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Farming

Nature-friendly farming solutions can offer a way forward for farmers

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FARMERS are increasingly looking at nature-friendly solutions as they deal with the impact of climate change and the difficulties of keeping their farms profitable, an online event heard.

A sold-out webinar organised by the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) attracted hundreds of people to show support for an approach to agriculture which produces enough food and keeps farms financially afloat but also addresses problems such as the climate and biodiversity crises.

The event is part of a campaign which is building a consensus around a nature-friendly approach to farming for the future in order to put pressure on politicians and decision-makers to provide sufficient support for farmers who want to go down this route.

While it was acknowledged that there is still work to do to convince some people of the merits of this approach, the webinar heard that changing weather patterns, problems with drought and flooding and the increasing struggle for farms to turn a profit are all driving people to look at alternative solutions.

Martin Lines, CEO of the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN), said: “We have a really large mountain to climb but a lot of people are going up the mountain at various paces. There’s a growing awareness our current models are not resilient, are having an impact and are in need of change.

“The impact of climate change on food production is here and now, it’s already happening in my business and in the businesses of my farming colleagues. We can see it on the shelves when we go to buy food.

“More farmers are waking up and realising that farming within the capacity of their landscape is more profitable. We get free assets: sun, soil, rainwater. We should be maximising them, not trying to harm, pollute and cause problems.

“We wouldn’t have heard much about regenerative agriculture several years ago but there’s a groundswell of opinion right across the UK and farmers who often haven’t felt represented but are doing amazing things. There are voices saying it is challenging but there are thousands of farmers delivering solutions now. There’s growing interest around this consensus and in bringing people together to show how it works.”

Martin also added that farming can be about much more than just producing food. He told the webinar how his own father farmed right up to the edges of the fields to maximise production, the approach that dominated thinking in agriculture from the Second World War onwards, but how he had stepped away from that. He spoke of the benefits of a diverse farmed landscape that serves a variety of purposes and expressed his hope that the Government’s Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes currently being shaped will evolve to fairly reward farmers for providing ambitious environmental delivery and offer support to deliver the sort of agriculture being championed by the consensus.

He said: “The role of a farm is feeding the stomach, the heart and the mind. We need food but we also need a beautiful landscape to make the heart flutter and access to landscapes improves wellness and makes us feel better. We can play a real role in delivering all that we need to nourish ourselves. Farming is the most exciting industry with the most opportunities for the future, if we think differently.”

Nature-friendly farming can help farmers by reducing their fossil-fuel based inputs such as fertilisers, which have recently rocketed in price due to events such as the war in Ukraine. It involves prioritising soil health, sustainable and nutritious food and making space for nature, particularly to address biodiversity losses such as the declines of pollinating insects.

However, the webinar acknowledged that debates around issues such as land use and food production have become polarised. The consensus movement began in the margins of the Oxford farming conferences when farmers who were frustrated by the tone of debate and didn’t feel their voices about a nature-friendly approach were being heard reached out to other organisations about building a platform to share a common message.

Helen Browning, CEO of the Soil Association, told the webinar: “We need one clear, strong, unified voice. At the moment it’s just too easy for us all to be picked off and sidetracked into sterile and binary debates. When politicians are vying with each other to de-green their policies it’s crucial we show the investment we want to make will repay quickly and bring huge benefits to society.”

Webinar attendees also gave their views on three questions related to the future of farming. There was a consensus that “ecological security is crucial for food production, human wellbeing and prosperity”. A massive 91% of those who answered the question strongly agreed with this statement.

Opinions were decidedly split over the importance of the role technology has to play in the future of agriculture. Just 5% strongly agreed that technology “will have the most important role in helping the agricultural sector meet net zero”, with 19% agreeing, 32% neutral, 32% disagreeing and 12% strongly disagreeing.

Finally the meeting threw down a challenge to politicians as 66% of those who answered strongly agreed that the current UK government “has overlooked the link between food and a resilient society”. A further 24% agreed, while 7% were neutral and 4% disagreed.

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Farming

Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society in search for county’s top progressive farmers

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IF you farm in Pembrokeshire and can demonstrate your farm’s use of the latest technological methods to promote progressive, sustainable agriculture then the Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society encourage you to enter the prestigious Baron de Rutzen Award.

Adam Thorne, Pembrokeshire County Show President, said, “We are looking for local Pembrokeshire farmers, under the age of 45, who can demonstrate their farm’s use of the latest technological methods to promote progressive, sustainable agriculture. They also need to show consideration for the environment and habitat sensitivity on their farm as well as present an aesthetically pleasing example of farming in the county. The competition welcomes all livestock and arable sectors to take part.”

Last year’s winners of the Award were Mark and Caroline Davies of Little Newcastle, Haverfordwest. They milk 230 pedigree Holsteins through a fully automated system. They rear their own replacements and also have a small beef enterprise. The farm is all grassland and they follow a strict reseeding and liming policy to optimise the yield from their multi-cut silage system. The couple place significant emphasis on animal health, husbandry and breeding to maximise the efficiency of their system. 

