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Farming

New tastes from old traditions

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National Sheep Association: Additional funding provided

THE NATIONAL SHEEP ASSOCIATION (NSA), working in partnership with others, is delighted to receive the additional funding to explore consumption opportunities for UK heritage sheep breeds connected to landscapes and specific products.

NSA Mutton Consultant Bob Kennard has put together the information below in conjunction with a survey designed to gather views on the proposals.
Consumption of sheep meat is in long-term decline, especially when compared to poultry consumption.

The structure of the UK sheep industry has changed over the past 40 years from a predominantly traditional stratified system, towards a much more non-stratified one, where a few ‘general-purpose’ breeds are scattered in several ecological and altitude zones to directly produce finished lambs
Hill breed populations have declined quite dramatically over the past 40 years, as have other traditional UK Heritage breeds.

Whilst the pure-bred numbers have been in general decline, several cross-breds have been on the rise. A few breeds have seen dramatic increases in numbers, including the Texel and Lleyn.

New breeds and composites are still appearing. This is a continuation of breeding innovation that has occurred for centuries. However, there is some concern in the industry about recent such developments, especially if the ownership of these genetics is held by breeding companies with contacts, skills, and finance, to establish marketing relationships with national supply chains and/or supermarkets. Experience of such developments in other livestock sectors is that it can have sudden and far reaching effects on reducing genetic variety.

The Dangers

These changes have been interpreted as increasing “efficiency”. However, there are dangers, two of which are particularly important.

  1. The threat to the genetic viability of our native sheep breeds

    The UK has over 60 native breeds of sheep, the highest in the world. The decline in the commercial use of traditional Heritage breeds of sheep threatens the priceless genepool which they give us. Who knows what genetic traits will be needed in future, especially with the effects of climate change? This national asset of genetic variability could disappear as populations of many breeds shrink to genetically non-viable levels. No sheep breed can rest on its laurels and resist moving with the times, but all breeds carry valuable traits that need recognition. Their future will be more secure if they succeed in the marketplace.

  2. The threat to the landscape and communities of the uplands

    The decline of stratification has reflected a decline in traditional sheep farming systems, which have developed and maintained many landscapes over hundreds of years. The intensification and ‘increased efficiency’ of farming enterprises such as pigs, poultry and dairy have changed these sectors beyond recognition. Sheep farming, particularly in the uplands, remains the final bastion of traditional farming systems in the UK, based largely on family farms. However, unlike other farming sectors which are less landscape-based, the decline of traditional sheep farming has more far-reaching impacts. Not only are the cherished landscapes and other pastoral areas under threat, but also the communities which still largely rely on traditional sheep farming for their survival.

Industry Response

It is with this backdrop that the NSA, together with a number of industry bodies are developing a strategy to help address these problems. With a recent donation from the Prince’s Countryside Fund to add to industry donations, we are now able to proceed with a feasibility study to find a practical solution. The work, to be carried out over the next few months, will investigate whether a sustainable project to add value to UK Heritage sheep breed supply chains can be developed.

Diversifying the Sheep Meat Market

Industry-scale promotional and marketing efforts currently concentrate, understandably, largely on just one product, Standard Lamb. Meanwhile, sheep production has a gloriously diverse heritage.

It has been said that breed has little impact on sheep meat flavour, but this is only likely to be true of lamb where flavours have not had time to develop, as with veal. Increasing evidence is now demonstrating that with mutton there are definite differences in flavour between breeds. This would have been no surprise to Victorian Foodies.

The current sheep meat market could be compared to the wine market of the 1950s and 1960s, when there was only a small handful of widely available wines. This has now exploded into thousands. The same pattern can be seen for cheese, beer, bread and so on. With increased interest in the story behind our food, the time seems right to offer the consumer more choice in sheep meat, without harming the core Standard Lamb. Indeed, a number of producers have been doing so for years, albeit without much industry support.

Why should we more actively support the diversity of sheep products?

  • If the diversity of sheep meat was actively celebrated and promoted, it could lead to important benefits;
  • Enhanced farm incomes, particularly in upland areas;
  • Support & encouragement for local supply chains, and other local businesses, keeping more wealth within the local community;
  • Help to ensure the financial and genetic viability of our traditional UK heritage breeds;
  • Help to maintain traditional farming systems which have developed in harmony with the environment, and created our iconic British landscapes.
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Farming

Local farmer sentenced for animal welfare offences

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ON JULY 10, Dylan Williams of Neuaddlwyd Uchaf, Neuaddlwyd, Ciliau Aeron appeared before magistrates at Aberystwyth Justice Centre and was sentenced for animal by-products and animal welfare offences.

Mr Williams, 47, had previously appeared at the Aberystwyth Magistrates Court where he entered pleas of guilty to the four offences brought before the court by Ceredigion County Council.

On 11 April 2018, 47 sheep carcasses in various states of decomposition were found on Mr Williams’ land, and these were accessible to live sheep and their young lambs. This formed the basis of the offence brought under The Animal By-Products Regulations which requires carcasses to be disposed of without undue delay, due to the risk to animal and public health.

The majority of the flock inspected on the day were seen with severe wool loss and irritated skin which are signs of sheep scab. Sheep scab is a debilitating condition which can lead to weight loss and thickened skin with scabs due to the intense, uncomfortable itching caused by the condition.

