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Farming

Red clover innovation for Wales

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NEW research to ensure more Welsh livestock farmers could benefit from longer lasting, disease resistant red clovers is being undertaken at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).
The three-year Welsh Government (WG) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)-funded project is looking at ways to improve protein production and utilisation on farms in Wales through improved forage crops.


Professor Leif Skot, head of forage plant breeding at IBERS, is leading the project, whose partners are WG, ERDF, Germinal Holdings, HCC and Farming Connect.


As part of the project, Professor Skot and his team are looking at how red clover production and persistence can be improved, helping farmers to improve their silage crop value. In turn, this could go some way in helping farmers reduce the need to buy-in as many expensive concentrates.


Historically, some producers have been drawn away from red clover due to a tendency for yields to drop off after a couple of years. To solve that problem, scientists developed varieties which focused on improved yields and better persistence so they yield well into their fourth and fifth harvest.


However, prolonging the productive life of the plant increases the risk of another problem red clover faces, which is where this new project is currently focused.


Professor Skot explains: “One of the biggest issues is that red clover is susceptible to trampling, and if the plants get damaged then they are susceptible to disease. White clover is stoloniferous, which means it grows by stolons [small roots] which spread across the soil surface and allows the plant to fill in any gaps in the sward. Red clover plants, on the other hand, grow from a single growing point, the crown. That means that once the crown is damaged and the plant succumbs to disease, the remaining plants aren’t able to compensate and fill in the gaps, leading to a loss in yields.”


In a bid to counter this, Professor Skot and his team are developing resistance to the two major diseases responsible for red clover loss: Stem Nematode and Crown Rot (Sclerotinia).


They hope that by developing disease-resistant plants, they can create a more robust, productive plant.


“Stem Nematode and Sclerotinia are soil-borne pathogens for which we have no recognised chemical control. The current solution is to take a long gap in the rotation to minimise the potential risk of the problem,” adds Paul Billings of Germinal. “This research project is looking at whether we can select material which is more resistant to each of these diseases, and then combine them to create varieties resistant to both pathogens.”


Professor Skot says he and his team have carried out several generations of selection for Stem Nematode and Sclerotinia. They are now at the stage where they will combine the resistance to one population so it can be tested in the field.
While it is high-yielding and produces high-quality forage from the first year, red clover does need to be managed in a way which will improve its resistance, Professor Skot adds.


“The crown of the plant is susceptible to damage, so we are looking at improving its structure.. Our research shows that if they have compact crowns then they are more resilient to damage from machinery and compaction from animals or grazing. The major management technique is not cutting below 5cm and not overgrazing so that the crown isn’t damaged.”


With the correct management, red clover can yield between 22 and 25 tonnes of dry matter per hectare per annum when sown with grass, with clover content able to reach as high as 20 tonnes of dry matter in the first year.


“It’s high-yielding and high-quality from the first year, which is one of the great things about the crop. By minimising the problem areas, we can hopefully give Welsh farmers a way to produce more of their own protein on-farm,” he says.


This project aims to help deliver on the Welsh Government’s Well-being of Future Generations Act, one objective of which is to drive sustainable growth. It also contributes to its Economic Action Plan which encourages greater R&D and innovation.


RED CLOVER CASE STUDY
The Cowcher family from Penrhiw, Ceredigion, a Farming Connect Focus site, has seen the advantages of growing red clover on their farm for over a decade, but the introduction of long-lasting varieties would boost the benefits of the crop even further.


“We’ve been using red clover for more than ten years since we converted to organic production,” says Phil Cowcher, who farms beef and sheep with his parents across 500 acres (202ha) of part-owned, part-rented and part share-farmed organic farmland.


“It gives us high yields of good-quality forage, which can be difficult in organic systems, and it suppresses weeds because it’s very vigorous – if we get creeping thistles it smothers and gets rid of them,” he says. “Red clover is also important for fixing nitrogen. Cereals following red clover systems seem to yield very well, and it has deep tap roots so it breaks up the compaction.”


