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Pig haulage faces major challenges

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Driver shortage: Affecting livestock farmers

SOME of the country’s leading livestock hauliers say their industry is facing a crisis on a number of fronts. The most significant is the difficulty in finding suitable drivers from home or abroad. The Road Haulage Association has indicated there is a shortage of 45,000 suitably qualified HGV licence holders in the country. This will have a major impact upon livestock hauliers, and comes at a time when the pig industry could do without any further bad news. Other challenges include: Farm Assurance: The efficiency, location and working speed of lorry washes needs to become a much greater part of the overall farm assurance package. In some cases, washes are still treated by processors as the lowest common denominator. They need upgrading with better disinfection systems and the like.

Animal welfare is compromised if long queues build up at abattoirs for whatever reason, and journey times are extended. Lorry washing: Lorry washing at abattoirs to improve biosecurity and reduce the risk of disease transfer is to be encouraged, but in a number of cases, lorry washing facilities at certain abattoirs can best be described as inadequate, with breakdowns also causing a problem, and recently, one large abattoir had to send dirty lorries home to be washed elsewhere because its facilities were not working.

With freezing weather approaching, more problems of this nature are likely to emerge. There is a lack of contingency planning for when washes break down. Some processors have made significant and expensive improvements to their facilities, but this isn’t the case everywhere. Washing costs are, in any event, passed onto producers but could be levied more efficiently on a per head basis, which is now the case with some abattoirs, rather than a flat rate according to lorry size. This also does away with collecting payments or tokens from hauliers. Lairage space: Although abattoirs are to be encouraged for taking extra pigs, especially in the run-up to Christmas, in many cases lairage space is wholly inadequate and pigs are having to spend long periods on ‘ free ‘ mobile lairages which happen to be hauliers’ vehicles, but while they are tied up being used as portable pens they cannot be on the road, moving pigs and earning money. This also affects haulage costs and compromises animal welfare too.

Working time Directive: Livestock hauliers are required to observe WTD rules, which is hard to do when vehicles are held up either by inadequate washing facilities or are being used as lairage space. If long delays persist, some hauliers may have to introduce hourly rates, which will add to producers’ costs. Loading bays on farms: Loading and sending pigs to be marketed is the most important task on any livestock farm and some producers need to give greater thought to designing and installing loading bays and, where bays are already in place, making they are efficient and can facilitate swift loading at all hours of the day and night. This will ultimately cut down on the number of hours lorries kept waiting while straw bales and sheets of tin are moved round various farmyards before loading can even start.

Drivers: Bearing in mind the 45,000 shortage of HGV drivers, the lack of skilled staff is currently the biggest challenge facing the whole livestock haulage industry. Despite high salaries reported, in some cases in excess of £40,000 a year, to key men, more are leaving the industry than joining, attracted by competitive salaries and a generally cleaner environment, with non-livestock industries and none of the stress attached to moving livestock over long distances, early morning loading and washing out with inadequate facilities, as well as having to meet often impossible timetables due to many of the time-limiting factors set out above.

Livestock haulage bosses are warning this is a major crisis and a combination of better working conditions and facilities, higher wages plus more respect from some processors is the only way in which the loss of drivers can be reversed. Haulage rates will inevitably have to rise to meet higher wage bills despite cheaper fuel costs and this will ultimately come out of producers’ pockets, many of whom are already trading at negative margins. But without an improvement in the day-to-day life of a livestock lorry driver, it is difficult to see how this situation can be reversed without a major restructuring of working conditions, processor systems and wage rates. To some extent, livestock hauliers have always been taken for granted but there are clear signs this will not be the case in the future, unless new employees can be encouraged to join this challenging but vital industry.

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Farming faces zero carbon challenge

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AN AMBITIOUS new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 will lead to significant changes in farming practices over the coming decades, according to a leading agri-environment specialist.

Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, was responding to the publication of ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’ published by the UK Government Committee on Climate Change.

Professor Donnison is an expert on agriculture and land use, which feature in the report in terms of targets for one-fifth of agricultural land to be used for forestry, bioenergy crops and peatland restoration.

According to Professor Donnison, such a reduction is very ambitious but achievable in Wales and the wider UK. “Land use can positively contribute towards achieving the net zero targets, but there are challenges in relation to emissions from agriculture especially associated with red meat and dairy,” said Professor Donnison.

“In IBERS we are already working on how to make livestock agriculture less carbon intensive and developing new diversification options for the farming of carbon. For example, net zero targets could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

Professor Donnison added: “The report gives a clear message regarding the importance of the task and the role that the UK can play to compensate for past emissions and to help play a leadership role in creating a greener future.

