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Farming

WG presses ahead with agri-policy change

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THE MINISTER for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, last week confirmed what the Welsh Government calls ‘Sustainable Farming’ will remain at the heart of future Welsh agriculture support.
The Welsh Government published its response to last year’s Sustainable Farming and our Land consultation on Wednesday, July 8.
The consultation proposed future funding should support and reward farmers who operate sustainable farming systems and protect and enhance the environment.
Responses to the consultation broadly backed the Welsh Government’s aims but with important caveats to the support expressed.
A significant proportion of the responses came from outside Wales. Those responses came particularly from individuals pursuing an anti-farming agenda, or as part of coordinated campaigns from groups lobbying the Welsh Government.
Over half the respondents (1,900 out of 3,300) came from members of the RSPB.
PLANS LACK SUBSTANCE
Responses from individual farmers cited within the Consultation Report reflect widely-held concerns that the Welsh Government’s plans are thin on detail. Those responses also highlight worries that Welsh farmers will be driven into an uncompetitive position due to new and burdensome regulation.
Despite those concerns, Lesley Griffiths confirmed a future agricultural support scheme will continue to be developed around the Sustainable Land Management framework.
During an update to the Senedd, the Minister also set out the next stages in the development of future support, including:
• Undertaking a range of economic analysis to understand the impact of moving from an entitlement based income support scheme to a voluntary scheme which rewards the production of outcomes. This will be published next summer and no decision on a future scheme will be made without consideration of this analysis;
• A transition period to enable farmers to adjust their existing business model to accommodate any changes required by the proposed scheme; and
• Publishing a White Paper before the end of this Senedd term, which will pave the way for the introduction of an Agriculture (Wales) Bill during the sixth Senedd term.
The Minister said: “Our proposals in Sustainable Farming and our Land provide an important income stream for farmers, recognising the important work they do in delivering environmental outcomes and rewarding them for it.
“We are also looking to reinforce the long term competitiveness of the sector through enhanced business advice and support, helping support farmers in the new economic realities following the UK’s departure from the EU.”
WG PRESSES AHEAD REGARDLESS
Lesley Griffiths continued: “Following consideration of the responses to the consultation, we will continue to develop a future system of agricultural support around the Sustainable Land Management approach.
“This approach will allow us to respond to the climate emergency, will help to reverse biodiversity decline, will ensure high standards of animal health and welfare, and protect our natural resources. Food produced using this approach will be sustainable, ensuring a food supply for future generations.
“Over the coming months, we will continue to engage with the sector and industry representatives on the ongoing development of these proposals for the White Paper, paving the way for an Agriculture Bill. This Bill will set out a support framework which can accommodate the development of agriculture and forestry within Wales for the next fifteen to twenty years. The Bill will enable farmers to be financially supported and ensure a coherent and fair system of regulation can be applied to the agricultural sector.”
A FURTHER CONSULTATION
To ensure farmers are supported following the UK exit from the EU, the Minister also confirmed plans to launch a FURTHER consultation this summer seeking views on the retention and simplification of rules around agricultural support for farmers and the rural economy. This support would bridge the gap between the current EU funding and any new scheme based on sustainable land management.
The Minister added: “It has been a difficult few months globally and Welsh farmers have not been exempt from recent circumstances. I am proud of the resilience they have shown in responding to those difficulties.
“Farmers, foresters and other land managers play a vital part in the economic, environmental, and social well-being of Wales. We will continue to support them to adapt to economic changes as well as the impact of climate change.”
GOVERNMENT FAILING RURAL COMMUNITIES
The Welsh Conservatives’ Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, Andrew RT Davies responded: “It’s all very well for Lesley Griffiths to stand up and make promises of support to our vitally important farming sector. However, those promises will only materialise if they are driven by a minister who has a finger on the pulse during this COVID-19 pandemic. That has not been the case.
“Time and time again, the Welsh Government has failed our rural communities. Just last week, the Wales Audit Office published a damning report into this government’s handling of the Rural Development Grants Scheme.
“What rural communities desperately need the Welsh Government to do is set out clearly what any support it offers aims to achieve. That should include incentives for food security and for unleashing Wales’ environmental and food-producing revolution.”
CUT BUREAUCRACY SAYS FUW
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “The proposal to adopt the United Nations’ Sustainable Land Management (SLM) principle as the objective and framework for a future policy fails to encompass wider Welsh goals and objectives, including those defined in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2015, and therefore falls short of being a holistic policy.
“While we welcome some of the conclusions reached in the Welsh Government’s response to the consultation, we remain convinced that families, jobs and communities should be at the heart of planning a new policy – alongside sustainable food production and the SLM principles.”
Mr Roberts said that a scheme which focuses only on the provision of Public Goods and environmental outcomes would fail to take proper account of prosperity, jobs, culture and other issues inherent to the Wellbeing Goals and other Welsh objectives, risking severe adverse impacts.
“We, therefore, welcome the Welsh Government’s commitment to undertake a range of economic analyses to understand the impact of moving from an entitlement based income support scheme to a voluntary scheme which rewards the production of outcomes.
“This work needs to be thorough and look at impacts for individual businesses, sectors and regions of Wales as well as the implications for the tens of thousands of businesses which rely on agriculture and the scheme delivery costs.
“Above all else, it is concerning that the recent food shortages, delays and difficulties in administering our current environmental scheme – Glastir – and hundreds of consultation responses highlighting concerns about the overall direction of travel has not given the Welsh Government more pause for thought.”
STANDARDS FEAR
TFA Cymru said: “Any new regulatory framework must take into consideration standards which are being used in other parts of the UK and internationally; particularly where goods produced under those differing standards find their way in front of Welsh consumers. That not only undermines domestic production, but it also allows poorer standards to continue in other jurisdictions.
“If it is felt important to introduce a new level of regulation in respect of agricultural production which is not applied elsewhere, the Welsh farming community would legitimately expect protection against products imported to Wales produced to standards which would be illegal at home.”
WG SHOULD ‘PAUSE & REFLECT’
NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “This announcement provides us with some additional clarity on the direction of travel as regards future support. In light of the continuing Coronavirus disruption, as well as ongoing Brexit uncertainty, I would really have liked to have seen Welsh Government taking the opportunity to pause and reflect on this process rather than pressing ahead with new policy development.
“Despite the representations made by NFU Cymru, today’s statement from Welsh Government makes no provision for some sort of stability payment, and that is very disappointing, especially in light of the recent market volatility.
“I was pleased to see the Minister acknowledge the role of agriculture and the food supply chain in keeping the country fed during the Coronavirus outbreak. I am, however, keen to ensure we do not forget the lessons of the pandemic: in particular, how it underscored the value of having a secure domestic primary production base – something which we very much consider ‘a public good’. I also welcome what the Minister said about the simplification of some of the rules around CAP legacy schemes. While that is positive news, it must deliver genuine simplification of complex rules if it is to benefit the sector.”

