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Farming

Farmers ‘totally let down’ by Labour

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I AM late and apologetic and Janet Finch-Saunders, the Conservatives Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, is in a hurry to beat the foul weather and get to Cardiff to attend the Senedd.
I have committed the cardinal sin of booking two interviews close together and the first has run over.
We get through understandably brisk introductions and she explains: “I’m heading to Cardiff for the week’s business. It’s the least we can do as members: actually turn up and try to hold the Welsh Government to account. I think it’s ridiculous that ministers can’t be bothered to turn up in the Chamber to face proper scrutiny.
“Zoom is all very well but it’s no substitute for detailed questioning, face-to-face. Most people turn up at their place of work and are expected to. Yet Welsh ministers, who live nearby, can make it to a TV studio in Cardiff but not get to the Chamber where they should be answering questions in person,” she added sharply.
“Turning up isn’t a gesture. It’s where Senedd members, are supposed to be and it’s disgraceful Welsh Labour ministers aren’t.”
With that chilly blast out of the way, we move rapidly on to policy.
Janet Finch-Saunders took on the rural affairs brief as a result of Paul Davies’ re-shuffle of his frontbench team. She succeeded the combative Andrew RT Davies and she also doesn’t pull her punches about the Welsh Government’s approach to farmers and rural communities.
“They’ve been totally let down by this Welsh Labour Government,” she said, continuing: “Cardiff Bay is not governing for the whole of Wales. Our farmers and rural communities are being ignored and treated as an afterthought. The Welsh Government is set on its own agenda which doesn’t take account of the importance of farming to the lives of rural communities, let alone the livelihoods of the people who live there.
“Eight-four percent of land in Wales is rural. Rural communities are an integral part of Wales and who we are. But after twenty years of devolution they don’t have much to show for how important they are. The Welsh Government has wasted money on its own vanity projects and programmes; taken the maximum cut out of funds that should have gone to farmers and thrown it at projects which delivered no measurable benefit; its policy on Bovine TB is a total mess.
“The Welsh Labour Government has no rural constituency seats and it shows in the way it approaches policy: a few think tanks filled with the usual suspects tell it what it wants to hear and off it goes without any understanding of farming and rural life. And farmers and rural groups who oppose Welsh Labour’s pet-projects are then said to oppose measures to improve the environment! It’s nonsense.”
We asked whether there was a particular policy Janet Finch-Saunders had in mind and she responded in a flash.
“NVZs (Nitrate Vulnerable Zones). That is a policy which the Welsh Labour Government asked its own statutory advisor, Natural Resources Wales, to advise it on how the Welsh Government should deal with nitrate pollution in rivers. NRW gave its advice, which was that there was no need to declare the whole of Wales an NVZ and that enforcement would be impossible within its current budget. But the Welsh Government went ahead and did it anyway. Then, during recess and at one of the busiest parts of the farming year, the Minister (Lesley Griffiths) started a consultation, ignored requests to postpone it because of the coronavirus pandemic, and that is going to be the background to government’s approach.
“This sort of government, by consultation after consultation (when the Welsh Government has already made up it’s mind) and communicating Cabinet statement has to stop. Ministers must make informed decisions which take account of everyone who is involved in what happens on the ground. They have to turn up to the Senedd and answer for them.”
When it came to a specific issue, Janet Finch-Saunders identified the plight of Wales’ wool producers.
“The price of fleeces has fallen through the floor. We have a fantastic product which can be used for so many different things. I am glad the Welsh Government has taken on board the pressure from farming unions and my requests to commit to using Welsh wool. It’s environmentally-friendly insulation and should be used in Welsh Government buildings at every opportunity.
“It’s criminal that wool farmers are having to use fleeces for compost because wool processors are not taking up the allocation they usually would because of COVID. That’s an instance where the Welsh Government can make a big difference by making a relatively small commitment from its budget to support Wales’ wool producers.”
Janet Finch-Saunders’ predecessor was not shy of criticising Lesley Griffiths for avoiding attending the Senedd to answer questions; unsurprisingly, given her earlier words, neither is Janet Finch-Saunders.
“There is no good reason for avoiding being questioned in person, Making announcements when members cannot ask you about them is ridiculous. I’ve written to Lesley Griffiths on behalf of a constituent and waited ages for an answer. The person’s problem needed sorting out. How are Senedd members supposed to help their constituents when a Minister is permanently unavailable?”
Warming to her theme, Mrs Finch-Saunders continued: “This is a shambles of a government. I can tell you that a Welsh Conservative Government won’t treat our rural communities and farmers with such contempt. They will be front and centre of our policies.
“The problem, as Paul Davies has said, is not devolution but the way Welsh Labour has mismanaged it. It’s wasted money and wasted opportunities. It’s dithered, delayed, kicked cans down the road, and achieved a fraction of what it could’ve and should’ve for Wales. That gap in achievement is nowhere bigger than when it comes to farming and our communities.
“A Welsh Conservative Government will close that gap. We will make the most of opportunities to deliver locally-focussed schemes which will also benefit Wales as a whole. We will strip out inefficiency and waste and get on with delivering policies which will make a real difference to our farmers, agricultural industries, producers and the rural communities which depend on them.”
And with that, Janet Finch-Saunders really had to go and travel to Cardiff through the pouring rain to make sure she was where Members of the Senedd should be.

