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Farming

Rural communities disconnected

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IT IS unacceptable that rural communities remain ‘second class citizens’ when it comes to accessing broadband and mobile coverage, according to NFU Cymru.

In a survey, conducted by the NFU in October 2018, 46% of those questioned didn’t believe they received sufficient broadband for the needs of their business, while 37% didn’t believe they received sufficient mobile signal for the needs of the business.

NFU Cymru President, John Davies said: “In this digital age, where technology is moving so quickly, I find it extremely frustrating to hear of members who still fail to open an email or receive a phone call due to poor broadband or mobile coverage on farm. This is absolutely unacceptable and is holding farmers back from maximising business opportunities.

“In a Cabinet Statement in December, on Superfast Cymru, Julie James AM announced that Wales now enjoys over 95% broadband access coverage to homes and businesses.

“However, 50% of our respondents who had internet connection had a download speed of 2Mbps or lower. Considering the average download speed in Wales is 33.4Mbps, it is apparent that rural communities are second class citizens when it comes to accessing sufficient broadband.

“Welsh Government continues to push the need for Welsh farmers to become more resilient – especially ahead of Brexit – and this is exactly what the industry is striving for, but broadband and mobile coverage is holding us back. 46% of those surveyed didn’t believe they received sufficient broadband for the needs of their business and 37% of those surveyed didn’t believe they received sufficient mobile signal for the needs of the business. How can businesses become more resilient when they can’t even access the standard communication channels?

“With the industry facing so much uncertainty, it is clear that farmers need as many tools as possible to maintain business resilience, and having access to digital connectivity is paramount if they are to compete with our international neighbours in the global market.”

John Davies continued: “Most worryingly for me is the health and safety aspect.

“Only 16% of respondents reported that they had a reliable mobile signal in all outdoor locations when on farm, with 9% saying they have no reliable locations for mobile signal when outdoors. With farmers often working long hours alone in isolated locations it is vital that farmers have access to reliable mobile coverage to call for help.

“More must be done by Welsh Government to ensure the connectivity divide between urban and rural communities is decreased. The benefits that full connectivity will bring to farming businesses will enable the industry to continue to be productive, profitable and progressive in the future.”

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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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