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Farming

Ceredigion dairy farming family highlight benefits of knowing your farmer

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KNOWING your farmer, being able to ask questions about their produce and how they look after the land is of paramount importance to Ceredigion dairy farming family the Thomas’s.

The third generation to farm at Pantfeillionen, Horeb, Llandysul, Ceredigion, are Lyn and Lowri Thomas. Lyn has been farming since he was 16 and celebrates just over 32 years in the industry this year.

The family looks after 170 acres and rents a further 100 acres, with the land down to grass. 70 dairy cows, a few sucklers and calves which get sold on as store cattle, call these green hills home. 

Farming, the couple say, has changed a lot in the last few decades and the industry has moved with the times. The way forward for the family is to maintain the small-scale ethos of the family farm and connect on a personal level with their customers who buy raw milk directly from the farm. 

Describing their farming system, Lyn says: “We do all our own silage and everything is done in house. We don’t use a lot of fertilizer, some yes, but we can’t use too much because of the nature of the ground. We’re farming on rock so that means we need to be careful otherwise our grass would burn on the south facing slopes. 

“There’s not a lot of topsoil here so we have to use some fertilizer to keep the grass growing but usually no more than a bag an acre is used for silage with some slurry. We don’t go overboard with slurry. Slurry is restricted to about 1700-2000 gallons an acre.”

Lowri adds: “Our earth worm population is very healthy. We try to compost farm yard manure and like to keep it for more than a year, but of course with the new NVZ regulations that won’t be possible going forward. It’s better for the ground if it has been composted for 2 to 3 years but that’s a different story.

“We try and do things as sustainably as we can here, we don’t buy a lot of stuff in and try to grow what we need ourselves.”

The cows get fed some cake but most of it is milk from grass and silage in the winter, explains Lyn. “We look after our cows, if we don’t look after them -they won’t look after us. We see them every day and if something is wrong then it gets dealt with straight away.

“The foot trimmer comes in every six weeks, the vet is here monthly for a routine fertility visit where we can chat about the herd’s health at the same. We milk record monthly with NMR, this is when Johne’s testing is done, and we try to keep the cows as healthy as possible.

“The healthier our cows are, the more productive they are and that also hinges on the health of the environment around them,” he adds. 

“We haven’t got a large herd, we know every cow, some even have names thanks to the kids. Because we milk them ourselves, we see them twice a day. They have little groups and we know which cow belongs to which group of friends.

