CARMARTHEN sheep farmer and Farmers’ Union of Wales Vice President Ian Rickman, whose hill farm Gurnos, near Bethlehem, Llandeilo, lies at over 1000 feet in places, has highlighted the important role sheep play in maintaining the countryside.
500 Llandovery white faced ewes, which are due to lamb during the next two months, call these lands their home. Ian fears that the consequences of not grazing the mountains would have a devastating impact on the environment and tourism.
The farm extends to 220 acres with Common Grazing Rights on the Black Mountain, and he is a member of the Management Committee of the Black Mountain West Graziers Association.
To showcase just how much #FarmingMatters and to discuss wider issues of concern, he held an open day in February, welcoming Jonathan Edwards MP, Adam Price AM, Dafydd Llewelyn Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner, Councillor Gareth Thomas, various business representatives and many local farmers.
Ian explained the importance of grazing the mountains: “I move the ewe lambs annually to the mountains and common land with their mothers where they are taught where to graze. It has been an important part of grazing the mountains for many generations.
“If lamb prices dropped drastically, we lost our market or farm support was to diminish, it could mean less or no sheep on the mountains. That in turn could have a detrimental effect on the landscape of the mountains in years to come and therefore also on tourism, the communities that are intrinsic to our rural economy, and our way of life here in the uplands would change – and possibly not for the better.”
The FUW further used the opportunity to discuss wider #FarmingMatters such as the lack of broadband, telephone signal, worries about lamb prices, rural crime, and bank closures, as well as the urgent need to secure fair farm funding for Wales.
Nerys Edwards, the FUW’s assistant CEO in Carmarthen highlighted the need for urgent funding security. She said: “We know that the UK Government has said that it will match the current EU budget that supports farming and our rural economies, but how that money gets to Wales and how it is managed has not been determined. That of course is a real problem for our farmers like Ian, because they can’t plan for the future.
“It is encouraging to hear First Minister Carwyn Jones backing the industry and we recently heard him say that “agricultural funding will have to be held in a separate pot and dealt with in a different way”.
“However, there is a risk that it could go through the Barnett Formula, which will reduce the £260 m to circa £150 million and spell disaster for our rural economy.
“The FUW is now actively lobbying for the money to be assigned from the UK Government to Wales, for agriculture and we really appreciated being able to raise this with our local elected politicians here on farm.”
WG trains vets to prepare for Brexit
WELSH GOVERNMENT funding is helping our food and farming sector to prepare for Brexit by supporting the training of veterinary surgeons required for them to certify produce of animal origin exported from Wales to the EU, in the event of a “no deal Brexit”.
If the UK crashes out of the European Union without a deal Export Health Certificates (EHC) will be required to export produce of animal origin from Wales to the EU.
This will result in a significant increase in the need for EHC certification capability and capacity in Wales.
£96,000 from the £50 million EU Transition fund was announced last September to support the need for Export Health Certification and is an example of how the Welsh Government is helping the sector prepare for Brexit.
Veterinary surgeons certifying EHCs must receive specific training and authorisation. Usually, the training is paid for by the veterinarian undertaking the course, which represents a disincentive to participate.
For this reason, a scheme to support the additional training required for a minimum of 80 Veterinary surgeons from across Wales was launched on January 22, with more than expected to sign-up before training ends at the end of February.
The scheme is being administered by the Animal and Plant Health Agency on behalf of the Welsh Government and in collaboration with Veterinary Delivery Partners Iechyd Da and Menter a Busnes.
Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, said: “I am pleased we have been able to support the veterinary sector through our EU Transition Fund. Veterinary surgeons have already begun receiving extra training to provide Export Health Certificates and this funding is helping to address the significant risk to the export of animal produce from Wales, post-Brexit.
“This is yet another example of how, we as a Government, are supporting our industries prepare for Brexit and the challenges ahead.
“It is possible– if a no deal is taken off the table this extra capacity will not be required but we must prepare for all eventualities. However, the training would not have been wasted as the skills are transferable and would strengthen the important certification role of the veterinary profession in Wales.”
Veterinary surgeon and representative of Iechyd Da, Ifan Lloyd said: “This Welsh Government support package offers practising vets in Wales the opportunity to undertake additional training to obtain the necessary qualifications to carry out animal product export certification.
“This is a key initiative to ensure the veterinary profession in Wales is in a state of preparedness in the event of a no deal Brexit and that exporters have easy access to qualified vets to undertake their certification requirements.”
Lesley Griffiths added: “We have always been clear a no deal Brexit is not an option for Wales’ food industry. Crashing out of the European Union could decimate economies and must be avoided at all costs. Our preference would be a ‘softer’ Brexit – one that allows us to stay in a customs union and a single market.
“With no new ideas and red lines firmly still in place, the UK Government is simply running down the clock in a vain hope that their deal will pass. They must take decisive action now and act on the majority will of Parliament to rule out no deal.”