Phil believes planting with a cereal reduces competition from weeds during establishment, as the cereal acts as a nurse crop.


The 45 acres (18ha) of red clover is used by both the farm’s beef and sheep enterprises. The calves – produced by the 60-head, mainly Stabiliser suckler herd – tend to be fed the second and third cuts, as part of the growing and finishing rations.


The first cut, which usually has a higher grass content and metabolisable energy, is usually fed to pregnant ewes late in their pregnancy. Towards the end of the growing season, the red clover leys are rotationally grazed by lambs.

In clover: Phil Cowcher at Penrhiw


Phil adds: “For the calves, I like to feed two-thirds red clover with a third barley and peas for fibre. If it’s alone then it’s a bit rich, but by combining it with barley and peas it seems to complement the clover well.


“We make sure lambs are introduced gradually to the red clover when they first graze it. Once they’ve adjusted to the diet, growth rates are good and they usually finish well – we start selling in June at around 19kg and the last ones go by October.”


Phil believes management is fairly simple but stresses the importance of sowing in a fine seedbed when soils are over 10℃. If there’s a cold spring then cereals are planted first and the red clover ley is sown on top with a grass harrow/air seeder, into the growing crop, once soil temperature is high enough.


“When we cut it we have to make sure we don’t cut it too low, and we have to be careful not to overgraze it and damage the crown too. But for us, red clover’s a high-quality, high yielding crop and we’ll definitely carrying on growing it,” Phil concludes

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Business

Council officers conduct visits in response to Avian Influenza incident

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Following the identification of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza  in poultry at a site near Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire and the declaration of an Influenza Protection Zone and wider Surveillance Zone surrounding the Infected Premises (by the Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales), on Friday 9 September, officers from Pembrokeshire County Council’s Public Protection Division have been engaged in visiting addresses within the 3 kilometre Protection Zone around the site.

Officers are identifying locations where poultry and/or other captive birds are kept and to provide information on restrictions that currently apply to help prevent the spread of disease.

The Council’s officers are working in support of veterinary colleagues from the Animal and Plant Health Agency who are managing a co-ordinated response to the incident, in collaboration with the Welsh Government, Food Standards Agency and Public Health Wales.

A map showing the extent of the zones and restrictions that apply can be seen on the Welsh Government website at https://gov.wales/declaration-avian-influenza-protection-zone-surveillance-zone-near-milford-haven-pembrokeshire, and road signs are currently being erected by the local authority to help clarify where these zones begin and end, which will remain in place until the restrictions can be lifted.

It is vital keepers of birds remain vigilant and ensure they have the very highest levels of biosecurity in place.

Responsibilities of people who keep birds:

  • All keepers of kept birds should be vigilant for signs of the disease such as increased mortality, respiratory distress and drops in food or water intake, or egg production.
  • Consult your veterinary surgeon in the first instance if your birds are unwell.
  • If you or your vet suspect that avian influenza could be causing illness in your birds, you must, by law, report this to the Animal and Plant Health Agency Wales on 0300 303 8268. This will trigger a disease investigation by APHA vets.
  • You must apply strict biosecurity measures to prevent any materials, equipment, vehicles, clothing, feed or bedding that could have been contaminated from wild birds coming onto your premises. Further guidance is available here: biosecurity and preventing disease in captive birds.

The UK health agencies advise that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the UK food standards agencies advise that avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.

Members of the public who do not keep birds can help by reporting dead wild birds.  You should call the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 if you find:

  • One or more dead bird of prey or owl
  • Three or more dead gulls or wild waterfowl (swans, geese, ducks)
  • Five or more dead birds of any species

These may be collected for examination and avian influenza surveillance, depending on the species and location. It is important not to pick up or touch any sick or dead bird.