“They have access to the sheds, all through the year, so they can go in and out as they wish over spring and summer. If they’re coming in we know that’s where they want to be. They have 2 safe places,” explains Lowri.

The family has started a raw milk by the bottle business, which customers can buy directly from the farm. It started with neighbours asking if they could buy some and  after a bit of deliberations in 2018 they set up the business, registering with the FSA and local authority, and the ball was set in motion. 

“Milk started being sold directly to customers in March 2019 on a small scale and low key way to help build the business up gradually. We know all of our customers, and didn’t install a vending machine on purpose. 

“We want to know who our customers are and speak to them and it’s good for them to know who we are as well. It gives us a chance to explain how we farm and look after the environment and the cows.

“When Covid hit last year, people became more aware of where their food was coming from and what was around them.We picked up more customers through that as well. It’s absolutely fantastic and more and more people now look for local food products, conscious of where their food comes from and how it’s produced,” said Lowri. 

Lyn is passionate about the ground that feeds his cows, understanding the direct link between the environment and the health and welfare of the cattle.

He says: “ We don’t push the land too much. We farm it sustainably, it gives enough grass for the cows but it’s not overstocked. We could keep more stock but then we’d need more fertilizer and more food for the cows. I’d rather not do that.

“We have about 0.8 cows per acre here, which is below average. But with more stock to feed, we’d have to reseed the grass more often. 

“I haven’t reseeded a field here in 7 years and then it was only because it was old ground when we bought it. It’s still going and we have grass here that’s been going for 25 years. So that’s storing a fair bit of carbon.

“We aerate the fields, cut slots in to drain the water off and keep fertilizer application to a minimum – it all helps to maintain a healthy environment and soil that stores tonnes of carbon.” 

“When the cows come in over the winter, we drip feed the fields with slurry. The first grazing here in March is excellent, the grass is ready to go because it’s been drip fed over the winter. We apply only a small amount every now and then and it works wonders. We’re therefore quite concerned about the NVZ regulations which won’t allow us to carry on looking after the land that way,” Lowri adds. 

The wildlife on the farm is plentiful with kites, buzzards, owls, herons, woodpeckers, bats, frogs and foxes, rabbits and badgers as well as deer inhabiting the hedgerows and land that can’t be accessed with hedge cutters. 

“There is plenty of undergrowth and habitat here for the wildlife to flourish. We’ve certainly seen an increase in wildlife since the lockdown and it’s a joy to see,” says Lowri. 

The family have also planted some trees at the start of the year to fill in gaps in hedgerows. Taking part in a community growing project in Llandysul, Lowri received a surplus of 100 native trees which include oak trees, crab apples, cherry trees, dogwood, willow and birch. Lowri is looking forward to seeing how they grow in years to come. 

“We chose random places to plant the trees, mainly where we had gaps in hedges and on ground that’s too wet for the livestock. All of this will provide extra habitats for wildlife in years to come.

“Blackthorn hedges were also planted along fields that have been amalgamated and will provide wind shelter for the cows and also nesting habitats for farmland birds,” said Lowri. 

Lyn and Lowri are proud to produce food and look after the environment they call home but get disheartened with the negative stories surrounding the industry.

Lyn says: “A lot of the information put out now is referring to farming on a global level. Large scale and intensive farming. And in some parts of the world that’s true. But our farming systems here in Wales are different – we farm with the environment.

“You’ve still got your traditional small family farms, looking after the land. Because if you look after the land the land looks after you. That’s an important distinction. People also need to ask where their food comes from and how it’s produced and farmers in Wales have a great story to tell.” 

“We’re not very good at telling people how we produce food. I understand how food is produced through my background of being a vet.

“So when I go into the supermarket and look where the food is coming from – I know what to look for and I distinguish between packaged locally and produced locally. But to be really sure – go to your local butcher, green grocer and small shop or farm shop and that way you can be sure, as a consumer, that your food has been sustainably produced and it’s farmed in harmony with the environment.

“We’re not horrible people, farmers have been portrayed as polluters and not fit to look after their animals. It’s time we tell them how well we look after our lands and animals,” Lowri said.

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Farming

Economic value of red meat sector rises

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THE VALUE of the iconic beef, lamb and pork sectors to the Welsh economy rose in 2020, as consumers turned to local, sustainable, quality food during the COVID pandemic, according to analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).New figures from the Welsh Government ‘Aggregate Agricultural Output and Income’ report show that the total value of agricultural output in Wales for 2020 is projected to stand at £1.7billion – a 6.2% (or £99 million) increase on the provisional figure for 2019.


