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Farming

Can Labour reconnect with the countryside?

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Labour needs new rural stategy: Thinktank report claims

LABOUR must reconnect with the politics and culture of the countryside to be confident of winning the next general election, according to a new Fabian Society report published today. To secure a working majority the party will need to capitalise on the demise of Ukip and the decline of the Liberal Democrats and gain seats in both rural and semi-rural constituencies.

Labour Country, a new report from the Fabian Society, supported by the Countryside Alliance, shows Labour still has a way to go to win over rural voters. The report argues that to gain countryside seats Labour needs to be seen as ‘a natural party of the countryside’.

To win a UK majority, the party does not need to beat the Conservatives across all rural areas, but it does need to be competitive. Of Labour’s target seats ahead of the next general election, 16 are rural and a further 28 have at least 3,000 rural inhabitants. A YouGov/Fabian Society poll shows that as things stand:

The Conservatives lead Labour by 54% to 31% in rural England and Wales (23 points)

Even amongst working class rural voters the Conservatives beat Labour by 49% to 35% (14 points)

But in better news for Labour, the party is ahead of the Conservatives in rural England and Wales among people aged under 50 (48 per cent to 36 per cent) and among those who voted remain in the EU referendum (45 per cent to 34 per cent). There are large numbers of both groups across rural England and Wales, despite the countryside being older and more Eurosceptic than the nation as a whole.

The report identifies the policy areas that are key to Labour rebuilding its connection with rural voters – including transport, housing and farming. But focus groups conducted for the report also show the party needs a shift in how it campaigns and organises to ‘rural-proof’ everything it does.

The report concludes that Labour’s next manifesto should set out an economic strategy that delivers for rural areas. It makes recommendations in four key policy areas:

A place-based industrial strategy:

  • support for small-scale enterprise and manufacturing
  • place-based investment
  • support for technical education

Better rural transport:

  • the restoration of the rural bus routes lost since 2010 and the municipalisation of bus services
  • reviewing the effects of the Beeching cuts to rural train services

Local, affordable housing:

  • democratic local involvement in planning
  • affordable and social housing to meet local need
  • small-scale development on disused plots of land
  • architectural form that fits the environment

A post-Brexit agricultural settlement:

  • a new support system that values the labour that sustains the countryside, rebalanced towards small-scale and marginal farms as well as the provision of public goods

Shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs Sue Hayman MP said: “The Conservatives take rural communities for granted, imagining that they have their votes sewn up. But it is all too clear that they have nothing of substance to say on the real challenges facing rural communities.

“As the member of parliament for a rural constituency in West Cumbria, I know only too well how creaking Victorian infrastructure, rural poverty and a lack of employment opportunities for young people are leading to a growing disconnect between city and countryside. At the same time, austerity is leading to the steady erosion of the pubs and post offices, bank branches and local businesses that serve as the heart of so many of our small towns, villages and hamlets.

“This new report outlines positive recommendations for how to take on the Conservatives in their rural heartlands and deliver for rural communities across England and Wales.”

Andrew Harrop, general secretary at the Fabian Society said: “To win the next election Labour must gain seats with lots of rural voters and that will take a big shift in the way the party campaigns and organises. But there is room for optimism, with Labour now leading the Conservatives among rural voters under the age of 50.

“As a former Labour candidate in a rural seat, I know myself that the party is often dismissed as an ‘urban’ intruder that does not understand country life. Labour must prove to countryside voters that it is on their side with rural-friendly policies for saving banks, bus routes and countryside businesses.”

Baroness Ann Mallalieu, Labour peer and president of the Countryside Alliance said: “There is no doubt that there can be no future Labour government without improved support in the countryside, but this can only be achieved if the party gets serious about making a credible policy offer to the countryside. For too long Labour have conflated rural issues with animal issues, to the detriment of Labour’s vote in the countryside. This report lays out how Labour can correct this trend and challenge the Conservative party’s rural dominance, by speaking to the genuine concerns of people in the countryside.”

