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Farming

WG presses ahead with agri-policy change

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THE MINISTER for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, last week confirmed what the Welsh Government calls ‘Sustainable Farming’ will remain at the heart of future Welsh agriculture support.
The Welsh Government published its response to last year’s Sustainable Farming and our Land consultation on Wednesday, July 8.
The consultation proposed future funding should support and reward farmers who operate sustainable farming systems and protect and enhance the environment.
Responses to the consultation broadly backed the Welsh Government’s aims but with important caveats to the support expressed.
A significant proportion of the responses came from outside Wales. Those responses came particularly from individuals pursuing an anti-farming agenda, or as part of coordinated campaigns from groups lobbying the Welsh Government.
Over half the respondents (1,900 out of 3,300) came from members of the RSPB.
PLANS LACK SUBSTANCE
Responses from individual farmers cited within the Consultation Report reflect widely-held concerns that the Welsh Government’s plans are thin on detail. Those responses also highlight worries that Welsh farmers will be driven into an uncompetitive position due to new and burdensome regulation.
Despite those concerns, Lesley Griffiths confirmed a future agricultural support scheme will continue to be developed around the Sustainable Land Management framework.
During an update to the Senedd, the Minister also set out the next stages in the development of future support, including:
• Undertaking a range of economic analysis to understand the impact of moving from an entitlement based income support scheme to a voluntary scheme which rewards the production of outcomes. This will be published next summer and no decision on a future scheme will be made without consideration of this analysis;
• A transition period to enable farmers to adjust their existing business model to accommodate any changes required by the proposed scheme; and
• Publishing a White Paper before the end of this Senedd term, which will pave the way for the introduction of an Agriculture (Wales) Bill during the sixth Senedd term.
The Minister said: “Our proposals in Sustainable Farming and our Land provide an important income stream for farmers, recognising the important work they do in delivering environmental outcomes and rewarding them for it.
“We are also looking to reinforce the long term competitiveness of the sector through enhanced business advice and support, helping support farmers in the new economic realities following the UK’s departure from the EU.”
WG PRESSES AHEAD REGARDLESS
Lesley Griffiths continued: “Following consideration of the responses to the consultation, we will continue to develop a future system of agricultural support around the Sustainable Land Management approach.
“This approach will allow us to respond to the climate emergency, will help to reverse biodiversity decline, will ensure high standards of animal health and welfare, and protect our natural resources. Food produced using this approach will be sustainable, ensuring a food supply for future generations.
“Over the coming months, we will continue to engage with the sector and industry representatives on the ongoing development of these proposals for the White Paper, paving the way for an Agriculture Bill. This Bill will set out a support framework which can accommodate the development of agriculture and forestry within Wales for the next fifteen to twenty years. The Bill will enable farmers to be financially supported and ensure a coherent and fair system of regulation can be applied to the agricultural sector.”
A FURTHER CONSULTATION
To ensure farmers are supported following the UK exit from the EU, the Minister also confirmed plans to launch a FURTHER consultation this summer seeking views on the retention and simplification of rules around agricultural support for farmers and the rural economy. This support would bridge the gap between the current EU funding and any new scheme based on sustainable land management.
The Minister added: “It has been a difficult few months globally and Welsh farmers have not been exempt from recent circumstances. I am proud of the resilience they have shown in responding to those difficulties.
“Farmers, foresters and other land managers play a vital part in the economic, environmental, and social well-being of Wales. We will continue to support them to adapt to economic changes as well as the impact of climate change.”
GOVERNMENT FAILING RURAL COMMUNITIES
The Welsh Conservatives’ Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, Andrew RT Davies responded: “It’s all very well for Lesley Griffiths to stand up and make promises of support to our vitally important farming sector. However, those promises will only materialise if they are driven by a minister who has a finger on the pulse during this COVID-19 pandemic. That has not been the case.
“Time and time again, the Welsh Government has failed our rural communities. Just last week, the Wales Audit Office published a damning report into this government’s handling of the Rural Development Grants Scheme.
“What rural communities desperately need the Welsh Government to do is set out clearly what any support it offers aims to achieve. That should include incentives for food security and for unleashing Wales’ environmental and food-producing revolution.”
CUT BUREAUCRACY SAYS FUW
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “The proposal to adopt the United Nations’ Sustainable Land Management (SLM) principle as the objective and framework for a future policy fails to encompass wider Welsh goals and objectives, including those defined in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2015, and therefore falls short of being a holistic policy.
“While we welcome some of the conclusions reached in the Welsh Government’s response to the consultation, we remain convinced that families, jobs and communities should be at the heart of planning a new policy – alongside sustainable food production and the SLM principles.”
Mr Roberts said that a scheme which focuses only on the provision of Public Goods and environmental outcomes would fail to take proper account of prosperity, jobs, culture and other issues inherent to the Wellbeing Goals and other Welsh objectives, risking severe adverse impacts.
“We, therefore, welcome the Welsh Government’s commitment to undertake a range of economic analyses to understand the impact of moving from an entitlement based income support scheme to a voluntary scheme which rewards the production of outcomes.
“This work needs to be thorough and look at impacts for individual businesses, sectors and regions of Wales as well as the implications for the tens of thousands of businesses which rely on agriculture and the scheme delivery costs.
“Above all else, it is concerning that the recent food shortages, delays and difficulties in administering our current environmental scheme – Glastir – and hundreds of consultation responses highlighting concerns about the overall direction of travel has not given the Welsh Government more pause for thought.”
STANDARDS FEAR
TFA Cymru said: “Any new regulatory framework must take into consideration standards which are being used in other parts of the UK and internationally; particularly where goods produced under those differing standards find their way in front of Welsh consumers. That not only undermines domestic production, but it also allows poorer standards to continue in other jurisdictions.
“If it is felt important to introduce a new level of regulation in respect of agricultural production which is not applied elsewhere, the Welsh farming community would legitimately expect protection against products imported to Wales produced to standards which would be illegal at home.”
WG SHOULD ‘PAUSE & REFLECT’
NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “This announcement provides us with some additional clarity on the direction of travel as regards future support. In light of the continuing Coronavirus disruption, as well as ongoing Brexit uncertainty, I would really have liked to have seen Welsh Government taking the opportunity to pause and reflect on this process rather than pressing ahead with new policy development.
“Despite the representations made by NFU Cymru, today’s statement from Welsh Government makes no provision for some sort of stability payment, and that is very disappointing, especially in light of the recent market volatility.
“I was pleased to see the Minister acknowledge the role of agriculture and the food supply chain in keeping the country fed during the Coronavirus outbreak. I am, however, keen to ensure we do not forget the lessons of the pandemic: in particular, how it underscored the value of having a secure domestic primary production base – something which we very much consider ‘a public good’. I also welcome what the Minister said about the simplification of some of the rules around CAP legacy schemes. While that is positive news, it must deliver genuine simplification of complex rules if it is to benefit the sector.”

