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Farming

NSA hits back at vegan campaign

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THE ARRIVAL of a new year is often a time of optimism, of making plans for the year ahead, but increasingly for livestock farmers, January is now the time producers find themselves arguing a torrent of false claims of crimes against animal welfare, the environment and human health that the media are so quick to promote as part of ‘Veganuary’.

And this year, the National Sheep Association (NSA) is ready to fight back against what it says is ‘a misguided and misleading campaign’.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker says: “Make no doubt about it, behind the positive messages about Veganuary lies a well-coordinated campaign against livestock farming. Our concern is that our unique grass-based method of sheep production in Britain is hidden within more global and general statistics.

“We are seeing criticisms from welfare campaigners, rewilders, climate change campaigners, and health campaigners – but all these are connected and ignore the fact that UK sheep farming works very much in harmony with our environment, our landscapes, and our human ecology – creating a countryside the majority of the public love and producing a food product that is healthy and nutritious within a balanced diet.

“The climate change arguments that have been buoyed by the recent Paris Climate Change Summit ignore the fact that red meat from livestock that is part of a grass-based system is different from that raised in feedlots and in intensive situations. Even more misleading is that the carbon footprinting tools we use do not take account of whole life cycles and ignore the role of grasslands and grazing animals in storing carbon and organic matter in our soils and even in the wool they produce. I would go as far to suggest that ‘organic greenhouse gas cycling’ from grazed livestock should be treated separately from gas emissions derived from fossil fuels.”

NSA says the UK should be seeking to maintain or even increase sheep numbers here in the UK, related to market demand, but further encourage the distribution into areas that are devoid of livestock in order to provide the multi-functional outcomes that people are interested in today.

Mr Stocker concludes: “In the UK sheep are a form of positive and regenerative agriculture which keep our uplands and permanent pastures in good condition and improve our cropping lands in terms of soil quality and the ecological benefits of a return to mixed farming.

“Some people seem hell-bent on portraying sheep as a global enemy, but in fact, they are the ultimate in renewable technology and are an efficient form of productive land management that is planet friendly.”

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Farming

A way of life under threat

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THE CAMBRIAN MOUNTAINS, known as the backbone of Wales, is one of the country’s most secluded areas.

Described by the nineteenth-century English writer JH Cliffe as part of the ‘green desert of Wales’, stretching east across Mid Wales to the A470 and Rhaedr, south towards Builth Wells, west to Pumpsaint, and northwards to Llangurig, including the reservoirs of Nant y Moch and Llyn Clywedog.

In Drych: Hel y Mynydd, on S4C on Sunday, January 12 at 9.00 pm, we get to know some of the farmers and shepherds in this extraordinary area as they continue to round-up sheep in the traditional way on foot and on horseback – a tradition which is rapidly dying out.

One of those who continues the tradition is Glyndwr, the head shepherd for the Cwm Elan estate, who farms Claerwen with his wife Wendy: “I help to round-up and exchange sheep with neighbours. There aren’t many of us left who can round-up the sheep in a traditional way. You have to have a dog here or you might as well stay at home. Life is hectic here in the middle of summer as we round-up every day. There isn’t a single fence between me and my neighbours – to me, that’s a great way to live.”

“When you’re rounding-up you are in complete solitude. There isn’t a lot of this rounding-up business going on any longer, but we continue to do it here and it works here – and if it works, there’s no need to change it!”

The area has become a target for a number of English organisations who want to ‘rewild’ a landscape which exists only through thousands of years of human interaction and transform it into their idea of what Wales should look like.

Those schemes have met stiff resistance and one, in particular, Summit to the Sea, has managed to alienate a large number of farmers who would be affected by a variety of crackpot schemes that would force them off the land.

It becomes obvious during the programme that farmers on the open mountain are dependent on each other and offer help by rounding-up each other’s sheep.
We also meet Erwyd, an experienced shepherd from Ponterwyd: “While walking the mountains, a person gets to see the wonders of nature, this is what I call paradise. I feel a part of the place – it is completely unique.”

A reservoir was built in the Elan Valley in 1970 to supply water to cities in the midlands of England. Because of the reservoir, the landscape without fences has survived on the Cwm Elan estate and the farms all belong to the Cwm Elan Trust.

Clive, who farms at Hirnant in the Elan Valley adds: “There are no rules here, no-one makes money or loses money, everybody just helps one another. This must be one of the few places where if the old boys came back, they would show us a thing or two.”

Another who helps the crew is Gwyndaf – neighbour and shearer:
“The country folk think that the mountain boys don’t do anything, but it’s amazing what hard work it is. I can’t see there being any sheep left on the mountain in a few years.”