Agri-food robotics centre launched
A NEW advanced training centre in agri-food robotics will create the largest ever cohort of Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) specialists for the global food and farming sectors, thanks to a multi-million-pound funding award.
The world’s first Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) for agri-food robotics is being established by the University of Lincoln, UK, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge and the University of East Anglia.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has awarded £6.6m for the new Centre which will see a massive influx of high-level robotics expertise at a vital time for the agri-food industry. The CDT will provide funding and training for at least 50 doctoral students, who will be supported by major industry partners and specialise in areas such as autonomous mobility in challenging environments, the harvesting of agricultural crops, soft robotics for handling delicate food products, and ‘co-bots’ for maintaining safe human-robot collaboration and interaction in farms and factories.
Professor Tom Duckett, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at Lincoln, is the new Centre Director. He said: “Automation and robotics technologies are set to transform global industries – within the UK alone they will add £183bn to the economy over the next decade.
“Agri-food is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK – twice the scale of automotive and aerospace combined – supporting a food chain, from farm to fork, which generates a Global Value Added (GVA) of £108bn, with 3.9m employees in a truly international industry.
“However, the global food chain is under pressure from population growth, climate change, political pressures affecting migration, population drift from rural to urban regions, and the demographics of an ageing population in advanced economies.
“Addressing these challenges requires a new generation of highly skilled RAS researchers and leaders, and our new CDT will be dedicated to delivering that expertise. It will be a real focal point for robotics innovation in the UK.”
At Lincoln, the CDT represents an important partnership between robotics researchers from the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems (L-CAS) and agricultural experts from the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology (LIAT), as they work together to combat these pressing issues facing the global food chain.
Director of the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology, Professor Simon Pearson, said: “It is widely agreed that robotics will transform the food and farming industries in the coming years, but there is still a major skills gap in this area. Working with our industry and academic partners to design the 50 PhD scholarships will enable us to expand the UK’s science and engineering base, delivering a flood of skills and expertise that will drive our food and farming industries into the future.”
Professor Richard Harvey, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at UEA, added: “Agriculture remains an important and atavistic activity in the UK but it the most dangerous of all the main UK industry sectors. Given that, isn’t it astonishing that so much effort is devoted to robots for driving and delivering parcels to your door?
“This project will initiate a new movement to build robots to handle the unpleasant, difficult and repetitive aspects of farming. At UEA our expertise is in Computer Vision which is making computers that see. We’d like to build robots that can see when an ear of corn has ripened or be able to measure the amount of sunlight falling on a field of wheat or to tell when beans are ready for picking. We look forward to developing new systems that handle the challenge of being on a farm.”
The Centre brings together a unique collaboration of leading researchers from the Universities of Lincoln, Cambridge and East Anglia, together with the Manufacturing Technology Centre, supported by leading industrial partners and stakeholders from across the food, farming and robotics industries. These include John Deere, Syngenta, G’s Growers, Beeswax Dyson, ABB and the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board.
OSR yields hit
KLEFFMANN GROUP, a leading global market research organisation who conducts farmer surveys and panels throughout the world, has identified from its GB Winter Oilseed rape panel this year, that there has been a significant loss of this year’s planted area, with large regional differences being observed.
The group panel consists of 403 UK rape growers and calculates an original planted area in autumn 2018 of 581,030 hectares of winter rape. (The AHDB early bird survey is consistent with this figure at 582,000 hectares) However, 68 farmers have reported failed crops amounting to 6.28% of the total original planted area. This is 36,000 hectares lost. In the 2017/18 season, the percentage loss was just 1.62% so autumn 2018 has been much more hostile to rape survival by a factor of nearly 4 times.
The farmer survey has identified different proportions of hybrid and conventional variety adoption over a number of years. For the first time in many recent years, it appears that there is nearly a 50:50 proportion between hybrids and conventional rape varieties being sown on farm (285, 000 hectares of conventional varieties and 294,000 of hybrid varieties).
The survey shows a clear difference in failed crops by breeding method. In conventional varieties the area lost was 7.52% (21,400ha) of the area planted and of the restored hybrid varieties 5.16% of the crop planted (15,170ha) were lost.
Significant regional differences were also noted; Scotland, for example, had the lowest area of oilseed rape lost at just 0.91% of the original planted area, closely followed by the North East Region at 1.36%. The South East Region had the highest area of failed crop at 12.60%, followed by Yorkshire and the Humber Region at 9.75%. Between these extremes are the remaining regions; East Midlands suffered 3.5% loss, South West 4.34%, West Midlands (5.34%) and Eastern (7.29%).
Losses in cropping area have risen in comparison to the year 2018, where the crop failure amounted to just 1.62% of the original planted crop. Reasons for the crop losses are varied and include cabbage stem flea beetle damage (Neonicotinoids seed treatments are no longer permitted now and pyrethroid resistance in CSFB adults developing), poor establishment and in some regions, a lack of moisture has hindered germination.
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