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Farming

Stars of stage and screen rally behind farmers in mental health awareness drive

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IN A REMARKABLE showing of solidarity, luminaries from the realms of television and theatre have thrown their support behind a crucial campaign aimed at addressing what has been dubbed the “biggest hidden problem” plaguing the UK’s farming community today: mental health challenges.

A striking study by the Farm Safety Foundation, also known as Yellow Wellies, has unveiled that an overwhelming 95% of UK farmers under the age of 40 identify poor mental health as a significant, yet often overlooked, crisis within the sector. The findings have shone a spotlight on the intense pressures and long hours that those in the agricultural industry face, which are taking a toll on their mental wellbeing.

The issue of suicide within this community is particularly alarming, with the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics indicating that 36 suicides were registered in England and Wales among farming and agricultural workers in 2021. This stark statistic underscores the urgent need for support and intervention.

In an unprecedented move, BBC Countryfile’s Adam Henson and actor-turned-farmer Kelvin Fletcher have joined forces with the campaign, bringing attention to the mental health plight of farmers. Their involvement signifies the growing recognition of this issue and the collective effort required to tackle it.

Adding to this, the premiere of the award-winning short film ‘WAKE’, starring notable talents such as Alison Steadman OBE of ‘Gavin and Stacey’ and Mark Frost of ‘Poldark’, is set to take place on launch day. The film aims to foster a deeper understanding of the mental health challenges faced by the farming community, through its poignant exploration of a family dealing with the aftermath of suicide.

The backdrop to this crisis includes the increasingly unpredictable weather patterns impacting the UK, from flooding to droughts, which have added another layer of stress for those whose livelihoods depend on the land. These natural challenges, coupled with the personal and professional strains faced by farmers, paint a troubling picture of the state of mental health within the industry.

Stephanie Berkeley, Manager of the Farm Safety Foundation, emphasized the evolution of the Mind Your Head campaign, initiated amidst concerns over Brexit and its implications for the farming sector. Now in its seventh year, the campaign has achieved notable recognition, with 67% of UK farmers aware of its message and the importance of mental health continuing to gain prominence.

The campaign not only aims to raise awareness but also to break down the stigma associated with poor mental health in farming, encouraging a dialogue and the sharing of resources and support systems. It highlights the resilience and determination of the UK’s farmers, who are increasingly seeking ways to support their mental wellbeing and that of their peers.

This collective effort, underscored by the involvement of figures such as Henson, Fletcher, and Steadman, alongside the impactful narrative of ‘WAKE’, represents a significant step forward in bringing the hidden issue of mental health in farming into the light, fostering a community of support, awareness, and action.

For more information on the Mind Your Head campaign and resources for mental health support in the farming community, visit www.yellowwellies.org or follow the campaign on social media with the hashtag #MindYourHead.

Business

James Evans MS calls for overhaul of ‘toxic’ Meat Promotion Wales

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A CONSERATIVE MS called for Hybu Cig Cymru to be made fully independent amid concerns about a “toxic bullying culture” within the meat promotion organisation.

James Evans, the shadow rural affairs secretary, warned the farming industry is losing faith in Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC), Wales’ meat marketing board.

He said HCC’s chief executive has stood down, two senior executives are leaving and board members are on the verge of resigning.

Mr Evans said: “There have been no board minutes published since 2022, and no up-to-date financial statements or annual reports on their website since 2021.

“This is a very concerning position for HCC to find itself in. The body underpins an industry that’s been valued at more than £1b to Wales.“

The Brecon and Radnorshire MS said a toxic culture of bullying and governance issues within the Welsh Government-owned company are undermining farmers’ confidence.

He said: “A lot of people in the industry, as well, are very concerned about whether the board and the chairman of the board have got the power and the levers that they need to actually turn the organisation around.

“The industry is losing faith.”

During rural affairs questions on June 19, Mr Evans called for a fully independent meat marketing board, run by farmers and processors for farmers and processors.

He told the Senedd: “A lot of farmers I’m speaking to are telling me, ‘Take it away from the Welsh Government, give it back to the industry, give it to the processors, let them directly appoint people onto that board, and, if they don’t perform, they can take them away’.”

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s shadow rural affairs secretary, warned that the situation is “going from bad to worse”, with two directors resigning this week.

The North Wales representative raised concerns about absence levels and staff turnover as he echoed calls for government intervention.

Pressing Huw Irranca-Davies, the Welsh Government’s rural affairs secretary, he warned of the risk of undermining the faith of HCC levy payers and the reputation of Welsh red meat.

He asked: “For how long will you say that this is someone else’s problem?”

Mr Irranca-Davies replied: “We have to leave it to Hybu Cig Cymru to actually work through these issues and do them properly and assiduously. That is HCCs role…

“It is not for me to step in and, in some ways, tell HCC what to do, or intervene in what are sensitive and delicate discussions with both current and former members.”

Mr Irranca-Davies said he has not heard a universal voice from farmers calling for HCC to be made independent of the Welsh Government.

The rural affairs secretary, who is also responsible for climate change, recognised concerns about governance, saying he has met the chair to seek assurances in the past few weeks.

He told the chamber: “In terms of their day-to-day business and their performance, they’re getting on with it. I’ve had those reassurances that performance is not affected….

“But clearly, I’m aware of the internal governance issues and I’m sure they’re focused on resolving them.”

