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Farming

Why every Welsh farm should set a goal to increase soil organic carbon

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REDUCING soil disturbance, growing cover crops and increasing plant diversity will help Welsh farms better cope with future climate challenges.

As the industry moves towards utilising more sustainable food production techniques, the goal of every farm should be to increase soil organic carbon, insists Neil Fuller, an expert in the science of soil management.

At a recent Farming Connect soil health event at Treathro Farm, a beef farm near Strumble Head, Pembrokeshire, where David and Debbie Best are trialling different soil management practices, Mr Fuller said soil health offered significant sustainability and productivity outcomes for farm businesses.

As a starting point, he recommended getting an active measurement of the health of farm soils – its biological, physical and chemical health.

From microscopic fungi and bacteria to earthworms and beetles, soil contains billions of organisms.

“Most are beneficial to crops and perform a variety of functions, from breaking down organic matter and improving soil structure and drainage,’’ said Mr Fuller.

Many will also act as predators for pests, reducing the need for chemicals.

Earthworms are good indicators of soil health as they are sensitive to pH, waterlogging, compaction, rotations, tillage and organic matter.

Their numbers and distribution across a field can reveal what is going on under the surface.

Mr Fuller brought this message to life with a ‘soil safari’ by examining different soils and worm activity under a high-powered microscope and shared on a big screen.

Farm soils should have three types of earthworms – surface, topsoil and deep-burrowing earthworms.

Small surface worms live and feed on surface litter and organic amendments, topsoil earthworms are found in the topsoil, forming horizontal burrows that mix the soil and mobilise nutrients, and deep-burrowing earthworms make deep, vertical burrows.

While most soils have topsoil worms, the absence of surface and deep-burrowing worms suggest that the soil has been overworked and soil functioning is compromised.

Mr Fuller said the physical structure of the soil also needs to be considered.

If soil is compacted, there is less room for plant roots to grow and for air and water to circulate.

Compacted soils have lower infiltration and drainage rates, as well as reduced biological activity, plant root growth and yields.

They are also less able to cope with weather extremes, warned Mr Fuller.

Chemical properties are also important to soil health. Maintaining the optimum pH level and adequate supply of plant nutrients helps to support crop growth.

At Treathro, the Bests are working with Farming Connect to examine the impact of different management techniques and sward types on soil microbiology.

There are four trial fields: in one the Bests are rotational grazing their Red Devon suckler herd on permanent pasture and in another they intend to grow a minimum tillage herbal ley.

The other two trial sites are a field of perennial ryegrass and white clover used for haylage and a cliff-top field that is an SSSI and only lightly grazed by ponies.

Non Williams, Farming Connect Carbon Specialist Officer, said the average soil carbon stock in the top 10cm of soil was founds to be highest in the cliff top field, at 62.2 tonnes a hectare (t/ha), while in the rotationally grazed permanent pasture it was 51t/hectare (ha).

In the field used for haylage, it was 45.7t/ha and 41.7t/ha in remaining field.

Dr Williams said that at greater soil depth, 30-50cm below ground, the average soil carbon stock was highest – 30.4t/ha – in the perennial ryegrass and clover field used for haylage.

The project is also examining the levels of beneficial bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes in the soil at Treathro.

Lynfa Davies, Farming Connect Biodiversity Specialist Officer, said this had shown that there were very dominant levels of beneficial bacteria.

Ideally fungi levels should be higher but she suggested low levels were typical of many agricultural soils.

“This can be improved through regenerative practices such as using deep-rooted leys using min-till methods which allow fungi to proliferate,’’ said Ms Davies.

Using less artificial fertilisers and increasing soil carbon will also help, she added.

But she warned that improving soil health is not a rapid process.

“It is important to remember that building soil health takes time and it may take several years before significant changes are seen,’’ said Ms Davies.

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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Farming

Fishguard set for another spectacular tractor run

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FISHGUARD and the surrounding areas are eagerly anticipating the annual Fishguard Show Tractor Run, scheduled to take place on Sunday, 16th June 2024. This highly anticipated event promises a day filled with camaraderie, scenic routes, and the unmistakable charm of vintage and modern tractors.

Participants are expected to arrive from 9:00 AM at the Goodwick Car Park. The run will commence at 11:00 AM, with tractors of various makes and models setting off on a picturesque journey through the stunning Welsh countryside. The entry fee is £20 per tractor, which includes a complimentary lunch and a raffle ticket, adding an element of excitement and reward for the participants

The convoy of tractors will navigate their way to Celtic Camping at Pwll Gaerog Farm, where a lunch break is scheduled. This stopover provides an excellent opportunity for participants and spectators to mingle, enjoy the local hospitality, and appreciate the diverse array of tractors on display. The lunch is generously hosted by the Griffiths family, known for their support of local events and community spirit

The Fishguard Show Tractor Run is more than just a visual spectacle; it is a community-driven event aimed at raising funds for the Fishguard Show. The show is a staple of local culture, showcasing agricultural excellence and offering a variety of entertainment for all ages. The funds raised from the tractor run will help ensure the continued success and growth of this beloved event

For those interested in participating or seeking more information, Alun Mason is the point of contact and can be reached at 07970 249451. Prospective participants are encouraged to register early to secure their spot in what promises to be a memorable day for all involved

Mark your calendars and prepare for a delightful day celebrating the rural heritage and community spirit of Fishguard. Whether you’re a tractor enthusiast or simply looking for a unique day out, the Fishguard Show Tractor Run is an event not to be missed.

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Farming

Agricultural Society launches search for Ambassador-elect

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PEMBROKESHIRE Agricultural Society are looking to appoint a new Ambassador for 2025 to help support officeholders in promoting and meeting the aims of the Society.

The voluntary role will shadow the 2024 Ambassador at this year’s County Show and other Society events. They will also play an important role in the promotion of the work of the Society, the agricultural industry and rural life in Pembrokeshire. 

The role was awarded to Ffion Edwards during last year’s show. Ffion is a nurse from Maenclochog. She 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.

Adam Thorne, Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society President, said, “The Ambassador role is an important one. In order to fulfil the role successfully the applicant must have excellent communication skills and an enthusiasm to carry out required duties. Knowledge of the Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society and the County Show is desirable.”

Anyone aged between 18 and 30 and residing in Pembrokeshire can apply for the role. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to an interview from 7pm on Tuesday, 13 August, at the County Show office. The successful applicant will receive an allowance of £200 and membership of the Society for three years.

Those interested in applying for the position will need to complete the online application form.

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