Farming

FUW explores innovation at Royal Welsh

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Bernard Griffiths, FUW: Excited about possibilities to innovate

AMERICAN entrepreneur Steve Jobs, Co-founder of Apple, once said that ​’i​nnovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower​’​. Recognising the importance of innovation in the agricultural industry, the Farmers’ Union of Wales is hosting a special seminar at the Royal Welsh Show.

The innovation seminar, which is held on Tuesday, July 23, at 2pm at the FUW Pavilion, will focus on how farmers can embrace innovation in many different ways, and stay ahead of their competitors as Brexit looms.

Those attending the seminar can look forward to hearing from Geraint Hughes, of Madryn Foods, who leads on Business and Innovation in the Farming Connect’s Agri-Academy scheme, whose forum include Welsh farmers looking at technologies such as Genomics, Smart farming, Virtual reality, Social Media and Vertical farming.

He also operates as a broker for the European Innovation Partnership programme that aims to bridge academia and industry by conducting field trials of cutting edge technologies in a commercial environment.

Previously, Mr Hughes conducted agriculture research at Bangor University and was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship to study “Crops for functional foods” in 2006.

“I look forward to sharing knowledge I have gained from travels seeing innovation at work, which has now become reality, such as retail vending, the “farmacy” concept in supermarkets such as Planet Organics where shoppers buy with their health being the main consideration, pasture fed meat, robotics, genomics and more,” said Geraint Hughes.

Also joining the panel of speakers is Karina Marsden who is a post-doctoral researcher in the Ecosystems and Environment group at the Environment Centre Wales, Bangor University.

She has researched soil nitrogen cycling in livestock production systems, with a particular focus on emissions of the greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide, from agricultural soils. Karina works alongside Professor Dave Chadwick who specialises in sustainable land use systems and Professor Davey Jones who specialises in soil and environmental science.

Bangor University researchers have been investigating novel methods of utilising nitrification inhibitors to reduce diffuse nitrogen pollution from agriculture, including nitrate leaching and emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.

Novel strategies include targeting the use of these inhibitors to critical pollution source areas and quantifying how effective they are in terms of cost of application and alleviation of nitrogen pollution. Compounds of biological, rather than chemical origin are also being investigated. There is potential to adopt these technologies, possibly under the support of agri-environment schemes, but research is key to determine how effective they are and how their use can be optimised before wider adoption can take place.

Another novel technology being studied is the use of real-time in-situ sensors which can detect soil nitrate. The major aim is to better improve nitrogen use efficiency, to match the supply of nitrogen fertilisers to the demand of the crops.

The research will assess how these sensors perform in comparison to existing technologies,such as crop canopy sensors measuring greenness. The technology has been advancing with improvements to sensor robustness and design.

Research is continuing into how this technology could be adopted on farms e.g. how many sensors would be required across a given area and how to link the soil nitrate concentration data to crop growth and nitrogen demand.

FUW Policy officer Bernard Griffith​s​ said: “The FUW has collaborated with other industry Welsh stakeholders for the past 18 months to tackle diffuse and point source pollution from agriculture sources and innovation was identified as one of the 5 key prongs to bring about improvement.

“We therefore welcome innovative research that will develop alternative strategies to keep Welsh farmers working on the land and we look forward hearing more about this from Karina at the seminar.“

Updating attendees on the latest developments on a range of sensors to help farmers remotely monitor livestock in extensive systems, is Shiv Kodam of Hoofprints Technologies – who have carried out a year-long trial in collaboration with Scottish Rural Colleges at their remote hill farm in Crianlarich, Scotland.

The company has also developed gate sensors to monitor the opening and closing of gates on farms. The gate sensors could play an important role in notifying the farmer if a farm gate has been opened by someone other than the farmer.

“Currently, Hoofprints Technologies are working on several farms across the UK on a range of different systems for different uses. For example, cows and sheep are collared which log and transmit the location of the animal every few minutes. This can then be displayed on a dashboard in real time.