Mr Irranca-Davies, a former MP and Defra minister under Gordon Brown’s UK Government, pointed out that Heather Anstey-Myers was appointed interim chief executive in January.

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Farming

Strict condition expected to be removed from former farmer’s home in Spittal

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A CALL to remove a strict agricultural condition on a Pembrokeshire property, granted in the 1990s for a vegetable nursery which later suffered with the rise of supermarkets, is expected to get the go-ahead.

In an application recommended for approval at Pembrokeshire County Council’s planning committee meeting of June 25, Mr K Morgan seeks the removal of an agricultural occupancy condition on land at Oakvale, Spittal.

It seeks the removal of a 1993 condition, which reads: “The occupation of the dwelling shall be limited to a person solely or mainly employed, or last employed, in the locality in agriculture (as defined in Section 336(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990), or in forestry or a dependent of such a person residing with him/her, or a widow or widower of such a person”.

Earlier this year, a certificate of Lawfulness was granted at Oakdale; the property having been occupied for over 10 years in breach of the occupancy condition.

An application for a certificate of lawfulness allows an applicant to stay at a development if they can provide proof of occupancy over a prolonged period, normally in excess of four years.

A supporting statement for Mr Morgan’s application says he and his late wife, who had previously run a dairy and arable farm, established a vegetable and plant nursery at Oakvale in 1990, later submitting a successful 1993 application for a dwelling with an agricultural worker condition.

They sold direct from the site and also to local shops, the nursery doing well for a number of years before suffering “with the advent of supermarkets,” ceasing all together in 2010, by which time the property was also serving as a small caravan site, which continues to this day.

Mr Morgan has continued to live at Oakvale whilst managing the caravan site, with his daughter and her family also living on-site to help care for Mr Morgan due to illness.

A report for planners states: “It is possible for the property to be occupied in breach of the condition by any non-qualifying person in perpetuity.  Whilst it is theoretically possible that a future purchaser might comply with the occupancy condition, meaning that the certificate would fall away, the consequences of such an action would result in a loss of upwards of 30 per cent of the value of the property.

“The very low likelihood of this course of action is such that the fall-back position associated with the certificate is a material consideration sufficient to outweigh the conflict with planning policy.”

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Farming

Wales legislates for ‘industry-led approach’ to tackle Bovine Viral Diarrhoea

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NEXT MONTH (Jul 1), the Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (Wales) Order 2024 will be introduced to facilitate an industry-led approach to eradicating the disease.

Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) is a widespread viral disease affecting cattle, which can lead to abortion, infertility, deformed calves, and compromised herd health and welfare, particularly among young stock. Herds infected with BVD often experience increased cases of calf pneumonia and scours, as well as reduced productivity and other cattle health and welfare issues. BVD is not recognised to be a risk to public health or food safety.

Cattle sector representatives and Welsh Government have been closely working together to develop legislation to facilitate the next steps towards the eradication of BVD in Wales. This compulsory phase of the industry-led BVD eradication programme starts this summer.

Eradicating BVD from Wales will improve standards of animal health and welfare and help Wales achieve its Net Zero targets sooner. Eradicating BVD from a typical Welsh herd of 40 cattle could reduce the carbon footprint by around 70,200kg CO2e annually.

In addition, eradication should bring significant farm-level financial benefits stemming from improved cattle health, welfare, and productivity, including increased milk yield and reproduction rates.

From 1st July 2024, the industry-led BVD legislation that Welsh Government is introducing will require keepers to:

  1. Screen their herds for Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) annually by testing a small number of cattle.
  2. Isolate Persistently Infected (PI) animals from the rest of the herd for the remainder of their lives.
  3. Cattle keepers will have until 1st July 2025 to complete their annual herd test.

These measures will support the innovative, industry-led approach to stopping the spread of BVD, safeguarding animal welfare, and maintaining a healthy and sustainable cattle industry in Wales. Cattle industry representatives, with Welsh Government assistance, will set up a Wales BVD governance body involving a comprehensive partnership and farmer support structure to facilitate BVD eradication efforts.

Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs, Huw Irranca-Davies, said: “I understand and appreciate the serious impact of BVD, not just on standards of animal health and welfare, but also the impact on production and the serious economic costs of this disease to farm businesses.

“The eradication of BVD in Wales is a long-standing commitment, and I fully support industry and Government working together in close partnership to achieve this outcome.”

Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, Dr Richard Irvine, said: “The benefits of being BVD-free include increased cattle health, welfare, productivity and fertility. Eliminating BVD can reduce costs and the carbon footprint of your herd. Maintaining a BVD-free status strengthens the health and welfare of our cattle farms in Wales, and can also help reduce antibiotic usage.

Embarking on this next phase of the BVD eradication programme in Wales is a really important step. I would like to recognise the industry-led approach, backed up by this new BVD legislation. We can achieve eradication through the ongoing efforts of all cattle farmers, working closely with their vets, to screen and protect their herds from BVD.”

Supporting comments:

John Griffiths, Head of Agricultural Research & Development and former manager of the Gwaredu BVD scheme, said: “It’s very important for us to work to eradicate BVD from our herds in Welsh, and this is one disease which is possible to eradicate. Many other countries are working to get rid of the disease and Welsh will now join Ireland, Scotland, and England to get rid of the disease.”

Dr Neil Paton, from Royal Veterinary College, said: “The BVD virus causes a huge impact on the welfare of cattle and getting rid of the virus will mean a much healthier cattle population and a much more productive one too”.

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