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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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Farming

NVZ rules driving family farms out of business

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GLAMORGAN beef and sheep farmers Richard Walker and his partner Rachel Edwards run Flaxland Farm – a 120-acre beef and sheep holding just outside of Barry, Glamorgan. The couple say they will have to give up keeping cattle if current Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations are not adjusted to incorporate recommendations made by industry stakeholder groups.

Richard and Rachel keep 35 breeding cows and 130 breeding ewes and are at the end of their tether.

“We’ve had a session with Farming Connect to see what we need to be doing, and it didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know, apart from that we have enough ground to cope with how much slurry we produce. So we wouldn’t have to export. But we would have to cover one of the existing yards, which is an awkward shape, plus cover where we scrape slurry to, and also put in a slurry store. Which we don’t have at the moment,” said Rachel Edwards. 

“Judging on what the shed we had to put up recently has cost us, I don’t think we’ll have any change out of £50 thousand if we try to meet the requirements of the new regulations.  35 cows don’t bring in that sort of money. Where do you get that money from? And you still need to pay it back at the end if it’s borrowed. We’re looking at the kids probably still paying off what we’d spend. It would be far more stressful having to pay all that money back than getting rid of the cows. 

“These regulations are going to have a huge impact on our farm business. If nothing is done to amend or annul what we are facing now, I’ll have no choice but to get rid of the cattle. Trying to comply with these regulations is just going to be too expensive for us,” said Richard Walker.

Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths announced the plans in a written statement in November last year, after which it became apparent that the majority of the plans had simply ‘been cut-and-pasted’ from the Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) rules currently affecting just 2.4% of Wales.

While the Welsh Government announced in January that £11.5 funding would be made available to help farmers comply with the new rules – an allocation it had already announced previously in September 2020 – this represents just 3% of the £360 million the Welsh Government’s own impact assessment estimates the costs could be for Welsh farmers.

“There’s clearly nowhere near enough money to go around, and the total estimated bill is more than Wales’ annual farming budget.

