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Farming

Funding for agri-plastics research

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THE USE of plastics in agriculture has improved food production and food security in many countries. It has also left a legacy of plastic pollution on agricultural land.

A new multinational research project working with five low and middle-income countries (LMICs) and funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council will search for ways to resolve the plastic pollution caused by adopting plastics as cheap and readily available mulch layers, and for other uses.

It will have the dual focus of addressing current problems and setting up legacies to enable future generations to engage with the situation.

The UK Research & Innovation Award sees three Bangor University experts, Professors Davey Jones Dave Chadwick and Peter Golyshin of the University’s School of Natural Resources working with research groups from the Universities of Bristol and Reading in the UK, and soil scientists, socio-economic researchers, advisor and farmer networks, agri-industries and regional governments in China, Egypt, India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

The five countries selected are at differing points in tackling their acute problems with agricultural plastics.

Together, these countries use 3 million tonnes of agricultural plastic film each year, covering 25 million hectares of agricultural land. They also span a wide range of climates and possess different governance structures.

As well as quantifying the risks posed by the plastics currently in the soil, the teams at each location will co-design practical, economic, socially acceptable and politically viable solutions specific to the needs and problems of their country to reduce plastic legacy.

The focus for Davey Jones, Professor of Soil Science is to investigate the impacts that conventional macro, micro and nano-plastics that are degrading within soils pose to the long-term health of agricultural ecosystems.

He said: “These plastics have wrought significant improvements. The use of plastic mulch films, in particular, has transformed the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers across the world. The use of plastic for such purposes should continue, alongside the continued development of sustainable agriculture.

“But the fate and disposal of plastics have never been properly addressed. We need to know what impact these widely used materials are having on the environment and on human health.”

Dave Chadwick, Professor of Sustainable Land Use Systems, said: “Plastic pollution is identified by the UN Environmental Programme as one of the top 10 global environmental problems and is hampering achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“Most of the ocean’s plastic originates from the land- and terrestrial plastic may be a larger problem than we realise.

“We want to work in partnership and co-deliver viable solutions to help remediate lands contaminated with plastic. We also want to ensure that the projects have a legacy so that tools, technology and partnerships which develop persist beyond the end of the project, and can be shared with others.”

Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, Executive Director of the Natural Environment Research Council, said: “Pollution caused by plastic waste is one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges, and UKRI is at the forefront of funding research to find solutions.

“These awards totalling £20 million are a vital step in helping world-leading researchers develop realistic and feasible solutions to reduce plastic pollution while enabling equitable, sustainable growth.

“Our investment in international development research aims to positively impact the lives of millions of people across the world and supports global efforts to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

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Farming

Welsh Conservatives mark Welsh Food and Farming Week

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A FOOD SUMMIT and support for an innovative piece of legislation to precision-breed plants and animals to boost food production is top of Conservative calls on Welsh Food and Farming Week.

The NFU’s annual showcase of the best of Welsh agriculture has seen the Official Opposition in the Senedd call on the Labour Government to deliver on the summit that would bring together farmers, food processors, and retailers.

The meeting would aim to make Wales more resilient to the supply chain disruption caused by the war in Ukraine, currently contributing to the rising cost of living, including food prices.

The Labour Government is currently resisting the Welsh Conservative-proposed summit. The Rural Affairs Minister appeared to ignore Mark Drakeford’s instructions after she dismissed the idea of a Food Summit 24 hours after he said he would instruct her to ask industry leaders if one was needed.

A few weeks later, Mark Drakeford struggled to justify previous comments he made when he said “there is no crisis in the food sector” after the Governor of the Bank of England said families will face apocalyptic food price rises due to supply chain problems caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Shadow Rural Affairs Minister Samuel Kurtz MS is also calling on Labour ministers to back the UK Conservative Government’s Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill. The legislation will remove unnecessary barriers to research into new gene editing technology, long held back by EU’s rules.

