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Farming

No badger cull but bTB strategy change on cards

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THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has ruled out controlling the spread of bovine TB through a targeted cull in areas where the disease is endemic.

A spokesperson confirmed the Welsh Government’s position ahead of the publication of a significant review of its TB eradication strategy.

The review, led by Professor Glyn Hewinson of Aberystwyth University, is likely to focus on cattle vaccination and the use of improved tests for TB bacteria in cattle.

False positives for BTB can only be detected after death by a post-mortem.

BOVINE TB DEVASTATES PEMBROKESHIRE FARMS

The persistence of the BTB bacteria in the soil and in the protected wild mammal population, particularly badgers, creates a perfect storm for farmers in our county.

The area around the shared borders of North Pembrokeshire, the Teifi Valley, and North West Carmarthen is a long-standing hotspot for the disease.

Farmers in that area have suffered disproportionate and repeated losses throughout the Welsh Government’s different approaches to eradicating BTB.

When the disease is detected in a herd, it is standard practice for all of it to be slaughtered. Although farmers are partly compensated for their loss, the loss of their stock leaves farmers with long-term problems for their business’s recovery.Herds’ loss and slaughter are linked closely to mental health problems among farmers and farming families. The cost of BTB is much greater than balancing profit and loss.

CURRENT PROGRAMME ISN’T WORKING

Local MS Sam Kurtz, who comes from a farming family, told The Herald: “Since the 1970s, bovine TB has been a dark cloud hanging over our agricultural industry

“While it may not have had the impact on the public’s psyche as the Foot and Mouth crisis had in the early 2000s, bovine TB has been a long and heavy burden on Welsh farmers, with over 20,000 cattle killed in the last 2 years.
“What the Welsh Government have in terms of a policy is the repetition of an outdated and inaccurate testing regime followed by stringent and debilitating restrictions on farmers.

“It is clear, from the latest data showing new bovine TB cases in Wales have risen by 3%, that the Welsh Government’s current eradication programme is simply not working.

“Throughout the pandemic, our farmers have worked 24/7 to keep food on our tables, despite being laboured with the stresses and concerns of routine TB testing.  

“The industry is now desperate for some urgency and a change in strategy.

“A new testing regime, Enferplex, delivers superior accuracy than the current test.

“While it is being undertaken in small pockets of Wales, a dedicated pilot scheme of this new test to collect hard data must be a priority for this Welsh Government.”

The Enferplex Bovine TB antibody test identifies the presence of bovine tuberculosis. Used in conjunction with existing tests, it is far more accurate than current tests in validating positive diagnoses.

EFFECTIVE PROGRAMME MUST TACKLE ALL ASPECTS OF DISEASE

The FUW believes that any future changes to the bTB eradication programme should closely follow the science to develop an effective eradication programme covering all aspects of the disease in Wales.

An FUW spokesperson told us: “Bovine TB continues to suffocate businesses in the high and intermediate areas of infection in Wales and continues to have a significant detrimental effect on the mental health and well-being of our farmers and their families.

“September’s Quarterly Publication of National Statistics on the incidence and prevalence of tuberculosis in Cattle in Great Britain shows variable results, with no year-on-year change in the number of herds that are not TB free in the High West Area of Wales, and a 26% rise in the number of herds not TB free in the Intermediate North Area.
“Such results continue to devastate businesses that have made massive sacrifices

to comply with the Welsh Government’s costly and burdensome bovine TB eradication programme.  
“The FUW welcomes further research on this devastating disease as part of a science led and pragmatic approach to TB control in Wales. We look forward to the publication of the next TB review and will be discussing the findings of the review at all relevant political and policy levels.”

NFU CYMRU: WELCOME REVIEW BUT URGE OPEN MIND ON CULL

NFU Cymru County Adviser for Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, Peter Howells, said: “It is concerning to see the latest bovine TB statistics published by Defra that show a rise in bovine TB incidents and the loss of 10,775 animals in Wales to this dreadful disease in the year ending June 21. This once again highlights that bovine TB continues to wreak havoc on the cattle industry in Wales.
“In October 2017, we saw the Welsh Government introduce a regionalised approach to tackling the disease in Wales.

NFU Cymru is supportive of an approach that allows for the appropriate measures to be introduced depending on the circumstances.