“The margins are tight on lowland sucklers as it is. We’re looking at spending tens of thousands of pounds to comply. Is it really worth it?” adds Richard.

At Flaxland farm the muck gets spread on around 30 acres of fields in September when the fields are clear and it is left for a couple of months to rot down and go into the ground before being used as grazing for the new season lambs. 

“It saves us using artificial fertiliser. It’s organic fertilizer versus the artificial stuff which is £300 a tonne. We spread the slurry over winter, it helps the grass grow and we can turn the lambs and sheep out early. The spring lambs have fresh good grass and it hasn’t cost us a fortune in bagged fertiliser. 

“I look at what it does to my ground – new season lambs have lush green grass, a couple of inches tall and they rocket on it. We can produce 12 week old lambs ready for slaughter on grass and milk with no concentrate. Without it, the grass wouldn’t be as beneficial to the new season lambs as it is now. There would be a shortage of grass around February and March. The way we do things here works in rhythm with all the livestock and the environment. We also deal with the carbon footprint of our produce by selling our lambs locally to I.G. Nicholas butchers in Cowbridge, which means they have very few miles to travel from farm to plate,” said Richard.  

Being the third generation to farm the land, Richard says the farming system hasn’t changed much over the years and pollution here has never been an issue.

“I have had the cows all my life, my grandfather used to milk and they gave up milking in the 60s, and then we have had suckler cows ever since. The way we keep them hasn’t changed, back then it was open yards and they were fed on a concrete pad and whatever was left was scraped up and went out. It has never been an issue and we’ve never had a pollution incident here. The river near us has been tested many times and never comes back with any problems.

“I, like so many other farmers, take our responsibility to look after the environment, including our waters, very seriously. We have always been clear that one pollution incident is one too many and those who are guilty of polluting our rivers and watercourse should be held to account. Not many will argue with that. But to introduce these regulations across the whole of Wales, which goes against the recommendations the Welsh Government has received from their own task and finish group, beggars belief and will see many small and medium sized family farms go out of the cattle business,” he said.

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Farming

Small steps to improving pig fertility

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SIMPLE changes to pig management can result in significant improvements in fertility on units struggling with reproduction.

Factors influencing pig fertility are many and varied and can be due to infectious or non-infectious causes, says pig vet Dr Alex Thomsett, of The George Veterinary Group.

Non-infectious causes are often those that producers have more influences over and, in many cases, usually mean very simple changes, Dr Thomsett told farmers participating in a recent FarmingConnect webinar.

“A few small tweaks to management or the approach to reproduction on-farm can easily change a fairly difficult situation into a much better picture without going through a whole heap of blood sampling,’’ she said.

Among these is temperature stress; although this is more commonly associated with heat, cold can be a factor too.

Sows can find it difficult to adapt to changes in temperature and it can lead to more returns of service, poor cycling and higher numbers of abortions.

In outdoor herds, ensure pigs have mud wallows to dissipate heat and, to protect from direct sunlight, create shaded areas.

“This can be done very simply, with a few poles and a length of gale break or similar material,’’ Dr Thomsett advised.

Changes in day length can result in seasonal infertility in the autumn.

As this affects gilts, in particular, Dr Thomsett recommends selecting gilts that are early to go through puberty rather than those that are delayed.

Pigs need a minimum of 16 hours of daylight so ensure light exposure in housing is good – even cleaning whitewashed walls or lightbulbs can make a difference by better reflecting light at sow level on the back of the eye.

Light is more difficult to control in outdoor herds because this system is beholden to the time of the year and, for this reason, Dr Thomsett stressed that it was vital to get all the other issues around fertility working well, including nutrition.

Gilts need the right nutrition balance to prepare them to come into first service and to support them through the first service.

“Gilts and young females are still growing through their first pregnancy and it can often be forgotten that when a pig is lactating, her body is preparing for the next cycle’’, said Dr Thomsett.

In herds with longer lactation periods, Dr Thomsett suggests providing piglets with supplementary feeding to support the sow.

Mycotoxicosis is another consideration and can significantly interfere with herd fertility but Dr Thomsett said this is an unlikely cause if the farm has good quality sources of grain and straw.

Adding binders to feed is the best form of defence because these absorb harmful mycotoxins.

Vaccinations are an important tool for preventing infectious causes of infertility.

Ensure that the vaccination record of any bought-in stock is up to date and quarantine these animals, to ensure they are fit and healthy before entering the herd.

Carrying out a herd health check to establish health status and therefore which vaccinations are needed is greatly beneficial, said Dr Thomsett.

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