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Farming

Update on Avian Flu issued by Pembrokeshire County Council

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The Welsh Government has put in place requirements for biosecurity measures to attempt to control the spread of avian influenza.
It is now a legal requirement for all bird keepers to follow strict biosecurity measures
Following an increase in the number of detections of avian influenza (AI) in wild birds and on commercial premises, an All Wales Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) has been declared.
England and Scotland have also declared equivalent national Avian Influenza Prevention Zones to mitigate the risk of the disease spreading amongst poultry and captive birds.
This means that it is now a legal requirement for all bird keepers in Great Britain to follow strict biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks from the threat of avian flu.
All keepers of poultry and other captive birds, irrespective of how those birds are kept, are to take appropriate and practicable steps, including:
• Reducing access of poultry and other captive birds to areas frequently visited and contaminated by wild waterfowl;
• Ensuring the areas where birds are kept are unattractive to wild birds, for example by netting ponds, and by removing wild bird food sources;
• Taking steps to feed and water birds in enclosed areas and ensure feed, water and bedding are not exposed to virus contamination, particularly through bird droppings, and stored in a means not accessible to wild birds;
• Minimising movement of people in and out of bird enclosures;
• Cleaning and disinfecting footwear with foot dips, and ensure there are precautions to avoid the direct or indirect transfer of virus contamination into and between premises, from anything liable to spread infection such as clothing;
• Keeping areas where birds live clean and tidy;
• Reducing any existing contamination by cleansing and disinfecting concrete areas, and fencing off wet or boggy areas.

In a joint statement the Chief Veterinary Officers for England, Scotland and Wales said:
“Bird keepers have faced the largest ever outbreak of avian flu this year and with winter brings an even more increased risk to flocks as migratory birds return to the United Kingdom. Scrupulous biosecurity and hygiene measures is the best form of defence, which is why we have declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) across Great Britain, meaning that all bird keepers must take action to help prevent the disease spreading to more poultry and other domestic birds. The introduction of an AIPZ means regardless of whether you keep a few birds or thousands, you are legally required to meet enhanced biosecurity requirements to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.”
Keepers with more than 500 birds will need to restrict access for non-essential people on their sites, workers will need to change clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures and site vehicles will need to be cleansed and disinfected regularly to limit the risk of the disease spreading.
Smallholdings and backyard flocks with smaller numbers of poultry including chickens, ducks and geese must also take steps to limit the risk of the disease spreading to their animals.
Owners are encouraged to register your poultry with the Local Authority even if only kept as pets, to ensure owners are kept up to date during an outbreak
At this point the AIPZ now in force across Great Britain, does not include a requirement to house birds.
The AIPZ will be in place until further notice and under regular review as part of the government’s work to monitor and manage the risks of bird flu.
Stricter Avian Influenza restrictions continue to apply in the Protection and Surveillance zones that were declared on the 9th September in the Milford Haven area. Road signage marks the boundaries of these relevant zones.
If you require any further advice or guidance as a poultry keeper, please contact PCC Animal Health and Welfare team via email at awelfare@pembrokeshire.gov.uk or on 01437 764551.