In Low TB areas of Wales, we must do all we can to keep the disease out.  In areas of the country, such as South West Wales, where the evidence suggests that both cattle and badgers suffer from this disease, we believe that the disease will only be brought under control through a comprehensive package of measures that tackles the infection in both populations.
“We continue to urge Welsh Government to take note of the evidence published from England. A peer-reviewed scientific report examining the effectiveness of badger culling in reducing outbreaks of TB in cattle has shown positive results in England.

“The Defra-commissioned report revealed an average reduction in the incidence of bovine TB of at least 40% in areas of England that have completed at least four years of culling.
“Just across the border in Gloucestershire, the report has shown a 66% decline in new TB breakdowns.
“NFU Cymru continues to use every opportunity to raise with the Minister for Rural Affairs our concerns for the emotional and financial impact this disease causes to farming families. Earlier this summer, we wrote directly to the First Minister on this matter.

“We are aware that the Minister has said she will make a statement on the TB programme later this autumn and that Professor Hewinson is currently carrying out an internal review of the programme. We are pleased that the Minister has asked someone of Professor Hewinson’s experience and expertise to carry out the review and we await with interest the publication of the review.”

WG: EVIDENCE OF CULL’S EFFECTIVENESS INCONCLUSIVE

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “TB in cattle is a huge challenge for all concerned and distressing for farmers who have to deal with it in their herds. Part of the solution to the problem is people’s willingness to work together, both in Government and the industry.  

“The Wales TB Eradication programme is built on co-operation, with three regional eradication boards working at a local level to ensure policies are developed collaboratively and communicated effectively.
“We have outlined in our Programme for Government we will not permit the culling of badgers as part of measures to deal with bovine TB.  

“Recent scientific studies did not provide conclusive evidence that culling badgers alone would reduce incidence levels in cattle herds.

“It has been proven that more infection is transmitted within species than between species, which suggests that controlling transmission among cattle is a priority in the strategy for eliminating TB.

“When the Intensive Action Area (IAA) was established in 2010 with additional measures introduced into the High West TB area, 27.1% of herds were restricted due to TB control. At the end of June 2021, 14.5% of herds were restricted, constituting a decrease in herd prevalence between then and now of 46%.

“We are committed to undertaking a review of the current TB eradication programme, and we will announce a refreshed approach later this year.

“All aspects of the programme will be considered, and we will undertake a consultation in the Autumn to inform future policy.”

VACCINATION AND THE FUTURE

The irony is that a largely effective vaccine already exists.

The BCG vaccination given to humans is 70% effective when used to immunise cattle. The vaccine uses the TB bacteria to provoke an immune response. Once it’s used, however, tests cannot detect the difference between cattle successfully inoculated and infected cattle.

Therefore, vaccinating cows with BCG is banned in most countries, enabling vets to continue to use the PPD skin test to diagnose the disease in cattle.

Scientists at the University of Surrey believe they could have a solution to that problem.

By manipulating the disease’s genetic make-up, the scientists created a BCG-minus strain. They then developed a new synthetic skin test that, like existing tests, will be positive for animals that have been exposed to TB. Unlike those tests, however, the new test will show a negative result for animals that have been vaccinated with the BCG-minus strain.

Johnjoe McFadden, Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Surrey, said: “To control the spread of bovine TB, effective vaccination and accurate early diagnosis of the disease are critical. This new vaccine provides protection against bovine TB. It will help fight against this deadly disease that infects over 50 million cattle worldwide and is economically devastating to farmers.

“The next stage of our work will be to demonstrate that both synthetic skin test and BCG-minus vaccine works in cattle herds. If they do, then it will be possible to vaccinate cattle against TB yet retain the value of skin test for diagnosis.”

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Farming

Pembrokeshire farming couple honoured at Downing Street reception

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MIKE and Joy Smith from Pembrokeshire were among the select few invited to a prestigious reception at 10 Downing Street, recognising their outstanding contribution to farming and food production. The couple, who are well-regarded pillars of the local farming community, were nominated by Stephen Crabb MP to attend the event which celebrated Food and Farming Champions across the nation.

Farming is more than just an occupation in rural communities like Pembrokeshire; it is a way of life that has sustained families for generations. The Smiths, who farm in partnership with their brothers at Parc Y Marl near Llysyfran and Pelcomb Farm near Haverfordwest respectively, embody the dedication and passion that characterise this vital industry.

