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Farming

A way of life under threat

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THE CAMBRIAN MOUNTAINS, known as the backbone of Wales, is one of the country’s most secluded areas.

Described by the nineteenth-century English writer JH Cliffe as part of the ‘green desert of Wales’, stretching east across Mid Wales to the A470 and Rhaedr, south towards Builth Wells, west to Pumpsaint, and northwards to Llangurig, including the reservoirs of Nant y Moch and Llyn Clywedog.

In Drych: Hel y Mynydd, on S4C on Sunday, January 12 at 9.00 pm, we get to know some of the farmers and shepherds in this extraordinary area as they continue to round-up sheep in the traditional way on foot and on horseback – a tradition which is rapidly dying out.

One of those who continues the tradition is Glyndwr, the head shepherd for the Cwm Elan estate, who farms Claerwen with his wife Wendy: “I help to round-up and exchange sheep with neighbours. There aren’t many of us left who can round-up the sheep in a traditional way. You have to have a dog here or you might as well stay at home. Life is hectic here in the middle of summer as we round-up every day. There isn’t a single fence between me and my neighbours – to me, that’s a great way to live.”

“When you’re rounding-up you are in complete solitude. There isn’t a lot of this rounding-up business going on any longer, but we continue to do it here and it works here – and if it works, there’s no need to change it!”

The area has become a target for a number of English organisations who want to ‘rewild’ a landscape which exists only through thousands of years of human interaction and transform it into their idea of what Wales should look like.

Those schemes have met stiff resistance and one, in particular, Summit to the Sea, has managed to alienate a large number of farmers who would be affected by a variety of crackpot schemes that would force them off the land.

It becomes obvious during the programme that farmers on the open mountain are dependent on each other and offer help by rounding-up each other’s sheep.
We also meet Erwyd, an experienced shepherd from Ponterwyd: “While walking the mountains, a person gets to see the wonders of nature, this is what I call paradise. I feel a part of the place – it is completely unique.”

A reservoir was built in the Elan Valley in 1970 to supply water to cities in the midlands of England. Because of the reservoir, the landscape without fences has survived on the Cwm Elan estate and the farms all belong to the Cwm Elan Trust.

Clive, who farms at Hirnant in the Elan Valley adds: “There are no rules here, no-one makes money or loses money, everybody just helps one another. This must be one of the few places where if the old boys came back, they would show us a thing or two.”

Another who helps the crew is Gwyndaf – neighbour and shearer:
“The country folk think that the mountain boys don’t do anything, but it’s amazing what hard work it is. I can’t see there being any sheep left on the mountain in a few years.”

Following a day of rounding up, comes a day of shearing.

“Shearing day has always been an important day in the mountains’ calendar with the mountain community coming together. It’s one of those jobs that have to be done, but I love shearing.

I would shear every day of the year if I could!”

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Farming

NSA Lambing List closes

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AS A much-valued service to its members, the National Sheep Association’s (NSA) Lambing List provides farmers with a place to advertise for much-needed lambing assistance from students and others seeking work experience each year.


The list annually provides an annual matchmaking service for around 400 farmers and veterinary and agriculture students. And despite a second lambing season under the constraints of Covid-19 restrictions the list has once again successfully helped farmers across the UK at this busy time of year.


The list has now closed and will reopen for advertisements for the 2021/2022 lambing season in the Autumn.
 NSA Communications Officer Katie James says: “The popularity of the NSA Lambing List grows each year.
“The guidance it provides to farmers using it and the links it offers students means it is incredibly valued by all parties involved. For most, the past two lambing seasons have taken place during Covid-19 restrictions meaning potential shortages of staff due to travel constraints or illness from the virus itself and additional measures to consider such as separate accommodation for temporary staff and social distancing.


“All at NSA are therefore pleased that the list has been able to help remove some of these concerns and provide a trusted method of securing extra help for its sheep farming members.”


 In a previous survey of NSA members using the list, more than 90% of respondents said they valued the list and would use it again to try and source additional lambing help from veterinary and agriculture students.


 Students who will be looking for work experience to assist their application to university or as part of ongoing veterinary studies are encouraged to consult the list from November 2021 when it becomes available once again to aid the student/farmer matchmaking.