Baron John Fredrick De Rutzen was President of Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society in 1936 and the Baron de Rutzen Trophy was produced in his memory. The third Baron served in the Welsh Guards and tragically died, aged 36, in 1944.   

This year’s entrants must be fully practising farmers within the county of Pembrokeshire and were under the age of 45 years on 1 January 2024. Entries can either be by nomination or direct application online on the Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society website. Click here to apply:  Baron de Rutzen Award | Pembrokeshire County Show | Pembs Agricultural Society (pembsshow.org)

The closing date for nominations and applications is at noon on Wednesday, 29 May 2024.

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Farming

Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society elect new president

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ARABLE and beef farmer, Adam Thorne, has been unanimously elected to become the new President of Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society for the year ahead. Adam is the third generation of his family to hold the position.

During the Annual General Meeting of Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society, held last week on the Pembrokeshire Showground, Mr Tim John and his wife Margaret John were also voted in as Presidents elect.

Adam Thorne has had a long association with Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society. After visiting the show as a toddler, then helping show the family’s pedigree Herefords, his uncle got him into helping him with stewarding in his early teens. From there he progressed to being a Steward with his own section, Commercial Cattle, and then also the Butcher’s Lambs section.

From stewarding, Adam became involved with committee work, starting as an Executive and then on to the former Finance and General Purposes Committee. He has been Chairman of the Estates Committee for 12 years and is now a Board member and a Trustee.

Adam said, “I am proud of my long association with Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society. I am the third generation to now be President, following my late grandfather, Walter Thorne, my father, Robert Thorne and more recently my uncle, George Thorne. I am looking forward to my year in the prestigious position.”

Away from his work with the society, Adam runs the family’s arable and beef farm in Robeston West, Milford Haven. He has been heavily involved with Tiers Cross YFC from an early age, having been Club Secretary twice and Chairman. He has also sat on Pembrokeshire County YFC Committees and the Wales YFC Rural Affairs Committee. 

The 2024 Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society officeholders, announced at the AGM, include Miss Ffion Edwards who was awarded the role of Ambassador at last year’s show. Ffion, a nurse from Maenclochog, has enjoyed many years of attending the county show and believes that there are so many good elements to it. Ffion has been a member of Llysyfran YFC for 15 years and enjoys every aspect of young farmers – trying new experiences, competing and travelling to name a few. Mrs Nicola Owen was also elected as the Honorary Treasurer.   

Brian Jones, the outgoing Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society President, took the opportunity to thank everyone who had helped and supported him throughout his presidency. During his year as President, Brian and his wife Helen, raised a tremendous amount of money for various charities including the Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society, RABI, Tir Dewi and the DPJ Foundation. Brian also gave his assurances that Castell Howell will continue to sponsor the Food Hall for future years.

Pembrokeshire County Show, the largest county agricultural show in Wales, will be held over two days again this summer on 14 and 15 August. Everyone is invited to attend the celebration of rural life in the county.

Pictured (left to right): Ffion Edwards the Ambassador for 2024; Adam Thorne, President; Margaret and Tim John, the Presidents Elect.

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Farming

£1,000 bursary award available to Pembrokeshire agricultural students

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PEMBROKESHIRE Agricultural Society’s £1,000 Bursary Award is now open for applications from students studying agriculture, veterinary science, agricultural engineering, food technology, forestry or other subjects allied to agriculture.

The Student Bursary Award 2024 is available to students, from Pembrokeshire, who are currently studying or have been accepted to start their studies. They can apply for this financial support to assist with their chosen college or career path.

Last year’s winner of the award was Lottie Wilson from Hayscastle. Lottie was studying agriculture at the University of Nottingham when she applied for the bursary. When she is at home she is a general dairy farm worker as well as a lambing hand and a calving beef herd assistant. In 2021 she was the top agriculture student at Hartpury College.

Robert James, Chairman of the Society’s Bursary Committee said, “I would urge all Pembrokeshire students who study subjects that are clearly aligned to agriculture to apply for this bursary as it won’t only assist with your studies but will also give you great experiences such as undertaking an interview which is a key employment skill. It will also assist in your future career within the agriculture industry.”

“A panel of independent judges will draw up a short list of candidates who will be interviewed and the winning candidate will be asked to give a short presentation at a future meeting of the society’s show council.

“The standard of applications has always been exceptional which gives a lot of heart that there are a lot of very talented young people in our community. We are very much looking forward to receiving applications for this year’s bursary and hearing from the younger generation.”  

Qualifying students must not have won the student bursary on a previous occasion, the applicant must be studying or has been accepted to study agriculture or allied subjects at a UK college or university at A-Level or higher and the applicant’s family home must be in Pembrokeshire.

The bursary is tax free and will be awarded to the student who, in the opinion of the panel of judges, has submitted the best dissertation on how the bursary will assist them to complete their course of study.

Further details and the entry form can be found online: Student Bursary Award | Pembrokeshire County Show | Pembs Agricultural Society (pembsshow.org)  or by calling the show office: 01437 764331. The closing date for applications is noon on Monday, 1 July 2024.

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