“Other technology developed will accurately and automatically “mother-up” ewes and lambs within 48 hours with up to 99% accuracy of the ewe and lamb relationship. This also works with ewes with multiple lambs. The technique can be used on suckler cows to identify cross suckling traits.

“The technology allows the accurate identification of the behaviours of remote livestock so that farmers could be notified if their animals behave differently from the norm, or if the animal displays signs of illness, characterised by lack of movement or motion. I’m looking forward to provide further updates on this at the FUW’s seminar and look forward to seeing many of you there,” said Shiv Kodam.

FUW Policy Officer Bernard Griffiths said: “We are very excited about this seminar, which will explore a variety of innovations made, that can help the sector progress in future. The seminar is free to attend and open to all – I hope many of you can join us in exploring further aspects of innovation in agric sector.”

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Farming

FUW focuses on mental health

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Talking mental health: FUW aims to increase understanding

THE FARMERS’ U​NION OF WALES made a commitment at the Royal Welsh Show last year to continue raising awareness of mental health problems in rural communities and in line with that commitment is continuing the conversation about the wider issues surrounding mental health in rural areas at this year’s Royal Welsh Show.

Hosting a dedicated seminar on Thursday, July 26​,​ at 11am at the FUW pavilion, the Union looks forward to hearing from Alzheimer’s Society Cymru, The Farming Community Network and DPJ Foundation.

Speaking ahead of the event, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “Mental health – good or bad – has affected us all at some point in our lives. Standing by the commitment we made at the Show last year, I’m pleased to see the excellent line-up of speakers we have with us once again.

“They will be discussing a variety of issues and look at solutions that are available to those who have suffered, are suffering or are supporting someone close to them who is affected by mental health issues, may that be depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s or any other form of poor mental health. I therefore hope that many of you will be able to join us on the day.”

The discussions are chaired by Lilwen Joynson, Agrisgop leader, who said: “I appreciate that for many farmers, rural businesses and families having a chat about being stressed out and what to do and where to go for help, sits below the to do list of a busy rural enterprise.

“The thing is, if we don’t talk we don’t support and we end up with problems and an industry that isn’t facing up to the reality of how mental health affects us all.

“I want you to think right now of one person who is affected with stress, anxiety or depression it could even be you. Where do they go for support? Very often nowhere and that’s why we have been known to be an industry that shuts up and puts up. We have an industry that thinks that a person is soft if we are feeling depressed; we all know that well-oiled phrase “pull yourself together”.

“That’s why as a working practitioner I am keen to push forward and pull together and talk about mental health – let’s take the stigma out of mental health in farming. And I hope to see many of you at the seminar.”

David Williams, Wales Regional Director for The Farming Community Network, who manages a group of 40 Welsh volunteers and is the FCN’s lead contact with the Welsh Government on farming-related issues said:

“It is very easy to underestimate just how important the mind is when it comes to farming. Along with the body, it is, without doubt, the best bit of kit a farmer can have.

“However, if your mind and body are not well-maintained, the consequences can be disastrous. There is a significant amount of stress and anxiety in farming at present. Concerns about the unpredictable weather, animal disease, support payments and the impact of Brexit are weighing on the minds of many farmers throughout Wales.

“Coupled with the loneliness and isolation that comes with farming means that farmers and agricultural workers are highly susceptible to poor mental wellbeing. Failing to deal with poor mental wellbeing could lead to all sorts of issues. It could lead to the farm running inefficiently, a serious injury, relationship breakdowns, poor physical health and, even worse, it could lead to suicide.

“Thankfully, the stigma surrounding mental wellbeing in farming is slowly reducing, thanks to the incredible support services that are now available to the farming community. One of the aims of the FUW’s “Let’s Talk” seminar, is to help farmers better understand mental health, identify poor mental wellbeing in both themselves and their loved ones and signpost them to the most appropriate support services for their situation.

“I would encourage anyone who has a passion for rural life and wants to support the farming community to attend this seminar at the FUW pavilion.”