Sick or injured wild birds should not be reported to Defra. Instead contact the RSPCA (in Wales and England) on 0300 1234 999 who may be able to offer assistance.

Dead or sick birds in public places, such as beaches, can also reported by calling 01437 764551 (or out of hours 0345 601 5522) for Pembrokeshire County Council to arrange to collect safely.

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Farming

Welsh Government must balance farming priorities

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IN EARLY July, the Welsh Government published its proposals for the Sustainable Farming Scheme.

Robert Dangerfield, Communications Manager for the Country Land Owners and Business Association Cymru, responds.

We are pleased to see the ambition shown within the document to support sustainable and profitable food production alongside addressing the climate and biodiversity emergencies.

The proposals arise after three consultations over five years and reflect the work our members and the CLA team have done with Welsh Government.

We are happy to see considerable detail on what the scheme will pay for, the process for how farmers and landowners can apply, and how the transition from the current landscape of the Basic Payment Scheme and Glastir to the Sustainable Farming Scheme will work.

We do, however, have some specific concerns.

Firstly, the requirements for 10% woodland/forestry cover and a 10% requirement for habitat creation and maintenance may not be suitable for all holdings. The need to balance sustainable food production must be considered further.

Secondly, there are no specific payment rates for the scheme. Welsh Government have explained that this is because the current funding settlement with the UK Government only goes to 2024, so they cannot commit to specific rates. This is disappointing, and we will continue to lobby to ensure future funding matches the commitments within the proposals.

WHAT HAS BEEN PROPOSED?

Despite the concerns highlighted above, there is a fair amount of detail within the document. To summarise, the scheme includes a farm sustainability review that will include farm details (size, sector, livestock), a carbon assessment and a baseline habitat survey.

The review will be digital, where possible, to reduce cost and concentrate resources on scheme delivery.

It will provide entry to the scheme and identify the actions Welsh Government will pay for. These will consist of a mixture of universal activities that all applicants must undertake – for which they will receive a baseline payment via a five-year contract and optional and collaborative actions which will attract additional payments.

The universal actions include:

·        Record of key performance indicators;

·        10% of land for woodland/forestry and 10% for habitat creation/maintenance;

·        Undertake animal health and welfare plan;

·        Undertake a biosecurity plan;

·        Manage areas of cultural/heritage significance;

·        Undertake a five-yearly soil analysis.

The optional and collaborative actions are very wide-ranging and will be able to be tailored for the plethora of different farm types across Wales. One particular area of importance for our membership is access.

The proposal outline that any options relating to access are optional and include:

·        upgrading footpaths to multi-use paths;

·        enhancing existing paths to make them more accessible;

·        establishing joined-up and new access routes and trails;

·        establishing new access;

·        hosting educational and care farm visits.

We will continue to work with the various access fora and the Welsh Government to ensure that any new access is voluntary, incentivised, and permissive.

INITIAL VIEWS

The Royal Welsh Agricultural Show took place a week after the publication of the proposals, providing an ideal opportunity for discussion with lots of different organisations and our members.

Not surprisingly, the “10 and 10 requirements” dominated many meetings and conversations I had.

Some farmers were not concerned as they had already reached these percentages on their holding but were worried about land held under Farm Business Tenancies that often did not include the woodland.

In the short term, there are no quick answers; but the CLA Cymru team will be part of a Welsh Government-organised tenancy working group to discuss the impact of the proposals on landowners and tenants.

Other members outlined their worries that they needed all the productive land they had to go towards feeding their stock or growing their crops. This is a real concern.

For some, the solution will be to sustainably intensify other parts of their farm and become more efficient.

Where this is not possible, the role of exemptions for some farms must be considered by Welsh Government.

AGRICULTURE (WALES) BILL

The Agriculture (Wales) Bill will be published this Autumn.

It will be the legislative mechanism by which Welsh Government can administer the new scheme.

Ministers are confident it will receive Royal Assent by summer 2023, ready to begin testing, trialling, and introducing the new scheme.

