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Farming

Sheep’s importance to countryside highlighted

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Loss would be devastating: Upland sheep farming in peril

CARMARTHEN sheep farmer and Farmers’ Union of Wales Vice President Ian Rickman, whose hill farm Gurnos, near Bethlehem, Llandeilo, lies at over 1000 feet in places, has highlighted the important role sheep play in maintaining the countryside.

500 Llandovery white faced ewes, which are due to lamb during the next two months, call these lands their home. Ian fears that the consequences of not grazing the mountains would have a devastating impact on the environment and tourism.

The farm extends to 220 acres with Common Grazing Rights on the Black Mountain, and he is a member of the Management Committee of the Black Mountain West Graziers Association.

To showcase just how much #FarmingMatters and to discuss wider issues of concern, he held an open day in February, welcoming Jonathan Edwards MP, Adam Price AM, Dafydd Llewelyn Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner, Councillor Gareth Thomas, various business representatives and many local farmers.

Ian explained the importance of grazing the mountains: “I move the ewe lambs annually to the mountains and common land with their mothers where they are taught where to graze. It has been an important part of grazing the mountains for many generations.

“If lamb prices dropped drastically, we lost our market or farm support was to diminish, it could mean less or no sheep on the mountains. That in turn could have a detrimental effect on the landscape of the mountains in years to come and therefore also on tourism, the communities that are intrinsic to our rural economy, and our way of life here in the uplands would change – and possibly not for the better.”

The FUW further used the opportunity to discuss wider #FarmingMatters such as the lack of broadband, telephone signal, worries about lamb prices, rural crime, and bank closures, as well as the urgent need to secure fair farm funding for Wales.

Nerys Edwards, the FUW’s assistant CEO in Carmarthen highlighted the need for urgent funding security. She said: “We know that the UK Government has said that it will match the current EU budget that supports farming and our rural economies, but how that money gets to Wales and how it is managed has not been determined. That of course is a real problem for our farmers like Ian, because they can’t plan for the future.

“It is encouraging to hear First Minister Carwyn Jones backing the industry and we recently heard him say that “agricultural funding will have to be held in a separate pot and dealt with in a different way”.

“However, there is a risk that it could go through the Barnett Formula, which will reduce the £260 m to circa £150 million and spell disaster for our rural economy.

“The FUW is now actively lobbying for the money to be assigned from the UK Government to Wales, for agriculture and we really appreciated being able to raise this with our local elected politicians here on farm.”

Farming

Alpaca settle in on Welsh hills

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A HERD of alpaca at Aberystwyth University’s upland research centre welcomed two new arrivals during the Covid-19 lockdown.
One male and one female baby alpaca, known as cria, were born at the Pwllpeiran Upland Research Platform and are settling down to life in the Cambrian Mountains.
They are the first cria to be born on the University’s land and to be registered under the centre’s new stud prefix ‘Peiran’.
Peiran Champagne and Peiran Cosmopolitan join a small herd of alpacas who arrived at Pwllpeiran in October 2019 as part of a new research project.
Scientists want to see whether the South American alpaca is suited to life in the Welsh hills and could provide new opportunities for uplands farming.
These long-necked animals, similar to the llama, are renowned for the quality of their fibre (wool) and are happy to feed on low quality grasses which are often snubbed by sheep.
The research project is being led by Dr Mariecia Fraser at the Pwllpeiran Upland Research Centre, which is part of the University’s Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).
“These are changing times for Welsh upland farming, with the next round of support payments expected to push for a shift away from primary agricultural production towards nature conservation and carbon reduction. In setting up a research herd of alpacas at Pwllpeiran, we want to test whether the alpaca could offer hill farmers a viable alternative to sheep.
“As well as producing high quality fibre, camelids like alpacas have evolved adaptations to enable them to live off poor quality tussock grasses in the Andes, and are happy to tuck into invasive grasses such as Molinia. These forages grow in abundance on the Welsh uplands but tend to be shunned by native sheep. We’ll be looking at the impact of their grazing and how well they could fit in to traditional patterns of farming here,” said Dr Fraser.
The establishment of the initial research herd is being funded by the Joy Welch Educational Charitable Trust, which was set up by the Aberystwyth alumna in 1988.

