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Farming

Is there a way to Brexit-proof your business?

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Discussing optimal dairy systems:​ FUW Milk and Dairy Produce Committee Chairman Dai Miles and Gwyn Jones, AHDB dairy board chairman​

A SEMINAR organised by the Farmers’ Union of Wales has provided an opportunity for Welsh dairy farmers to come together and air their views on a recently published AHDB paper which outlines the need for ‘optimal dairy systems’ in the British dairy sector.

Leading the discussions at the Welsh Dairy Show was Gwyn Jones, AHDB dairy board chairman, who highlighted the likelihood the industry will be open to more competition, less support and increased volatility in the future. He emphasised that there will be opportunities too, since the UK was an ideal country for producing milk, due to the climate, structure and the fact that there were good farmers in the sector.

In his talk, he stressed that the way forward for the sector was to be inspirational, efficient and prepare for the future.

He discussed AHDB’s recently published approach focusing on two systems – block calving where all cows calve within a 12-week window and All year round calving with no seasonal emphasis on calving.

“Block calving herds typically have lower overall costs of production, can be simpler to operate and can have lifestyle benefits, depending on land suitability, housing and location.

“The best AYR producers can achieve production costs comparable with block-calving and higher output can bring greater income. But the system can bring complexity making it harder to spot weaknesses in performance,” said Gwyn Jones.

“In Britain, over 80% of dairy farmers identify themselves as all-year-round calvers. This raises a question as to whether this is a conscious decision based on every farmer deciding what is the best system for them, or whether the system has just evolved.”

He emphasised that all production systems could be profitable and could work well, but the important issue was to attain a balance of production from all herds across the sector, in order to meet buyer and processor requirements.

“Many processors desire a relatively flat milk production profile from their milk pool; this does not mean that all farms should have the same production profile but rather that the collective profile needs to be flat.

“This could mean a balance between spring and autumn calving herds. A joined up industry approach would offer flexibility to farmers, whilst still meeting the needs of the processors,” said Gwyn Jones.

Comparing the relevant cost of production and margins achieved from each of the systems he highlighted that according to AHDB, spring calving herds typically achieved an extra margin of 2.4 pence per litre (ppl) above year-round calvers. For autumn calvers this was 1.3ppl.

He stressed that irrespective of the chosen system, all farmers should concentrate their business analyses on the full economic cost of production, the return on capital and the profit retained.

AHDB is changing its delivery to showcase and highlight what the best performers are doing under either system and identify the KPIs that are critical to performance.

Additional strategic dairy farms are being recruited to demonstrate best practice and encourage farmer to farmer learning. Farmbench will be rolled out to the dairy sector in the New Year to help farmers understand and compare their full costs of production at both enterprise and whole-farm level.

“We are asking farmers to approach 2019 with their eyes open. The choice of system is down to individual farmers, but what is important is that they understand their current system, hold a mirror up to themselves and make a conscious decision on which system is optimal for them,” said Gwyn Jones.

Responding to the suggestion that the dairy sector should review its systems and management style in order to prepare itself for potential Brexit problems, was FUW Milk and Dairy Produce Committee Chairman Dai Miles.

“Before we change our dairy systems and increase our production, we need to have greater processing capability in Wales. The latest Welsh Government-commissioned report on processing in the Welsh dairy sector concludes that processing expansion should be ‘more of the same’ which means more low-value cheese production – that attitude is at best disappointing and not in the slightest innovative.”

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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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