The Bill will make the UK the best place in the world to invest in agri-food research and innovation; use technology to develop precision-bred plants and animals to bolster food production, resistance to pests and diseases, and resilience to climate change; and reduce pesticide usage to lower costs to farmers and protect the environment.

Mr Kurtz will be participating in this week’s activities with a farm visit, attending the NFU’s Senedd event, and being one of the speakers at a headline event in Pembrokeshire.

Commenting, Samuel Kurtz, Welsh Conservative MS and Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, said:

“I am delighted that NFU Cymru’s Welsh Food and Farming Week is back. With a host of events planned, it is yet another opportunity for us all to promote the fantastic agricultural sector we have in Wales.

“With food shortages a real possibility due to the war in Ukraine, we need all parts of the supply chain to get together, from producer to retailer, supported by the Welsh Government, to develop a plan to ensure our high-quality Welsh produce continues to find its way onto the tables of the people of Wales.

“Indeed, one way to bolster food production and protect ourselves from hostile actors in future is the passage UK legislation to open up innovation in precision-bred plants and animals. But we need this to apply in Wales too and hope Cardiff Bay ministers back this new law.

“But together, we can all back British and Welsh farming by buying local products, supporting our local farmers markets, butchers, and greengrocers. As the old saying goes: ‘If you ate today, thank a farmer.’”

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies MS added:

“Welsh Food and Farming Week is a great opportunity to talk about the benefits farmers and producers bring to Welsh society and the economy, but we must also highlight areas where the Labour Government need to act.

“The Food Summit that we have been calling for to ensure that the supply chain is resilient to global shocks is essential and the First Minister’s reluctance to act is troubling.

“I hope he uses this week, of all weeks, to change that and bring together all facets of the food sector to ensure food in Wales is stable in price and provision.

“Over the last 30 years the country has gone from being 75% self-sufficient in the food we grow to under 60%. Given what is happening in the Ukraine and the desperate pressure the war is having on food supplies and household budgets. It is vital the Labour Government reverse the decline in domestic food production and use the long-delayed Agriculture Bill to single a renaissance in Welsh agriculture.”

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Farming

Roy Noble joins campaign to stop mass tree-planting on agricultural land

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ONE of Wales’ best-loved broadcasters has joined countryside campaigners in calling on the Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to stop mass tree-planting on prime agricultural land, while also urging them to curtail ‘outside interests’ and ‘juggernaut companies’ from doing the same.

Roy Noble, who has been a constant feature on Welsh radio and TV for decades, said in a ‘personal plea to high officialdom’ that he had “real empathy” with farming families who “are out-bid” for land purchases by “financial combines”, who use it to offset their carbon emissions elsewhere by planting trees. He accused them of having “no empathy for, or real understanding of farming or the countryside”.

Appealing to the Welsh public, the OBE recipient argued that taking away agricultural land for tree planting risked limiting Wales’ ability to be self-sufficient and threatened food security.

He said: “The tragic and awful events unfolding in Ukraine and the world’s extreme financial strain currently impacting on our country should focus the mind and underline priorities, one being self-sufficiency. It stands at around 60% in Wales at present I believe, but experts agree, from the farming world and beyond that it could be vastly improved with official support. Of course, we cannot produce everything, but a greater percentage is a realistic goal.”

Mr Noble, who worked as a teacher before embarking on a career in broadcast, argued that tree planting has benefits when done in the ‘right place with the right trees’ stating: “Without a doubt, planting trees is regarded and accepted as a way to combat the climate emergency and global warming, but ‘right trees, right place, right effect’ is, I feel, an acceptable mantra in that process. Planting on productive, rich arable land, surely is not, and, if done, the implication and effect will last generations.”

