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Farming

Dairy crisis update

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Rebecca Evans

Rebecca Evans

THE DEPUTY MINISTER FOR FARMING AND FOOD, Rebecca Evans, visited Dyffryn farm in Powys to meet owner Jonathon Wilkinson and Russell George AM

discuss some of the issues facing the sector.

Discussion covered a range of topics, including the current situation facing the dairy industry in Wales, restrictions on cattle movement and changes to the Basic Payment Scheme.

The Deputy Minister said: “It was really useful for me to speak with Jonathon and his colleagues about the issues affecting them and their businesses. It is important I continue to meet and speak face-to-face with farmers to hear their concerns.”

A recent reduction in milk prices and the prices paid to farmers has put further pressure on dairy farmers and the Deputy Minister was keen to explore how the Welsh Government can continue to help improve resilience in the sector.

“This is of course a difficult time for dairy farmers across the UK. Confidence on dairy farms had been building over the last year, with a better milk price and lower cost of production, leaving a margin on production. But we have seen further turbulence recently and a return to volatility in milk prices. By working together with the dairy sector and dairy industry as a whole, I remain convinced that we can ensure our vision of a modern, professional and profitable industry in Wales can be achieved. I am keen to explore how resilience can be increased in the Welsh dairy supply chain and am expecting to receive a report back to me on the Dairy Review in the coming weeks. We are also considering how we may increase processing capacity in Wales, but also a range of other measures relating to product development and marketing, which will be of benefit to our dairy farmers.”

In October the Deputy Minister announced that Andy Richardson, who sits on the Dairy Task Force, was to lead the review of the dairy sector in Wales. The review is to provide a strategic direction for the dairy sector across the whole supply chain, offering recommendations that Government and the industry can put in place to deliver resilience, economic growth and the creation of additional jobs within the Welsh industry.

The day after visiting Powys, Rebecca Evans met Sir Jim Paice MP for First Milk talks.

First Milk, one of the largest dairy farmer co-operatives in the UK, announced recently that they were to delay payments to producers by two weeks.

First Milk also decided to reverse the 1.1 pence per litre of the planned February milk price reductions for the manufacturing and liquid pools, increase members’ capital investment and increase members’ capital investment target from 5 to 7 pence per litre.

Following their announcement on January 8, the Deputy Minister said she would be seeking urgent talks with First Milk.

Following the meeting at First Milk’s Haverfordwest Creamery, Rebecca Evans said: “I have spoken to farmers who tell me how concerned they are about what the deferred payments mean for the cash flow of their farming businesses. I sought an urgent meeting with First Milk to better understand how the co-operative had found itself in this position, and to satisfy myself that the suite of actions taken by First Milk will be enough to put them on a sound footing. First Milk say that the actions they have taken have helped to raise enough capital to stem their own cash flow problems and put the business on a sound financial footing once again. Sir Jim assured me he had spoken with the banks in light of their decision and had found them to be sympathetic to the farmers’ situation.”

First Milk is a farmer-owned GB milk co-operative with around 1,600 members. It deals with smaller and more geographically remote farms. There are 400 Welsh dairy producers in the co-operative and the vast majority of milk produced in Wales goes to Haverfordwest Creamery to produce cheese and other milk products.

In December, the Deputy Minister announced a review of the dairy sector in Wales, which is being led by Andy Richardson. The review aims to set out a long-term strategic direction for the dairy industry, taking views from all in the Welsh supply chain and is due to report in the coming weeks.

Around 200 farmers attended a meeting in Llandisillio where they were addressed by Sir Jim Paice.

Sir Jim told farmers the business was secure. However, farmers reported that the co-operative’s decision was yet another setback after months of falling wholesale prices.

The Cambridgeshire MP said that he hoped farmers felt reassured following the meeting, adding: “We’ve had to rebuild cash in the business so that our cash flow is fine. First Milk is a perfectly solvent business and we have a long-term future, but we needed to recapitalise the business and that is what we’ve done.”

The decision affects around 400 Welsh farmers.

First Milk operates a number of milk production facilities in England, Scotland and Wales, including the Haverfordwest Creamery plant.

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Farming

Red clover plays important role in reducing livestock farm’s input costs

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PROTEIN-RICH red clover is helping a Welsh livestock farm achieve a total cost of production of less than £3/kg deadweight in its lambs.

Dafydd and Glenys Parry Jones have been farming organically at Maesllwyni since 2001, running a flock of 700 Texel and Aberfield cross ewes and 60 Hereford cross cattle on the upland holding near Machynlleth.

Red clover has been a key component in their system since then, and increasingly so – in the last three years cattle have been fattened solely on it and lambs spend their last two weeks before slaughter grazing these leys.

By continually fixing nitrogen and releasing it when grazed and cut, red clover is not only an important source of feed for the livestock at Maesllwyni but for soil health and nutrition too. At a recent Farming Connect open day at the farm, Mr Jones shared the knowledge he has gained from two decades of growing and feeding the crop.