Cattle and sheep account for 44% of this total at £750million; the highest proportion recorded since 2016. The agricultural output value for Wales’s pig sector also increased (by 34.3% or £2 million) to a value of £8 million.
The figures reflect the strength of the livestock sector in Wales and sit in contrast to Total Income From Farming (TIFF) figures for the UK as a whole newly released by Defra. Although the TIFF figures are a different form of measuring farm production, the UK data concurs that the livestock sector has had a strong year, but in other parts of Britain, this was more than offset by poor harvests in the arable sector.

Demand for beef and lamb have been strong in the domestic retail market since the immediate aftermath of the first COVID lockdown in spring 2020. After initial market volatility, marketing campaigns by HCC and other bodies encouraged consumers to recreate restaurant meals at home.
Over the past 12 months, domestic retail sales of lamb and beef have trended consistently higher, with spending on lamb 20% higher than the previous year. Sales at independent high street butchers are also strong.
Research shows many demographic groups, including families with children, buying more beef and lamb than previously, and turning to quality home-grown produce.


HCC Data Analyst Glesni Phillips said, “The strong demand for red meat from the domestic consumer has helped drive market prices for beef and lamb at Welsh livestock markets in the second half of 2020 and into the early months of 2021.


“It’s no surprise, therefore, to see that the overall value of the industry is projected to have grown. We have seen inflation in the costs on farmers, which offset some of the gains from improved market price; however, it’s heartening to see consumers’ support for quality Welsh produce.“Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef remain key drivers of our rural economy, and given their excellent brand reputation, they act as flagship products for the growing Welsh food and drink sector.”Further analysis of the aggregate output and income figures for Welsh farms are available in HCC’s latest monthly market bulletin.

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Farming

Ian Rickman: 2021 is a critical year for Wales’ farming future

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THE INCREASINGLY negative narrative around livestock farming and its portrayed impact on the environment and climate change has led to farmers in Wales standing up to tell their stories and highlight the positive impact livestock farming has.


Through the Farmers’ Union of Wales’ campaign ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’, farmers are addressing misleading claims by various groups about the role livestock farming plays in relation to climate change and the environment.  Launching the campaign, FUW Deputy President Ian Rickman said: “The FUW has consistently recognised the threat represented by climate change and the need to take action. This is clear from a cursory look at our manifestos and policy documents published over the past twenty years.


“We know that farming is already responsible for a critical carbon resource in soils, woodland and semi-natural habitats and I’m pleased to launch the FUW’s environment campaign – ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’ from my home farm here in Carmarthenshire today. As farmers are the most trusted link in the supply chain, they are best placed to communicate their stories, helping to address consumer concerns and influencing political agendas. Members can also look forward to a variety of webinars over the coming months, which will focus on the different challenges ahead for the industry and how to overcome them.


“There is no question in our mind that we need to counteract the continuation by the anti-farming lobby of their campaign to vilify and belittle domestic food producers.  These attacks are corrosive and grossly misleading, negatively influencing consumer perception of the industry and influencing political agendas on a global scale.”


Mr Rickman added that 2021 is an important year for these types of conversations.


“Knocking on our door are the United Nations Food Systems Summit and COP26. The FUW has been engaging with these conversations at an international level and shares some concerns with other industries across the globe about the wider narrative and ambitions set out in inconspicuous looking documents. Plans, we and the general public don’t support.  Telling the positive story of the guardians of our Welsh land is now more important than ever,” he said.


Starting in the first week of June, the campaign introduces four farmers all of whom tell the story of how they are addressing environmental and climate change needs in their unique ways: Carmarthenshire organic sheep farmer Phil Jones, the Roberts family from Meirionnydd, Ceredigion dairy farmers Lyn and Lowri Thomas and FUW President Glyn Roberts who farms with his daughter Beca at Dylasau Uchaf in Snowdonia.


“The campaign will further highlight that Welsh farmers are rising to the challenge of improving soil health and increasing organic matter in soils, improvements which represent further opportunities for sequestering more carbon. These improvements, the campaign will highlight, are achieved through specific livestock grazing patterns and rest periods. The campaign is also clear that the correct options, guidance and rewards are required to encourage more farmers to adopt such systems,” said Mr Rickman.


Soil, the campaign will stress, is a long term investment and at present, around 410 million tonnes of carbon is stored in Welsh soils and 75,700 hectares of Wales’ woodland (25%) is on farmland, representing an important and growing carbon sink.


“As acknowledged in Natural Resources Wales’ State of Natural Resources Report, using land for food production is an essential part of natural resource use and management.  Whilst we acknowledge that  agricultural intensification has undeniably had negative impacts on some species and ecosystems, there is overwhelming evidence that other factors, including reductions in agricultural activity and afforestation, have also had severe negative impacts,” he added.

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