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.”
McDonald’s backs Countryside Fund
McDonald’S: Fast-food giant backing Prince Charles’ charity
McDONALD’s UK has entered into a three-year partnership with The Prince’s Countryside Fund, supporting the charity’s work in improving the economic resilience of farming families.
The Prince’s Countryside Fund, set up by HRH The Prince of Wales in 2010, works with farming and rural communities throughout the UK, and to date has provided over £10 million in grant and initiative funding.
Since 2016, the Fund’s flagship scheme, The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme, has supported over 900 farming families to improve their business skills with free training and professional advice, in 60 locations across the British Isles. The programme has a track record of success, with evidence of significant behavioural change occurring – 91% of participating families improve their communication, and 89% have a better understanding of costs as a result of taking part.
McDonald’s works with over 23,000 British and Irish farmers, the partnership with the Prince’s Countryside Fund cements the business’ commitment to their futures, as well as the future of the farming industry.
Thanks to the support of McDonald’s, the Fund is launching the ‘Beef it Up’ scheme in 2020, a series of group workshops aimed at livestock farms in the Farm Resilience Programme alumni network. In order to further strengthen these farm businesses, the workshops will address topics including:
Animal health and welfare
The ‘Beef it Up’ workshops will help farms to continuously improve their practices and sustainability performance, by introducing them to practical steps they can take to immediately make changes to their production systems.
McDonald’s already has a proven track record in sharing knowledge through Farm Forward – an agriculture programme with three aims; to develop skills and knowledge in the industry, raise animal welfare standards and encourage environmental improvements to help create a sustainable future for British and Irish farming.
The partnership marks the latest step in McDonald’s sustainability journey and together with The Prince’s Countryside Fund and the business’ suppliers, the partnership will create fresh new solutions to the big challenges the industry is facing, promoting innovation that aims to futureproof the sector.
Claire Saunders, Director of The Prince’s Countryside Fund said: “I am thrilled that the Fund will be working again with McDonald’s, in order to help us improve the prospects of family farm businesses across the UK at such a critical time.”
Nina Prichard, Head of Sustainable and Ethical Sourcing at McDonald’s UK & Ireland said: “Our supply chain is absolutely critical to our success – we couldn’t serve the food that we’re famous for without the support and hard work of 23,000 British and Irish farmers. This partnership is an important move in supporting them and securing their future – farming is part of the fabric of our society, and we are delighted to be working with The Prince’s Countryside Fund on this resilience programme.”
Ocean currents affect crop yields
CROP production in Britain will fall dramatically if climate change causes the collapse of a vital pattern of ocean currents, new research suggests.
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) brings heat from the tropics, making Britain warmer and wetter than it would otherwise be.
University of Exeter scientists show that, while warming Britain is expected to boost food production, if the AMOC collapses it would not just wipe out these gains but cause the “widespread cessation of arable (crop-growing) farming” across Britain.
Such a collapse – a climate change “tipping point” – would leave Britain cooler, drier and unsuitable for many crops, the study says.
The main problem would be reduced rainfall and, though irrigation could be used, the amount of water and the costs “appear to be prohibitive”.
“If the AMOC collapsed, we would expect to see much more dramatic change than is currently expected due to climate change,” said Dr Paul Ritchie, of the University of Exeter.
“Such a collapse would reverse the effects of warming in Britain, creating an average temperature drop of 3.4°C and leading to a substantial reduction in rainfall (−123mm during the growing season).
“These changes, especially the drying, could make most land unsuitable for arable farming.”
The study examines a “fast and early” collapse of the AMOC, which is considered “low-probability” at present – though the AMOC has weakened by an estimated 15% over the last 50 years.
Professor Tim Lenton, Director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter, said worst-case scenarios must be considered when calculating risks.
“Any risk assessment needs to get a handle on the large impacts if such a tipping point is reached, even if it is a low-probability event” he said.
“The point of this detailed study was to discover how stark the impacts of AMOC collapse could be.”
The study follows a recent paper by Lenton and colleagues warning of a possible “cascade” of inter-related tipping points.
The new study reinforces the message that “we would be wise to act now to minimise the risk of passing climate tipping points” said Lenton.
Growing crops is generally more profitable than using land as pasture for livestock rearing, but much of northern and western Britain is unsuitable for arable farming.
“With the land area suitable for arable farming expected to drop from 32% to 7% under AMOC collapse, we could see a major reduction in the value of agricultural output,” said Professor Ian Bateman, of Exeter’s Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute.
“In this scenario, we estimate a decrease of £346 million per year – a reduction of over 10% in the net value of British farming.”
Speaking about the expectation that moderate warming would boost agricultural production in Britain, he added: “It’s important to note that the wider effects for the UK and beyond will be very negative as import costs rise steeply and the costs of most goods climb.”
The study focusses on agriculture, but AMOC collapse and the resulting temperature drop could lead to a host of other economic costs for the UK.
The AMOC is one reason that average temperatures in Britain are warmer than those of many places at similar latitudes. For example, Moscow and the southern extremes of Alaska are further south than Edinburgh.
395 farms join animal health project
AS 2020 begins, it’s been announced that 395 beef and sheep farmers from across Wales have so far signed up to a pro-active animal health planning project, Stoc+, promoted by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) in a bid to improve overall health of their flock and ultimately, enhancing animal health planning and boosting production efficiency.
Stoc+ forms one part of HCC’s three-strand, Welsh Government and European Union funded Red Meat Development Programme (RMDP).
During the course of the five-year project HCC will bring together up to 500 commercial sheep and beef producers across Wales and encourage them to adopt a ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach to animal health.
Each participating farmer will receive practical, expert advice and specialist support for up to three years. In addition, all farmers will benefit from a tailor-made Flock and Herd Health Plan and Action Plan to work towards various targets set by their local veterinary practitioner.
As part of the project, the team have identified a small number of ambassadors who include farmers and veterinary practitioners. The ambassadors’ role includes encouraging their peers to get involved and demonstrating the practical benefits of proactive health planning in terms of animal health and farm profitability.
Jonathan Lewis from Llandrindod Wells is one of the ambassadors. Mr Lewis’s upland farm has 80 Simmental, Limousin and Stabiliser cows and 1,680 Lleyn, Mules and Welsh Mountain sheep and lambs. He said, “There were many reasons behind joining the project. I wanted to improve the overall health of my flock as well as increase the number of lambs that I sold whilst reducing the number of days to slaughter. During the course of the project, I would also like to reduce the antibiotics used on the farm and be advised on how to improve biosecurity.”
Claire Jones of Dolgellau Vets is a vet ambassador for the project, and as a vet and farmer’s wife, has a passion for preventative medicine and herd and flock health work. Claire says, “Health planning is something that I feel should be an integral part of all farm management, as it improves the efficiency of the farm and health of the animals and also helps to improve the vet and farmer communication and relationship.”
For more information on the project and to meet other project ambassadors visit the HCC website.
Stoc+ 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.
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