Their commitment to fostering the next generation of farmers and ensuring the sustainability of the sector is well acknowledged. “It was a real pleasure to nominate my good friends and outstanding Pembrokeshire farming couple, Mike and Joy Smith, to attend a reception for Food and Farming Champions in 10 Downing Street today,” said Stephen Crabb, expressing his pride in the couple’s achievements and their significant role in feeding the nation.

Before the celebration at No. 10, the Smiths were treated to an exclusive tour of the Houses of Parliament. They had the unique opportunity to watch live debates from the viewing galleries, witnessing firsthand the legislative process in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

The recognition of Mike and Joy Smith serves as a reminder of the critical role farmers play in maintaining the supply of local produce and sustaining the agricultural heritage of regions like Pembrokeshire. Their story is a testament to the hard work, resilience, and community spirit that underpin the farming industry.

As the local community and indeed the nation continue to benefit from the dedication of farmers like Mike and Joy, the message is clear: without farmers, there is no food. The recognition at Downing Street not only honours their personal contributions but also shines a light on the broader significance of farming in ensuring food security and preserving rural ways of life.

Stephen Crabb MP, in acknowledging the contributions of the Smiths and the wider farming community, extended his gratitude: “Thank you to Mike, Joy, and all farmers in Pembrokeshire for your role in helping to keep local produce on our plates.” This sentiment resonates with the appreciation felt by those who understand the importance of farming to our daily lives and the fabric of rural communities across the UK.

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Farming

Thousands of farmers descend on Cardiff to say: ‘Enough is enough!’

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THOUSANDS of farmers and supporters converged outside the Senedd in Cardiff, Wales, to voice their strong opposition to the Welsh Government’s proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) and other contentious issues threatening the agricultural sector. The protest, marked by a sea of placards bearing the stark message “No Farmers, No Food,” highlighted the depth of the farming community’s fears for its future.

The demonstration, the latest in a month-long series of actions across Wales, saw farmers, many arriving on tractors, gather to contest plans they argue would compel them to sacrifice a significant portion of their land for environmental purposes. With estimates suggesting that the scheme could lead to 5,500 job losses, the stakes for the agricultural community and rural Wales are high.

Despite police estimates putting the crowd at around 3,000, below the anticipated 10,000 to 20,000, the turnout was a record for a protest of this nature outside the Welsh Parliament. The demonstration saw a mix of solemnity and spirited resistance, with the Welsh song ‘Yma O Hyd’ resonating amongst the crowd, symbolising steadfastness and resilience.

At the demonstration, notable figures lent their voices to the farmers’ cause. Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, was seen engaging with protesters, underscoring the political dimensions of the dispute.

Sam Kurtz MS, from Pembrokeshire, addressing the protest

Sam Kurtz, another Conservative MS, told the crowd that he was a farmer’s son. He told the gathering that he would fight tirelessly for the farming community.

Afterwards he told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “It was the proudest moment of my life addressing the farmers in Cardiff Bay today. Made prouder still that my father was there.

“The momentum is with the industry now and whomever becomes Wales’ next First Minister, and next Rural Affairs Minister, must work hard on the SFS, NVZs, and Bovine Tb, to repair a broken relationship between government and the agricultural sector.

“Can I thank all those who attended the protest for the respect and order that they showed.

“It was the largest of its kind and if the message hasn’t got through to the Welsh Government now, I’m not sure it ever will.”

Tractors lined the outskirts of Cardiff as the protest took place

Perhaps more movingly, Nigel Owens, renowned former international rugby referee and a farmer himself, addressed the crowd from the Senedd steps. Owens, comparing the protest’s significance to his experience refereeing the 2015 World Cup final, underscored the fundamental role of farming: “There can be no Six Nations game in Cardiff next Saturday against France if there is no referee. There can be no food on the table if there are no farmers.”

The protest was not just a platform for airing grievances but also a moment for collective expression of a deep-seated love for farming and the rural way of life. Ioan Humphreys, a fifth-generation farmer, poignantly articulated this sentiment, emphasizing the fight for the future of young farmers and the unity required to overcome current challenges. “I’m also here to make sure as farmers stick together and unite through this time of hardship,” Humphreys stated, capturing the protest’s spirit of solidarity.