“The report says it seeks to be based on current technologies that can be deployed and achievable targets. One-fifth of agricultural land is a very ambitious target but I believe that through the approaches proposed it is achievable (e.g. for bioenergy crops it fits in with published targets for the UK). This is based on the knowledge and technologies we have now regarding how to do this, and because right now in the UK we are developing a new agricultural policy that looks beyond the common agriculture policy (CAP). For example, the 25-year Environment plan published by Defra envisages payment for public goods which could provide a policy mechanism to help ensure that the appropriate approaches are implemented in the appropriate places.

“The scale of the change, however, should not be underestimated, although agriculture is a sector that has previously successfully responded to challenges such as for increased food production. The additional challenge will be to ensure that we deliver all the benefits we wish to see from land: food, carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) management and wider environmental benefits, whilst managing the challenge of the impacts of climate change.

“The link is made between healthy diets with less red meat consumption and future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. This reflects that agriculture will likely go through significant change over the coming decades as a result of changes in consumer diets.

“Net Zero targets, however, could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

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Farming

HSE fees up 20%

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A FEE imposed on farm businesses found to be in breach of health and safety legislation has gone up nearly 20% to £154/hr.

Since October 2012 the Health and Safety Executive has operated a cost recovery regime, which means that businesses are charged for the costs of an investigation from the point a material breach has been identified through to the point when a decision is made on enforcement action.

If you are found to be in material breach of health and safety law, you will have to pay for the time it takes the HSE to identify the breach and help you put things right. This includes investigating and taking enforcement action. This charging scheme is known as a Fee for Intervention (FFI).

Robert Gazely, farm consultant and health and safety specialist for Strutt & Parker said: “A material breach is something which an inspector considers serious enough that they need to formally write to the business requiring action to be taken. Once an inspector gives a farmer this written notification of contravention (NoC), the farmer will be expected to pay a fee.

“From 6 April 2019, the hourly charge has been increased from £129 to £154. The final bill will be based on the total amount of time it takes the HSE inspector to identify the breach and their work to help put things right.

“Of course, the primary reason for farms to be proactive in their approach to health and safety should be to protect themselves, their families and any employees.

“The number of people who are killed and injured each year on farms remains stubbornly high and the human cost of these incidents can be incalculable to those affected.

“But taking a safety-first approach should also help farm businesses to avoid a financial hit, as the HSE fees can mount up in the event of an investigation.”

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Red meat gives ‘Taste of Wales’

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WELSH Lamb and Welsh Beef were among the finest of Welsh foods at Wales’ largest and most prestigious food and drink trade event, Taste Wales last month.

The remarkable display of products, all under one roof, brought together a large contingent of UK and overseas buyers, including importers with a specific interest in Welsh red meat. These included a major foodservice and retail importer and distributor from Scandinavia that imports 6,000 million tonnes of meat annually from all over the world. The company is recognised for bringing tasty food experiences to Nordic dining tables.

They were invited to the event by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) who also arranged site visits to some of Wales’ major red meat processing plants. The main aim was to impress the importers with the industry’s high ethical and environmental standards.

The visit, led by HCC’s market representatives in Scandinavia, was a platform for many productive and promising discussions.

One representative, Anette Stenebrandt said at Taste Wales: “We have a company from Sweden and Finland with us, trying to do some new business in the Nordic-speaking countries. This is really a fantastic fair and we have enjoyed it a lot.”

Her colleague Jakob True added: “This is our first time here at this amazing event, it’s a great opportunity to meet a lot of Welsh producers, particularly Welsh Lamb which is world-class, we know. We’ll go back to Scandinavia with a lot of good new leads and hopefully bring a lot of business to Wales.”

HCC’s Market Development Manager, Rhys Llywelyn said: “Many of the buyers we met at Taste Wales, including the Scandinavians, showed a significant interest in Welsh Lamb and were impressed by the whole package – from the story of producing Welsh Lamb to the processing techniques, the taste and texture.

“Others also expressed a keen interest in forging deals with the industry, including a Japanese department store, a major buyer from Hong Kong and a representative from Qatar. This bodes well for the future, especially as Brexit uncertainty is set to continue in light of the extension on Article 50.”

In recent months, HCC has undertaken a strategic GB marketing drive to encourage growth and recognition of our quality produce on British soil.

HCC’s UK Market Development Executive, Emily Davies said: “Our presence at Taste Wales also included concentrating our efforts on promoting Welsh Lamb in the domestic market. We met a number of foodservice companies, retailers and executive chefs and discussed Welsh red meat opportunities with meal-kit companies and online retailers. We also launched a new tool-kit for retailers which highlights the ways in which we can work with them to promote Welsh Lamb and Beef.”

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