We will be working with Members of the Senedd to ensure scrutiny of the Bill and to propose amendments if we see fit.

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Farming

Pembrokeshire poultry premises hit by bird flu

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ON SATURDAY, September 10, Wales’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Christianne Glossop, confirmed the presence of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 in poultry at a large site in Pembrokeshire.

It was the second confirmed case of avian influenza in Wales this week, following an outbreak in Gwynedd.

A further potential case in Ceredigion is being investigated.

PROTECTION ZONE ANNOUNCED

A 3km Protection Zone and 10km Surveillance Zone have been declared around the infected premises to limit the risk of disease spread.

Within these zones, bird movements and gatherings are restricted, and all holdings that keep birds must be declared.

The measures are stricter in the 3km Protection Zone. 

They include provisions for the movement of poultry and eggs under controlled conditions and provisions for housing poultry to reduce the risk of contamination.

It is vital that keepers of birds remain vigilant and ensure they have the highest levels of biosecurity.

The UK health agencies advise that the risk to public health from the virus is very low. 

The UK food standards agencies advise that avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.

RESPONSIBILITIES OF PEOPLE WHO KEEP BIRDS

ALL keepers of kept birds should be vigilant for signs of the disease such as increased mortality, respiratory distress, food or water intake drops, or egg production.

You can consult your veterinary surgeon in the first instance if your birds are unwell.

If you or your vet suspect that avian influenza could be causing illness in your birds, you must, by law, report this to the Animal and Plant Health Agency. This will trigger a disease investigation by APHA vets.

You must apply strict biosecurity measures to prevent any materials, equipment, vehicles, clothing, feed, or bedding that wild birds could have contaminated from coming onto your premises.

Full details and a checklist are available here: https://bit.ly/MHAvianFlu.

DISEASE SPREADS FROM WILD BIRD POPULATIONS

Avian influenza is a highly contagious viral disease.

It affects many species of birds’ respiratory, digestive, or nervous systems.

Some strains of Avian influenza can spread easily and quickly between birds and have a high death rate.

Migratory seabirds and waterfowl are known carriers of avian flu.

The highly pathogenic H5N1 strain originated in the intensive poultry industry in Asia and has since spread into wild bird populations worldwide.

It reached Pembrokeshire’s seabird colonies in July this year when it was detected on Grassholm.

Grassholm is known for its huge colony of northern gannets; the island has been owned since 1947 by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and is one of its oldest reserves.

A National Nature Reserve, Grassholm is the world’s third most important site for gannets.

It serves as a breeding site for 36,000 pairs of gannets and supports around 10 per cent of the world population.

Migratory waterfowl and gulls are the most likely cause of HPAI incursion. Migratory wildfowl include ducks, geese, and swans.

The risk of avian influenza being introduced into domestic poultry or other captive birds will depend on the prevalence and pattern of virus shedding in wild birds, the level of biosecurity in place on poultry holdings or bird premises and other factors.

Detailed epidemiological assessments are made at each poultry and captive bird infected premises to investigate the possible source and spread.

All available evidence indicates that direct or indirect contact with infected wild birds is the source of infection on almost all of the kept bird premises.

The HPAI virus (bird flu) risk increases during the winter.

Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, Dr Gavin Watkins, said: “There has been an unprecedented incursion of avian influenza into Great Britain and Europe in 2022 and keepers of birds must be vigilant and ensure they have the very highest levels of biosecurity in place.

“There is always more that can be done to protect your birds.

“As we move into the Autumn and Winter, I urge you all to review the measures in place and identify areas of improvement.

“Think about risks from direct contact with wild birds, especially waterfowl, and also the things that could be contaminated by bird droppings – clothing and footwear, equipment, vehicles, feed and bedding.

“Make improvements where you can prevent further spread of this devastating bird disease.

“Good biosecurity is always key in protecting animals from disease.”

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