Following a day of rounding up, comes a day of shearing.

“Shearing day has always been an important day in the mountains’ calendar with the mountain community coming together. It’s one of those jobs that have to be done, but I love shearing.

I would shear every day of the year if I could!”

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Farming

2020 – A Year of Preparation

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THE NATIONAL Chairman of the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA), James Gray, says that the farming industry and the supply chains into which it feeds must be ‘match fit’ to both capitalise on the opportunities of life outside the European Union, as well as tackling the inevitable challenges that will arise.

“Whatever our thoughts about Brexit, the Prime Minister now has the Parliamentary arithmetic in his favour to confirm the UK’s exit from the European Union at the end of January. Through the eleven-month transition period to follow, we must focus not only on achieving a good trade deal with the EU but in ramping up our efforts to secure new export markets for our farming output further afield. As important as the domestic and EU markets are, we must work harder to sell ourselves more internationally. To this end, AHDB should concentrate its efforts in promoting market development,” said Mr Gray.

“We also need the Government to be working with us rather than against us. Allowing imports of food produced to standards which are illegal in the UK would be a catastrophe. The Government must not undermine our domestic market in attempting to gain market share for our financial services sector abroad. If our animal welfare and environmental standards are important to us, we must protect them at our borders. The Government must use a combination of regulatory standards and tariffs on imports to put our domestically produced, high-quality food in the strongest position in trade terms. As a mark of the Government’s support for our industry, it should require all public bodies involved in food procurement to prioritise food from domestic sources,” said Mr Gray.

“Retail and foodservice supply chains will also continue to need strong regulation to ensure fair treatment of primary producers. Indications from the outgoing Groceries Code Adjudicator that her role could continue on a part-time basis because of the successes she has achieved are at best premature and at worst naïve. By including supply chain measures in the previous Agriculture Bill the Government has recognised the need for a widening and deepening of the regulatory framework. We need a full-time adjudicator doing a full-time job across the whole of the retail and foodservice supply chains from farm to fork,” said Mr Gray.

“Within the tenanted sector of agriculture, we will also be looking to the Government to put in place much-needed reforms to the legislative and taxation frameworks within which agricultural tenancies operate. We need greater security of tenure to promote productivity and better environmental outcomes, opportunities for progression and new entrants, as well as routes to dignified retirement for those tenant farmers reaching the end of their farming careers. Directing all new policies and schemes to the needs of active farmers will be key,” said Mr Gray.

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Welsh produce on GCSE menu

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AS A whirlwind of misinformation about how food is farmed and produced circulates on social, online and media platforms, it is more important than ever that children are aware of the facts and understand how ingredients reach their dinner-plate.

The education system in Wales is making an attempt to address this through the school curriculum.

All pupils studying for the GCSE in Food and Nutrition this year are expected to research traditional Welsh recipes and Welsh ingredients as part of the course and use that work as the inspiration for three dishes that showcase local produce.

Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) Market Development Manager, Rhys Llywelyn said: “We welcome the introduction of this task as part of the WJEC’s GCSE qualification in Food and Nutrition. It offers a good opportunity for students to learn more about red meat, how it’s produced, and how it can be prepared to create nutritious, tasty meals.

“It is also a chance to remind young people about Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef’s Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status.”

Rhys recently visited pupils at Ysgol Bro Idris in Dolgellau to talk about red meat production in Wales.

He said: “As part of the session, I was able to focus particularly on Welsh Lamb, which is, of course, a roduct which has been perfected over generations by farmers in rural areas.

“We had a good discussion on how Welsh Lamb is traceable from farm to fork through its PGI status, which is appreciated by consumers. Also, with many of the students coming from farming families, it was very useful to raise some of the factors within the international food industry which influence the price that farmers receive for their livestock.”

The students received packs of literature, including nutritional information and recipes, to help them with their studies. As a follow-up, many of them attended the Royal Welsh Winter Fair to learn more about food and farming.

Teacher Angharad Davies said: “The students enjoyed the visit to the Winter Fair and were fascinated by the Welsh Lamb butchery demonstration which was held on the HCC stand. The butcher expertly showed how a carcase is broken down into the different cuts of meat which can be cooked in various ways. Rhys Llywelyn’s informative presentation has led them to think about how red meat is produced and how it can be prepared along with other, local Welsh ingredients that are available on our doorstep.”

This work is part of HCC’s wider educational activity, which has involved preparing classroom resources for the new Food and Nutrition GCSE as well as materials aimed at younger pupils, and a programme of teacher training events.

This provision will be developed further over the next twelve months, adding to HCC’s online resources and recipe videos, which will help children obtain a greater understanding of food culture, nutrition, and farming.

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