There were three separate offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, two of which were for causing unnecessary suffering to two ewes. One ewe was suffering from severe weakness due to scab infestation. Another ewe was found unconscious on the land with her intestines protruding from her flank, likely due to predation as she had also suffered from scab over a prolonged period.

Another offence related to Mr Williams’ failure to ensure the welfare needs of his flock were met by his failure to properly inspect the flock and to manage and treat the sheep scab effectively.

Magistrates sentenced Mr Williams to a community order with a requirement that he carried out 250 hours of unpaid work in the community, he was also ordered to pay the investigation and legal costs of the council which amounted to £1648.

Alun Williams, Ceredigion County Council’s Corporate Lead Officer with responsibility for Policy and Performance said, “The council is deeply saddened that yet another serious animal health offence has been committed within the county. It is to the credit of our staff that they have undertaken a successful prosecution of this case.

Our animal welfare officers and our legal team had no option but to carry the prosecution due to the seriousness of the offences committed. I would urge individual farmers who are facing difficulties in caring for their stock to seek advice from the County Council and the Farming Unions.”

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Farming

Aeron Valley farmers thinking creatively for their future

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A RESEARCH STUDY called Pweru’r Dyffryn delivered by Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf is looking into the feasibility of powering businesses and households in the Aeron Valley.

The study is looking into creating a community body to develop local renewable energy sources which would aim to create a source of income for powering the economy of mid Ceredigion. The study is also looking into creating a sustainable source of income to develop the local economy of the Aeron Valley.

The feasibility study is funded through Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. This is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

The concept of Pweru’r Dyffryn (Powering the Valley) was developed by the Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf. Many members of the Gweithgor are young farmers in the area. They want to not only secure a way of life and affordable energy, but also invest in their future.

The farmers of Dyffryn Aeron first set up the community cooperative company Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf in response to the closure of dairy factories in the valley. The Gweithgor helped a local company to re-open the site of one factory as a centre of local employment.

Through this they found that energy costs were high in the area and could threaten the long term sustainability of businesses in the area.

Euros Lewis is a Director of Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf and is Pweru’r Dyffryn’s Project Manager. He said: “Responding creatively is the way forward and that’s what these young farmers have done.”

From here the concept of Pweru’r Dyffryn was developed, which began with local consultations across the whole of the Aeron Valley. It asked local communities what form of renewable energy they did and didn’t want to see developed in the area and how would they want revenue from any potential scheme to be spent. The purpose of the consultations were to develop a model that will meet the needs and potential of the local communities first and foremost.

The feasibility scheme received LEADER support through the Cynnal y Cardi Local Action Group, which is administered by Ceredigion County Council.

The next step for Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf is the publication of a comprehensive report of the local consultation and its findings for future potential developments. The consultation’s early findings include that large scale wind turbines would not be welcome, while there is support for further research as to the potential of waterways and solar power for the generation of local, sustainable energy.

The development of the scheme will be long-term with challenges along the way but Euros Lewis believes to change the lives of the local people and to develop the local economy ‘that the basic principle is to act for ourselves and this is what we are doing.’

Councillor Rhodri Evans is Ceredigion County Council’s Cabinet member with responsibility for Economy and Regeneration. He said: “It’s very encouraging to see rural society in Ceredigion ambitiously looking to the future. Cynnal y Cardi supports them closely and I’m sure they wil see success in the future.”

All ideas are welcome on a rolling basis and project officers are at hand to assist you. The closing dates in 2019 for submission of expressions of interest are 9 September and 11 November. All submissions are welcome in Welsh or English.

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Farming faces zero carbon challenge

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AN AMBITIOUS new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 will lead to significant changes in farming practices over the coming decades, according to a leading agri-environment specialist.

Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, was responding to the publication of ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’ published by the UK Government Committee on Climate Change.

Professor Donnison is an expert on agriculture and land use, which feature in the report in terms of targets for one-fifth of agricultural land to be used for forestry, bioenergy crops and peatland restoration.

According to Professor Donnison, such a reduction is very ambitious but achievable in Wales and the wider UK. “Land use can positively contribute towards achieving the net zero targets, but there are challenges in relation to emissions from agriculture especially associated with red meat and dairy,” said Professor Donnison.

“In IBERS we are already working on how to make livestock agriculture less carbon intensive and developing new diversification options for the farming of carbon. For example, net zero targets could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

Professor Donnison added: “The report gives a clear message regarding the importance of the task and the role that the UK can play to compensate for past emissions and to help play a leadership role in creating a greener future.

“The report says it seeks to be based on current technologies that can be deployed and achievable targets. One-fifth of agricultural land is a very ambitious target but I believe that through the approaches proposed it is achievable (e.g. for bioenergy crops it fits in with published targets for the UK). This is based on the knowledge and technologies we have now regarding how to do this, and because right now in the UK we are developing a new agricultural policy that looks beyond the common agriculture policy (CAP). For example, the 25-year Environment plan published by Defra envisages payment for public goods which could provide a policy mechanism to help ensure that the appropriate approaches are implemented in the appropriate places.

“The scale of the change, however, should not be underestimated, although agriculture is a sector that has previously successfully responded to challenges such as for increased food production. The additional challenge will be to ensure that we deliver all the benefits we wish to see from land: food, carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) management and wider environmental benefits, whilst managing the challenge of the impacts of climate change.

“The link is made between healthy diets with less red meat consumption and future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. This reflects that agriculture will likely go through significant change over the coming decades as a result of changes in consumer diets.

“Net Zero targets, however, could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

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