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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

Staycation boom offers farms new revenue stream

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THE NUMBER of working farms looking to cash in on the boom in staycations has sky-rocketed, according to figures from Pitchup.com.

Of the 2,000 campsites listed on Pitchup.com – Europe’s largest outdoor accommodation provider – more than 700 are working farms and 300 of those operate temporary sites, set up to take advantage of the peak holiday season.
Many such sites have joined the business in the first quarter of 2021, eager to secure a post-COVID financial recovery.

The hike comes after a change in planning policy increased the length of time farms and other land-based businesses can legally operate a campsite without planning permission from 28 days to 56 days.

Other factors, Pitchup.com discovered, include concerns over falling support payments and Government plans to curtail farming through environmental policies which will disadvantage active farmers.

Dan Yates, founder of Pitchup.com, said farmers were turning to temporary campsites in droves because they are the quickest and easiest form of diversification to get off the ground.

He said: “Establishing a campsite is very easy. At their most basic, all you need is a patch of land and running water, which most farms have already, and some toilets, which are easy to hire. Crucially, you don’t need planning permission to operate one for up to 56 days per year.

“With staycations booming and that trend set to stay, people are crying out for beautiful areas of the countryside where they can enjoy a relaxing break away from the pressures of work and lockdown.

“Farmers are perfectly placed to provide that. The farm-based campsites we work with can decide how many guests they want to host and with demand as it is, we are extremely confident we can fill those pitches.”

Mr Yates added that as well as being quick, convenient, and unobtrusive on day-to-day farming operations, pop-up and permanent campsites can be very lucrative.

“Although most campsites don’t generate quite this level of income, even small pop-up sites – which are the easiest by far to accommodate – return on average £13,000 in extra revenue per year, and many take tens of thousands of pounds more than this.

“It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that they’re becoming so popular among farms and land-owning businesses. We expect to see many more farmers try this kind of diversification as we come out of lockdown and the summer gets closer.”

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Farming

FUW calls for Welsh policies for Welsh agriculture

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THE FUW has urged the incoming Welsh Government to develop bespoke, tailor-made policies that reflect global realities as well as Welsh economic, social, and environmental needs.

Five years ago, ahead of the 2016 Welsh Senedd elections, the Farmers’ Union of Wales warned of the unprecedented challenges facing the incoming Senedd Members and Government. Since then, those challenges have not only materialised but been exacerbated and added to. 

Outlining the big issues facing agriculture in Wales at a press conference, which launched the FUW’s 2021 Welsh Senedd Election Manifesto, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “The materialisation of a far harder form of Brexit than had been promised by those who lobbied for our departure from the EU has restricted access to our main export markets on the continent in ways that are only beginning to be felt. 

“At the same time, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives beyond recognition and has highlighted the fragility of global food supply chains and the importance of a strong farming sector on which our domestic markets should be able to rely upon for commodity products.

“While such issues have been largely beyond the control of our devolved administrations, the reaction of the Welsh Government to the uncertainty and challenges faced by our agriculture sector has at times been bewildering and counterintuitive, not least in terms of its appetite for drastically increasing costs and restrictions while advocating untried and untested reforms of rural support policies.”

Meanwhile, UK Government cuts to Welsh rural funding – in a direct contradiction to promises made repeatedly by those who advocated Brexit – have added to the pressures on Welsh agriculture, the rural economy, and Welsh Government, said the Union President.

Through its manifesto and ongoing lobbying work, the FUW continues to be clear that Wales’ family farms lie at the centre of our rural economy, culture, and landscape, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of thousands of businesses involved in the Welsh food supply industry, and making innumerable other contributions to the well-being of Welsh and UK residents – benefits central to which is the production of food, our most precious commodity alongside water.

“Moving forward we need policies which reflect the need to mitigate climate change and protect our environment, but such aspirations must be tempered by the knowledge that sweeping changes that undermine our family farms and food production will merely shift production to countries with lower animal welfare standards and higher global and environmental footprints” said Glyn Roberts.

Highlighting the disappointment of members over the years with the current Welsh Government, Mr Roberts added that rather than feeling that industry concerns have been taken on board and seeing proportionate measures put in place to safeguard the agricultural  industry, many consider the current direction of travel as a betrayal of devolution which directly threatens the agriculture industry and the culture, language and way of life which are intrinsically linked to Welsh food production.

Speaking from his farm in North Wales, he added: “With this in mind, I make no apology for highlighting our members’ frustration about the lack of bespoke Welsh policies regarding future farmingscheme proposals and tackling water quality issues put forward by the current Welsh Government, and the distinct feeling that those who govern us from Cardiff Bay are now more remote from and indifferent to our rural communities than ever.

“Welsh farmers are proud to produce world-leading food to environmental, animal health and welfare and food safety standards that are second to none, but these need to be regulated in a proportionate manner which does not stifle innovation, create unjustified restrictions and place Welsh farmers at a severe competitive disadvantage against other countries’ agricultural produce.” 

Such concerns are particularly pertinent in an era when the UK Government is proactively seeking to sign trade deals with countries with production standards which fall well short of those already required of Welsh food producers, and while the aspiration that further raising standards will provide our producers with a competitive advantage in high-end markets is understandable, it is also naive given what the data tells us about widespread consumer indifference to such standards both here and around the globe.

“Alongside other critical issues and priorities outlined in this manifesto, the FUW urges the incoming Welsh Government and Senedd to develop bespoke, tailor-made policies that reflect such global realities as well as Welsh economic, social and environmental needs and the seven Welsh Well-being Goals; policies that maintain our already high standards while ensuring Welsh producers are not undermined in ways that lead to greater imports of food from those with far lower standards than our own,” said the Union President.

For the period of the next Welsh Senedd and beyond, the FUW is committed to lobbying all those in Cardiff to ensure that agriculture and family farms receive the attention and respect that they warrant – for the sake of all our futures.

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Farming

Appeal for dog walkers to keep pets under control during lambing season

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THE LAMBING season is upon us and with many public paths crossing fields of sheep, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority is appealing to dog walkers to follow best practice when out in the countryside.

While walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail and other public footpaths and bridleways:

Always keep dogs on a short lead and under close control when sheep or any other livestock are present.
Clean up after your dog; bag it and bin it wherever you can or take it away –please do not leave poo bags in the countryside.

National Park Authority Public Rights of Way Officer, Meurig Nicholas said: “If your dog is out of your sight or left out of control, it may chase after, attack or worry sheep. Worried and stressed pregnant sheep can miscarry or abort their lambs.

“Young lambs are also very vulnerable at this time, and can get distressed and even die if they are separated from their mothers or abandoned after being chased by dogs.”

There have also been incidents where dogs have had to be rescued from cliffs because they were not kept under close control.

Mr Nicholas added: “These situations have resulted in emergency services such as the Coastguard and RNLI having to retrieve and rescue dogs. These incidents are avoidable and add unnecessary pressure to our busy emergency services.”

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