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Farming

Beef calf registrations increase

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NEW figures released by the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) suggests that the number of beef calves registered in Wales in the first five months of 2020 is the highest it’s been for several years.
Across Britain there has been an overall rise of 1.2% in calves – both dairy and beef – registered between January and May 2020, compared to the same period last year. In Wales the figure is higher, with an increase of 3.1%.
According to analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) the statistics reflect a range of factors, including a trend of producing more cross-bred calves from the dairy herd.
Some of the beef breeds and cross breeds showing the biggest increases in terms of calf registrations in Wales include the Aberdeen Angus (up 11.7%) and Hereford (up 4.8%), whilst both Charolais and British Blue registrations are up just over 4%.
The 2020 figures are a contrast to the last five years, where BCMS calf registration data has indicated a flat picture in the Welsh beef registrations.
HCC market analyst Glesni Phillips said, “These figures could show a positive sign for the future of the beef industry in Wales, and reflect broader trends in both the beef and dairy sectors.
“This comes despite the beef sector being hit by uncertainty in recent times. A combination of market conditions led to low farm-gate prices last year, and demand fluctuated widely in the early stages of the Coronavirus lockdown as pubs and restaurants closed their doors.
“However, we’ve seen encouraging consumption figures throughout Britain in the second half of the spring, with great support from consumers for home-produced beef, with its high standards of welfare and environmental sustainability.”
One high-profile new entrant into the beef sector is international rugby referee Nigel Owens MBE, who has recently started his own ‘Mairwen’ herd of Hereford cattle in Carmarthenshire.
“Having worked at Wern Farm Drefach when I was younger it had always been a dream of mine to keep my own herd,” said Nigel, who has built up to around 30 cattle so far on a 116-acre holding, “and if anything the lockdown has given the chance to get things up and running more quickly, as we’ve been able to get on with fencing, hedge-laying and developing our soil and pasture.”
Nigel added, “Each breed has its supporters, but from an early age I recall visiting my uncle and aunt’s farm, Pentwyn in Llannon, who had a Hereford bull running with the dairy herd. My cousin Helen and Gwyndaf near Aberaeron who run the Creuddyn Hereford herd have also been a valuable source of advice. For me, the cattle have a calm nature and calve easily. They’ll also produce good-quality meat which is important as we develop the business in future.”

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Farming

New edition of Welsh meat ‘Bible’ launched

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HYBU Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has launched the latest edition of its ‘Little Book of Meat Facts’, the annual digest of facts, figures and trends for the nation’s lamb, beef and pork industries.
Among the key figures in this year’s edition were that Welsh red meat production was worth an estimated £690 million in 2018, compared with £677 million the previous year.
In 2019, total throughput of cattle and calves in Welsh abattoirs stood at 147,600 head, with total beef production totalling 42,900 tonnes (up from 40,000 tonnes the previous year). Throughput of sheep and lambs stood at 3.3 million head, with total sheep meat production totalling 63,400 tonnes, compared with 60,800 in 2018.
France remained the largest destination for lamb exports, but with important growth in trade with Germany which is now in a clear second place. Beef and lamb exports were mostly to Europe, although with significant trade to other markets in the Middle East, East Asia and Canada.
The Little Book also contains information on what kinds of meat British consumers are buying and from which retailers, as well as data on key industry measures such as carcase classification.
HCC Data Analyst Glesni Phillips said; “We usually launch the Little Book of Meat Facts at the Royal Welsh Show, so that farmers and other stakeholders can browse the latest statistics.
“Of course, this year that’s not possible, so we’re launching it virtually and making it available on our website.
“What all the statistics show is that, despite uncertainty surrounding Brexit and now of course the disruption of COVID-19, the red meat sector is hugely important to the Welsh economy. It’s the backbone of rural communities, and also employs large numbers in auction markets, processing and the supply chain, as well as supporting brands which are symbols of our nation’s high-quality food across the world.”

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