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Farming

Suicide – a farming taboo

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farm tabooMENTION suicide in agricultural circles and more than likely someone is quick to mention they know of someone who has taken their own life, and as quick as they mentioned it, the subject is changed away from one of the last taboo in the agricultural community. 

Published studies have suggested that farmers are three times more likely to take their own life than the average person. This raises some serious questions as to why these levels are so high in an occupation which came in as the eight most satisfying job, out of 274 in BBC poll. The long hours seems to be the main talking point from non-farmers point of view as to why the job may be difficult, however, the hours are relative. You know as soon as you begin farming that it’s not your normal 9-5 job. Farming is less a job, and more a lifestyle. So can the long hours really be the reason for farmers ending their struggle? It’s possibly a contributing factor, but not the sole reason. Speaking to Pembrokeshire farmers, there seems to constantly be a battle they are waging against this or that. Dairy farmers are having a rough time with the drop in milk prices and wheat prices per tonne have dropped steadily over two years. Costs are increasing and profits are not. This financial insecurity would be difficult for any one to manage. However, farmers can diversify and adapt to survive. The increase in paperwork and computer knowledge required to run a farm also puts unnecessary pressure on a farmer and their family. But bring a farmers livelihood into question, by slaughtering their cattle because of bovine tuberculosis, and you are sure to touch a raw nerve. In Wales 9,307 cattle were slaughtered in 2012 because of the disease, compared with just over 8,000 in 2011. This increase in slaughtering will directly affect the farmer, bringing in a doubt over their farming method, when this is not the case. “Many wives, mothers, sons and friends notice a change in someone they know well,” says Glyn Evans, a regional director at Farm Crisis Network, who has experience of suicide in his own family. “The temptation is to pretend that you are imagining it and hope things improve. “It’s really vital that the subject is broached. Asking something such as ‘Are you feeling depressed?’ or ‘Do you feel like life’s not worth living?’ or ‘Have you been having suicidal thoughts?’ really can save lives.’ To contact Farm Crisis Network, call 0845 9990.

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Farming

Red meat industry’s resilience despite uncertainty

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WALES’s red meat industry has shown great adaptability and resilience in responding to the COVID-19 crisis this year, Hybu Cig Cymru-Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) Chairman Kevin Roberts said in a speech to virtual Royal Welsh Show attendees on Monday (July 20).
However, he also warned that the uncertainty wasn’t over, with the potential of further disruption both from Coronavirus and a trade deadlock with Europe.
Addressing the new virtual Showground, Mr Roberts said it was a very different event this year, “We have seen everything change and in the next six months we are faced with worrying challenges amid a menacing maelstrom of uncertainty.”
He said COVID-19 would remain centre stage, forcing necessary social distancing measures that would impact severely on red meat’s important foodservice sector.
“And waiting stage right is the bear of Brexit. With time ticking for the post-Brexit trade talks, lots of end-of-year outcomes remain possible but from our industry’s standpoint, there are simply no upsides to any of these – save continued free trade with Europe.”
Mr Roberts said HCC was carefully planning for all scenarios but cautioned that a harder Brexit was looming that “would potentially bring massive tariffs on our exports and threats to our farms from trade deals with Australia, New Zealand, or America.”
He said the industry in Wales did not deserve this fate. “In the recent months of hardship, it’s shown what it can do; quality food, produced sustainably, trusted and traceable to the farm gate.
“We’re right to be concerned about what we are eating. To consider importing food of a lesser standard, to open the door to cheaper, more intensive, less sustainable red meat from other countries, would be foolhardy,” said Mr Roberts.
He said HCC would respond to the challenges with creativity and drive and pointed to HCC’s marketing successes in response to lockdown closures of pubs, restaurants and foodservice outlets. “HCC instantly switched its marketing focus, innovating around new isolation initiatives to inspire people to buy roasting joints, hindquarter cuts and premium fresh meat and cook new recipes at home.”
By the end of May, he said this work had racked up huge consumer responses and contributed to an increase of 40% on spending on beef steaks, “This wasn’t just existing customers buying more. The number of people buying beef steaks was up 30%, as we saw consumers turning to quality fresh meat. Our independent butchers saw an even bigger jump in sales. Beef up over 40%, lamb up 25%.”
HCC’s Red Meat Development Programme, funded by the EU and Welsh Government, was driving the industry forward and the successful “Make It Beef” campaign, one of the industry’s largest of recent years and conducted in association with counterparts AHDB and QMS, was being followed by the new “Make It Lamb” campaign, led by celebrity chef John Torode.
“We must all make sure that the lockdown lessons are learned- namely, how we should all treasure and value the food on our plate and properly reward the people that put it there,” said Mr Roberts.
The ‘Make It’ campaigns are being funded from the £3.5 million funds of AHDB red meat levies ring-fenced for collaborative projects which is managed by the three GB meat levy bodies – HCC, QMS and AHDB. The ring-fenced fund is an interim arrangement while a long-term solution is sought on the issue of levies being collected at the point of slaughter in England for animals which have been reared in Scotland or Wales.

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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

Farmers encouraged to assess flocks’ body condition

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VETS are encouraging sheep farmers to conduct body condition assessments to maximise the productivity of their flocks and reduce potential health and welfare problems.
Through the Stoc+ animal health planning project, Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) is encouraging farmers to conduct body condition score (BCS) assessments. BCS is a simple, effective and cheap management tool for all flock owners to use to evaluate the body reserves of adult sheep. BCS is conducted by a simple manual check of the animal to assess the amount of fat cover and muscle mass.
BCS assessments allow farmers to adjust the flock’s nutrition to maximise productivity and reduce health and welfare problems that are associated with lean or overfat body condition. Other benefits can include higher lambing and rearing percentages and reduced metabolic disorders.
Emlyn Roberts of Esgairgawr farm in Rhyd-y-main, Dolgellau believes that BCS is a great asset on his farm. On his hill farm, Mr Roberts has a flock of over 800 Meirionnydd Welsh Mountain ewes and a herd of Welsh Black cattle and is part of the Hill Ram Scheme and Stoc+, two elements of HCC’s strategic Red Meat Development Programme.
Mr Roberts says, “BCS is of great importance here at Esgairgawr, as it’s crucial to get the ewes in the right condition pre-tupping and pre-lambing. BCS is a vital tool for the ewes to thrive and perform on the mountain. Combined with recording the performance, we have to make sure the ewes are in optimum condition to maximise production.”
Claire Jones of Dolgellau Vets, who is one of the Stoc+ vet Ambassadors and Mr Roberts’ vet practice explains, “BCS at weaning or at the very latest, eight weeks before tupping is vital. By assessing score at this time, there is an opportunity to adjust the management of individual ewes if score is too low or too high. It takes approximately eight weeks to increase one condition score in a typical situation, so monitoring the flock regularly is beneficial.
“BCS assessment is particularly useful on hill farms where the physical conditions imposed by the changeable weather and poorer grazing impose significantly greater stresses than in the lowland situation but is beneficial for all flocks.”
Stoc+ and Hill Ram Scheme are both parts of the three-strand Red Meat Development Programme (RMDP), which is supported by the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020, funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

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