Twenty hectares (ha) are grown within a rotation on 60ha of silage ground where fields are reseeded every 11 years. By favouring varieties including AberChianti and AberClaret, leys have a five year longevity if looked after, including by not grazing in the winter.

The crop is established in May after ploughing. The farm’s top soil layer is shallow therefore only the top 10cm are cultivated.

Oats, barley, peas and vetches are incorporated in the mix. “The arable mix cleans the field up and creates a canopy to keep the weeds down,’’ said Mr Jones.

The silage is mainly fed to pregnant ewes in the last two weeks before lambing.

Red clover seed is established at a depth of just 5mm and the arable silage at 7.5-10cm.

“We just let the arable seed sit on top of the furrows and find that it works fine,’’ said Mr Jones.

Establishment had previously been in July but by getting the seed into the ground in May it gives red clover an advantage in that first year. “The clover really starts to take off in the middle of the summer,’’ said Mr Jones.

The soil is chain harrowed and rolled after seeding. A bulky first cut is taken in June, the forage wilted for 24 hours, and a second, higher quality cut at the beginning of August, with 48-hour wilting.

“We cut the red clover at a young stage for silaging, to prevent the stem becoming unpalatable for sheep,’’ Mr Jones explains.

The first cut is clamped and the second preserved as big bales. A plastic conditioner is used on the mower to decrease leaf damage.

At over 18% protein, it is a protein-rich crop therefore it is established with companion grasses to provide fibre and energy to help retain that protein in the rumen for longer.

“Producing protein is one thing but you need to have something to absorb it,’’ said Mr Jones.

There are other benefits too from plants and herbs included in the mix, he said.

“Trefoil has tannins which help keep livestock healthy and, as our soils are low in copper, chicory helps to bring that mineral up the soil structure.’’

The target analysis for red clover silage is at least 18% protein, metabolic energy (ME) greater than 11, a digestibility (D) value of over 70 and dry matter at more than 30%.

“Clover doesn’t have a lot of sugar in it so I use an additive to help with the ensiling and to quickly get the pH level down,’’ said Mr Jones.

He doesn’t allow red clover to grow too high before turning sheep onto it. “The stem mustn’t get too thick because the sheep don’t like it when it gets to that stage.’’

For grazing, ewes and lambs get priority in the spring, to get lambs fattened and sold, and after 1 July it is cattle that get the first bite.

“We fatten lambs on red clover but not for too long otherwise they get too big and fat,’’ Mr Jones explained. They are grazed for two weeks and then weighed.

No concentrates are fed, largely thanks to the high-quality red and white clover silages and excellent grazing management.

This has helped decrease total cost of production to under £3/kg deadweight in lambs.

“In many systems it is the Single Farm Payment that is the profit but by keeping our costs down the lamb is the profit and the payment is a bonus,’’ said Mr Jones.

Carbon footprint in his lamb system is 11.4kg C02/kg liveweight. Cattle are finished at 20 months – they can achieve daily liveweight gains of up to 1.6kg when grazing red clover.

Soil is regularly sampled – the red clover and herbal ley fields consistently at 6-6.5pH. Healthy soils are important for beneficial insects too, such as the dung beetle, which is adept at recycling nutrients.

Lynfa Davies, Farming Connect Biodiversity Specialist, advised farmers attending the open day that the dung beetle plays a vital role in livestock systems through dung pat management and parasite control.

“Having good populations of dung beetles is a ‘win win’ as it reduces parasite loads as well as getting nutrients underground to feed that next flush of grass, and they also provide feed for other wildlife and birds,’’ she said.

Good populations of dung beetles also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production as they draw faecal matter down into the soil. They are very vulnerable to anthelmintics, in particular ivermectins.

Ms Davies said, treating animals that have a proven parasite burden, by using faecal egg counting to establish worm levels, will promote and preserve dung beetle populations.

Grazing livestock all the year round is beneficial too as different species of dung beetle are prevalent at different times of the year.

“It doesn’t have to be prime cattle, perhaps some youngstock or sheep,’’ said Ms Davies. “If there are farms in the locality that have stock in fields all the year round that will help too.’’

The open day was facilitated by Farming Connect Red Meat Sector Officer Owain Pugh.

He said the Jones family were demonstrating how important crops like red clover were in reducing inputs.

“The image of Welsh farming is very important now and will be even more so in the future and cutting out proteins with high carbon footprints such as soya is paramount,’’ he said.

A number of projects trialling systems for reducing inputs are being carried out on the Farming Connect Our Farms network.

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Farming

Meet the winners of Pembrokeshire County Show 2023

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THE PEMBROKESHIRE AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY has said that it would like to thank all those who supported this year’s event with competitor numbers up on the previous year as well as a significant increase in the number of trade stands and ticket sales.

The Society has praised the hard work of the huge army of volunteers, sponsors and exhibitors, without whom it would not have been possible to hold the Show.