Emma Picton-Jones, who set up the DPJ Foundation after her husband took his own life July 2016, will provide an update on the work of the foundation, which aims to support people in agriculture and in the agricultural community by reducing the stigma that surrounds mental health and supporting them by signposting them to support systems that are available.

She said: “We have set up a talking therapies service specifically for people in the rural communities, men in particular who struggle with their mental health and we are currently running a pilot year in West Wales and have taken on on average 1 client per week for each week we have been running. That just shows how important mental health support is in our communities and I hope many of you can join us for this seminar at the Royal Welsh Show to explore what help is available.”

Sue Phelps, Alzheimer’s Society Cymru Country Director, said: “Alzheimer’s Society Cymru estimate that there are 17,000 people affected by dementia living in rural communities across Wales. They face a specific set of challenges and barriers; these include access to specialist support, peer support and a lack of awareness and understanding of dementia within the community.

“Loneliness is a real problem for people with dementia. Alzheimer’s Society research states that a third of people report to have lost friends since their diagnosis. Two thirds of people with dementia remain in their communities, but many feel trapped in their own homes – with almost one in 10 only leaving the house once a month. Carers are also more likely to feel isolated and unsupported.

“Our Side by Side service supports those affected by dementia to remain part of their community and continue to do the things they love. This can help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness which can lead to depression and other mental health related issues. We are particularly keen to recruit volunteers from the Welsh speaking and farming community to Side by Side to help us to keep connected with people living with dementia.

“Alzheimer’s Society Cymru will continue to shine a light on the needs of people affected by dementia in rural Wales, and will be keeping a close eye on the implementation of the Welsh Government’s National Dementia Action Plan, to make sure people in those communities receive the care and support that they are entitled to receive.”

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Farming

Horizon document looks to future

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Sheep industry: In the firing line

A NEW analysis of Brexit’s potential impact emphasises the need for agricultural businesses to prepare for the future to ensure the long-term prosperity of the £1.6 billion Welsh farming sector.

The Horizon document, ‘Exploring the implications of Brexit for agriculture and horticulture in Wales’, has been produced by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and analyses a range of scenarios surrounding trading access, agricultural support payments, and movement of labour.

The report echoes other independent analyses which conclude that the sheep sector is most exposed to a ‘hard’ Brexit scenario. Over a third of PGI Welsh Lamb is exported abroad – over 90% of it to the EU – therefore the prospect of Tariffs or other barriers to trade is among the greatest risks.

Various other sectors could be affected in different ways in terms of trade and rural payments, and the report notes the potential vulnerability of the abattoir and processing sector to restrictions on migrant labour.

However the report concludes that the most efficient enterprises are best-placed to thrive in a changed environment, and lists a range of resources, provided by AHDB, HCC and Welsh Government’s Farming Connect programme, which can help farmers to prepare.

HCC’s Industry Development and Relations Manager John Richards said​:​ “The scenarios presented in the report represent the extremes of what we might expect from Brexit – anything from a free trade deal with Europe which allows us to trade exactly as we do now, to full tariffs on all agricultural imports and exports.”

“However, it’s very important that agri-food businesses take steps to assess the possible impact on their sector, and begin to plan accordingly through benchmarking and other tools,” he added. “HCC is ready to work with Welsh Government, Farming Connect and the whole sector on a range of initiatives to help make the transition.”

“We had a number of interesting discussions with farmers and industry representatives at the Brexit roadshow events we held – again jointly with AHDB – earlier this year,” said John. “It’s not easy to plan when we don’t know the final outcome, but knowing their costs and maximising efficiency is something farmers can do straight away which is certain to help.”

AHDB Head of Strategic Insight David Swales said: “For some sectors, Brexit presents a number of opportunities, while other parts of the industry face some potential challenges when we leave the EU.

“While we do not know all the details, we would rather farmers and growers start to prepare now based on the information we have at present. We will be updating our report as more information becomes available, but this latest Horizon document allows industry to avoid the wait-and-see approach, which we believe is high risk.”

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