NSA members will be able to add details of their available placements for their next lambing season from October.

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Farming

MPs urge level playing field

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IN its new report—Seafood and Meat Exports to the EU—the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee expresses urgent concerns for exporters of highly time-sensitive fresh and live seafood and meat shipments to the EU, particularly small and medium-sized businesses.
Despite overcoming initial “teething problems” the new barriers small seafood and meat export businesses face could render them unviable, and factories and jobs may relocate to the EU.
The Committee’s report, therefore, calls on the Government to ease burdens, including:

• as a matter of priority, seeking agreement with the EU on digitising the certification of paperwork such as Export Health Certificates
• taking a flexible approach to the compensation fund for seafood exporters—including reconsidering the cap of £100,000 on individual payments, and providing similar support to meat exporters
• providing the same help to small meat and seafood businesses with the costs of extra red tape for exports to the EU as they can receive for moving goods to Northern Ireland
• establishing a ring-fenced fund to help create new distribution hubs, which allow smaller consignments to be grouped into a single lorry load, so reducing transport costs.

The Committee criticises the fact that controls on EU seafood and meat imports will not commence until 1 October 2021, with checks at the border only commencing from 1 January 2022.
This has placed British businesses at a competitive disadvantage and reduced the incentive on the European Commission to negotiate measures that would lessen the burdens facing British producers.
The report finds that adhering to the revised timetable will be ‘crucial’, to ensure food safety and to create a regulatory level playing field.
Neil Parish MP, Chair of the EFRA Select Committee, said: “British businesses have acted with incredible agility and perseverance to adapt to the new processes for exporting meat and seafood to the EU.
“With the many checks causing delays and costs, this hasn’t been easy. We are concerned that in the absence of equivalent checks for imports from the EU to Great Britain, there will be serious long-term repercussions for our producers.
“As it stands, the playing field is not even, and the Government must ensure that the new timetable to introduce import checks is adhered to.
“Even as “teething problems” are sorted, serious barriers remain for British exporters, and it is now imperative that the Government take steps to reduce these.
“It must be pragmatic in seeking an agreement with the EU to reduce the red tape that harms both sides, and in the meantime, crack on with giving practical support to small British businesses to sell their produce abroad.
“By the end of the year, the Government must have developed a digital system for certifying EHCs for imports from the EU, enabling it to then negotiate a reciprocal arrangement.”

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Farming

Cattle prices exceed averages – and expectations

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BEEF cattle prices in England and Wales have hit the milestone of £4 per kilo, making this average the highest on record in a number of years.

The average deadweight price for steers for the week ending 24 April was 401.4p per kg which is 83p higher than this time last year and 67p above the five-year average.

Market prices at present are being influenced by a number of unique factors, including strong UK domestic retail demand, a lack of supply due to stockpiling in late-2020 ahead of the Brexit deadline, and changes in trade patterns caused by both Brexit and the Covid pandemic.

Whilst the impact of these factors on demand for beef in 2021 is unpredictable, newly released data from the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) suggests that no radical shift is likely in the supply of animals over the coming months.

During 2020, total calf registrations in GB were up marginally (0.5%) on 2019. In Wales, the figures show an increase of 1.4% in beef calf registrations, whilst dairy calf numbers increased by 3.2% on the year. For 2021 so far, beef calf registrations are currently trending 1.1% below last year.

Glesni Phillips is a Data Analyst at Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC). She said: “As we approach the peak calving period for spring calving herds in Wales, it is expected that BCMS monthly registration figures will increase over the coming months.

“However, the suckler cow herd in the UK has been retracting in recent years and currently, it shows no signs of re-building quickly. Prime heifer slaughterings during 2020 and the first quarter of this year, for instance, are higher than recent historic levels.

“These figures would suggest that supply onto the domestic UK market will likely remain tight for some time. Domestic retail figures for beef are strong, and with barbeque season coming up we should continue to see good demand  for good quality, locally produced beef.”

A more detailed analysis of the BCMS calf registrations data is available in HCC’s latest Market Bulletin on the HCC website.

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