Brian Jones, Pembrokeshire County Show President, said, “Thank you to everyone who came and supported the Show. We were certainly blessed with two days of glorious weather which I’ve no doubt helped in bringing the crowds to the showground. All the rain we had had prior to the show certainly made parking a challenge on day one but we must thank everyone for their patience as we found alternative solutions. Planning now begins for the 2024 event!”

Award winners at this year’s Pembrokeshire County Show included:

Baron de Rutzen Award Those under the age of 45 who farm in Pembrokeshire and could demonstrate their farm’s use of the latest technological methods to promote progressive, sustainable agriculture were encouraged to enter the prestigious Baron de Rutzen Award. The winners were Mark and Caroline Davies of Little Newcastle, Haverfordwest. They milk 230 pedigree Holsteins through a fully automated system. They rear their own replacements and also have a small beef enterprise. The farm is all grassland and they follow a strict reseeding and liming policy to optimise the yield from their multi-cut silage system. The couple place significant emphasis on animal health, husbandry and breeding to maximise the efficiency of their system.

Student Bursary Award was awarded to Lottie Wilson from Hayscastle. The £1,000 bursary is open annually to all qualifying students studying agriculture, veterinary science, agricultural engineering, food technology, forestry or other subjects clearly allied to agriculture. Lottie is currently studying agriculture at the University of Nottingham. When she’s at home she is a general dairy farm worker as well as a lambing hand and a calving beef herd assistant. In 2021 she was the top agriculture student at Hartpury College.

Ambassador for 2024 to help support officeholders in promoting and meeting the aims of the Society. During the show, the role was awarded to Ffion Edwards, a nurse, from Maenclochog. She has enjoyed many many years of attending the county show and believes that there are so many good elements to it. Ffion has been a member of Llysyfran YFC for 15 years and enjoys every aspect of young farmers – trying new experiences, competing and travelling to name a few.

Long Service Award – Farm and estate workers from Pembrokeshire, who have been employed on the land for 25 years or more, could be nominated for this Award. There were two recipients for the inscribed Awards: Darran Davies from Scleddau, Fishguard and Richard Davies from Treffgarn Owen, Haverfordwest.

The next event to be held on the Showground will be the Christmas Fair which takes place on Sunday, 10 December between 10am and 4pm. There will be gift and craft stalls, food and drink, festive music and a Santa’s Grotto. Admission is Free.

The date has been set for Wales’ largest county agricultural show, Pembrokeshire County Show in 2024. The event will take place on 14 and 15 August at Pembrokeshire County Showground in Haverfordwest.

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Farming

Director for Rural Affairs visits Welsh project farm

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AS THE BRO CORS CARON SMS project comes to an end, we were fortunate to have a visit to Cruglas Farm from the Welsh Government’s Director for Rural Affairs, Gian Marco Currado. Responsible for the team devising the Sustainable Farming Scheme (or SFS, the future Welsh agri-environment scheme due in 2025), Mr Currado had visited the project area to learn more about the work of Terry Mills at Cruglas Farm and of the wider Bro Cors Caron Farmer Cluster; the research of the GWCT relating to sustainable land management; and to hear from the Welsh farmers involved with the project.

The day started with a tour around Cruglas Farm, a beef and sheep farm owned by Terry Mills who has spent 30 years creating a haven for wildlife. The habitat creation includes the establishment of extensive hedgerows and wooded areas across the farm, with 42 different tree species.

A key element of the future SFS is tree planting, which has resulted in numerous discussions surrounding how tree planting could be implemented through the scheme to ensure that tree cover increases in Wales, but without impeding food productivity and the profitability of Welsh farms. GWCT Wales have, along with most farmers in Wales, expressed reservations about a blanket approach and highlighted several measures that could be adopted to ensure a more proportionate approach and potentially increase the scheme uptake amongst the farming community. GWCT would like at least some hedges be included in the tree planting quota and with GWCT’s recently developed hedgerow carbon code we can measure the carbon stored within each hedgerow. We would like to see trees planted in the right place, so they don’t remove productive land from food production; don’t disadvantage nature while meeting the desired outcome of continuous suitable woodland. GWCT would also like to see the multiple benefits of hedgerows for wildlife and livestock farming, including biosecurity, and their ability to store carbon.

In addition to habitat creation, management practices traditionally related to game management that Terry uses were discussed. Terry Mills carries out predation management and overwinter supplementary feeding on Cruglas, and these practices have now been implemented on a wider scale across the Bro Cors Caron Farmer Cluster within the SMS scheme. We were able to explain these measures on the tour around Cruglas, highlighting the research conducted by the GWCT at the Allerton Project showing the importance of these management practices for threatened farmland species and their potential for inclusion in the new SFS.

Farmers in the Bro Cors Caron Farmer Cluster discussed sustainable land management, where profitable food production, functioning ecosystem services and thriving local wildlife can all co-exist, alongside strong rural communities and a resilient Welsh language. The achievement of these goals requires cooperation and trust between Welsh Government and farmers and a flexible and adaptable agri-environment scheme which values and takes into account the knowledge of Working Conservationists on the ground.

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