Rhun ap Iorwerth, leader of Plaid Cymru, reiterated the essential bond between Wales and its agricultural heartland, advocating for government support at all levels to ensure the vitality of rural Wales. His call for action highlighted the broader implications of the proposed changes, touching on the sustainability of rural communities, biodiversity, and the Welsh economy at large.

The protest, while a manifestation of immediate concerns over the SFS, also brought to the fore ongoing frustrations with the Welsh Government’s anti-water pollution measures and the persistent challenge of TB in cattle. The demonstration’s peaceful nature, emphasized by South Wales Police’s statement, belied the deep undercurrents of anxiety and determination among the farming community.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s interaction with the rural community at the Welsh Conservative Party Conference in Llandudno, where he assured farmers of his support, underscores the national significance of the issues at stake. Meanwhile, the Welsh Government’s assurance of its willingness to listen and adapt the proposed scheme following consultation reflects the dynamic and contentious process of policy-making in areas critical to national interest and well-being.

As the protest unfolded, with wellington boots symbolically placed in front of speakers, the agricultural community’s message was clear: the future of farming, and by extension, the fabric of rural Wales, hangs in the balance. The collective call for support, understanding, and meaningful engagement from the government resonated beyond the steps of the Senedd, touching the hearts of many across Wales and beyond.

This convergence of farmers at the Senedd, while a significant moment, represents just one chapter in an ongoing dialogue between the agricultural community and policymakers. As Wales navigates the complexities of environmental conservation, economic sustainability, and rural livelihoods, the voices of those gathered in Cardiff Bay will undoubtedly continue to echo in the halls of power, reminding all of the indispensable value of farmers to the nation’s past, present, and future.

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Farming

Cardiff farming protest set to be largest in Senedd history

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A MASSIVE protest is set to get underway in Cardiff today (Wednesday, Feb 28) as farmers from across Wales descend on the Senedd to voice their opposition against the Welsh Government’s proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS).

The demonstration, expected to draw between 10,000 to 20,000 participants, marks a pivotal moment for the agricultural community, highlighting widespread concern over the future of farming in Wales.

The controversy centers on post-Brexit agriculture reforms, with the Welsh Government insisting on a transformative approach to farming subsidies. Under the new SFS, farmers would be required to allocate 20% of their land to environmental measures, including a 10% commitment to tree planting and another 10% to wildlife habitat creation.

These proposals have sparked fears of job losses and significant impacts on farm incomes, with unions forecasting up to 5,500 direct job losses.

In anticipation of the protest, First Minister Mark Drakeford, alongside shadow rural affairs minister Sam Kurtz and Welsh Tory Senedd group leader Andrew RT Davies, has called for a de-escalation of tensions. Drakeford emphasised the need for “conciliation” and a constructive dialogue with the farming community, rejecting accusatory rhetoric in favour of collaborative problem-solving.

This stance was echoed during a session of First Minister’s Questions, where the importance of positive engagement and the recognition of food production as a critical component of the SFS were highlighted.

Despite these calls for calm, the debate has intensified, with accusations flying in the Senedd. A notable clash occurred when Andrew RT Davies accused Alun Davies MS of dismissing protesting farmers as “cranks” – a charge vehemently denied by Davies, who clarified his comments were aimed at a specific group rather than the wider farming community.

The protest, which is set to be one of the largest in Senedd history, will not only see convoys of tractors and coaches filled with protestors but also aims to symbolically highlight the stakes with 5,500 pairs of wellington boots placed on the Senedd steps on March 6. South Wales Police have issued warnings of potential travel disruptions, advising the public of slow-moving traffic and possible restricted vehicle access around the protest area.

Despite these challenges, the police have expressed their respect for the right to peaceful protest, working to ensure safety and minimal public disruption.

As the SFS consultation draws to a close on March 7, the Welsh Government remains firm on its stance, urging participation in the consultation process and hinting at possible adjustments to the scheme.

The farming community’s response, articulated through mass protest and vocal criticism, underscores a deep-rooted anxiety about the future of Welsh agriculture. With both sides standing their ground, the coming days are critical in shaping the trajectory of rural Wales and the sustainability of its farming heritage.

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