He pointed at rural communities in the Cothi Valley, Carmarthenshire, where his ‘maternal lineage lived for many generations’ saying: “Many of the farming families, in all areas of Wales affected, are rooted in their land, their hallowed ground attached as it is to their soul and their very being. Many likely go back to the very early farmers. That heritage deserves recognition and respect, for all they have contributed and will continue to do, feeding a need, in food production, co-operating in climate crisis initiatives, and working with government and agricultural bodies on sensible paths.”

The broadcaster’s intervention comes as a petition, launched by Countryside Alliance Wales and now in its third week, continues to collect hundreds of signatures by the day. The petition, which is online, calls on the Welsh Government and NRW to ‘stop purchasing productive farmland to plant trees which threatens our fragile rural communities, heritage, culture and the Welsh language’.

It further adds: ‘We are deeply concerned about the number of companies purchasing productive farmland for tree planting to offset their carbon emissions and feel that the Welsh Government should further protect our communities from this practice’.

The petition was launched after a Countryside Alliance Freedom of Information request revealed the Welsh Government has spent a staggering £6million buying land with taxpayers’ money.

In February, the Welsh Government announced that new memorial woodlands would be created at three separate sites, including a section of farmland at Brownhill in Carmarthenshire’s Tywi Valley. The plans involve planting at least 60,000 trees, sparking fears that valuable agricultural land will be lost.

In the Carmarthenshire village of Cwrt-y-Cadno, Frongoch Farm was sold earlier last year to Foresight Group – a multi-billion pound private equity firm based in The Shard. It plans to plant thousands of trees across the valley, prompting locals to launch a fightback, arguing that the afforestation will be largely made up of conifers that could damage soil and have a negative impact on the landscape.

There are also multiple reports of farmers being targeted through cold-calls made by agents working for investors wanting to buy farmland to plant trees.

Rachel Evans, Director of Countryside Alliance Wales said: “It is truly a great honour to receive the support of Roy Noble in what is an incredibly important campaign. We cannot stand by and watch productive agricultural land get swallowed up for tree planting initiatives that while well intentioned, have long term, negative, irreversible consequences for farming families in Wales and threaten our ability to produce our own food. Every signature represents a voice and alongside Roy Noble, we urge the Welsh public to ensure their voices are heard by signing our petition today.”

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Farming

Pembrokeshire County Show returns to Haverfordwest in August

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WALES’ largest agricultural show, which attracts around 100,000 visitors and competitors to the county town of Haverfordwest is back this year after a two-year Covid enforced break.

Pembrokeshire County Show will take place on August 17 and 18, the first open to the public since 2019 it promises to be a celebration of rural life in the county.

The last full-scale show, which would normally attract around 100,000 visitors and competitors, was held in August 2019 followed by a virtual event in 2020 and a scaled down version in 2021 for animals and members only.

Mansel Raymond, Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society president said, “We are very excited about the prospect of seeing our wonderful members, competitors, trade stands, sponsors and community coming together once again this August.

“Whether you’re a Pembrokeshire local or just visiting we’re sure you’ll have a fantastic day out.”

There will be some changes this year to the layout of the County Show to make it a better experience for everyone including the trade stands and visitors.

There will be several smaller rings as was the case in the 2021 members only show.

To enable a much larger public viewing area it has also been decided to remove all marquees and trade stands from the immediate main ringside.

This year there will also be a new open air ‘street food’ area. To enable a smooth transition, it is recommended that all trade and catering stands secure their pitches as soon as possible by visiting www.pembsshow.org or ringing 01437 764 331.

Sponsorship and Pembrokeshire County Show have been a successful combination for the last 45 years.

Sponsors have enjoyed promoting their businesses through the varied mediums of banners, announcements, show rings, buildings, equine and livestock classes and championships over the years.

Anyone interested in sponsorship can contact Richard Cole on 01437 764 331 or complete the form on the society’s website.

Tickets for society members and the public will go on sale in the near future. Visit www.pembsshow.org for up-to-date details of this year’s event. You can also follow Pembrokeshire County Show on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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