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Business

“There aren’t enough hours in the day” for entrepreneurial young Pembrokeshire dairy farmer Scott Robinson

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“I WOULD not be where I am today if it were not for Farming Connect,” says Pembrokeshire dairy farmer Scott Robinson.

Scott, 25, is ambitious, focused and also very busy! He works alongside his parents at the family farm near Clynderwen and runs his own successful milk-vending machine enterprise.

He says he hasn’t yet found the route to achieving the perfect work/life balance – ‘there aren’t enough hours in the day’ – but, like everything else he tackles, he’s working on it! 

After attending Hartpury College to study an extended diploma in agriculture, Scott travelled around New Zealand to get experience of working on large-scale dairy units.

“It was an eye-opener – if their workers hadn’t finished their day by 5pm, they felt they were getting something wrong, we could learn from that here in Wales too!”

Scott grew up on the council-owned Pembrokeshire farm which has been tenanted by his parents for almost 30 years. They currently milk 140 Holstein Friesian cows twice daily and graze them on 200 acres of pasture and silage.  

The family first accessed Farming Connect’s Advisory Service in 2019.  Soil sampling and nutrient management planning advice led to more targeted use of nitrogen fertilisers on fields with high indices with slurry elsewhere.

“This has saved us time and money so we’ll now reassess this every three to four years,” says Scott.

Through the Advisory Service, they also applied for an infrastructure report and will shortly start work on a new slurry lagoon which will ensure the farm meets the new agri-pollution requirements. This will allow for more efficient use of farm nutrients and enable the family to transition to a flying herd, buying in all replacement heifers. The farm infrastructure report was submitted as part of the planning application providing the information required for Natural Resources Wales to approve the proposal.

Two years ago, urged on by his Farming Connect mentor Lilwen Joynson, Scott started researching the costs and viability of setting up a new milk vending machine business at the farm. He successfully applied for a substantial loan which enabled him to convert one of the farm outbuildings and invest in the necessary equipment.  He also set up a formal agreement with his parents to purchase some of their milk, the remainder of which is sold on contract to a major dairy wholesale company.

Scott says that tapping into a range of Farming Connect support services has not only given him new skills, but also increased his network of similarly pro-active farmers all keen to share their experiences of innovative or more efficient ways of working.

Scott and his parents have at various times been members of a local Farming Connect dairy discussion group- which meets quarterly to discuss issues such as benchmarking, nutrient management planning and grazing strategies as well as animal health and performance.

A former participant of the Agri Academy, which he says was a massive boost to his self-confidence, Scott has also been part of Farming Connect’s Prosper to Pasture basic programme to have a better understanding of pasture management. The family have also accessed sector-specific guidance on topics including planning, nutrient management, slurry storage, grassland and crop management. Scott also joined a local Agrisgôp set up especially for dairy farmers involved with milk-vending enterprises, which included those just thinking of starting up as well as fully-fledged operators.

“It was hugely helpful to share guidance on good suppliers, compare costs and swap contacts – I found sharing our experiences a big support.”

The group was led by Lilwen Joynson, who had met Scott at the beginning of his entrepreneurial ‘journey’ in her role as his mentor.  

Scott says Lilwen’s support was the catalyst which encouraged the whole family to talk openly ‘around the kitchen table’ about their hopes for the future.

“By facilitating our discussions, we soon had a clear sense of direction and her insistence that we each drew up a detailed action plan and deadlines after every meeting had a huge impact on both short and long-term ambitions for the future direction of the farm.  

“Farming Connect has helped me learn more about innovation, current best practice and more efficient ways of working, all critical for farmers at a time we need to be more aware of climate change and protecting the environment.

“Lilwen encouraged us all to think of the wider implications and convinced me and my parents that we should investigate and capitalise on every opportunity to future proof both the farm and the milk vending business. 

“I’ve got an expanding customer-base and I’m optimistic that within three years, when I hope to have paid off my loan, all profits from the milk vending side will be going straight into my pocket – that’s a nice thought to keep me working hard!”

Scott has also undertaken Farming Connect training courses including social media training and a marketing course which help him promote the milk vending enterprise.

“It makes good commercial sense to take advantage of all the support and guidance available, and with Farming Connect services either fully funded or subsidised by up to 80%, I’d advise anyone else to pick up the phone to their local development officer today.”

Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales and financed by Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

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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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