farms in Europe to familiarize and accommodate them in describing their nitrogen balance situation using two mathematical models, one cow-based, and the other herd-based.
The models will be updated for amino acid metabolism in the framework of the Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System (CNCPS), and include aspects of heifer growth and cattle fertility and economics to encompass the whole lifetime of the animals, increasing not only the accuracy of the models but also their commercial potential.
The final phase of the project will see the implementation of the upgraded models on participating CowficieNcy project farms.
Dr Moorby added: “Increasing the efficiency of nitrogen use in lactating dairy cows will reduce nitrogen pollution from dairy production, and ultimately save the farmer money.”
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