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Farming

Open access opens can of worms

Thomas Sinclair

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Urges caution over open access: Llyr Gruffydd AM, Plaid Cymru

Urges caution over open access: Llyr Gruffydd AM, Plaid Cymru

CONCERN has been expressed by farmers over proposed changes to access legislation in Wales, at a recent county NFU Cymru Annual General meeting.
Brecon and Radnor NFU Cymru County Chairman, Stuart Morris said : “NFU Cymru recognises that some reform is required to access legislation to allow for modernisation of the public rights of way network, through a process of prioritisation and rationalisation. In our response to the recent Green Paper we have made clear that the current system does not take into account modern-day farming. The procedures to divert or close public rights of way must be made far easier and less expensive.”
During the summer months, the Welsh Government carried out a consultation exercise to explore views on the potential for simpler, more integrated, legislation on access to the outdoors and public rights of way. Most alarmingly, concern was raised with regard to the proposal for an entirely new access settlement in Wales which would allow access for responsible recreation to all land in Wales.
Stuart Morris continued, “Farmers are deeply concerned that any proposals to extend access will impose severe limitations on the day to day running of their farming businesses. Our farms are our factory floor and consideration must be given to the fact that we have grazing livestock and cropping decisions to take.
“We have already seen the consequences of the vast spread of phytophthora ramorum and we would not wish for any repeat of this type of disease spread in any of our agricultural crops. There are also health and safety factors to consider such as access to emergency services if an accident were to occur.
“Overall, NFU Cymru is supportive of reform to simplify current legislation to allow a sensible rationalisation of the network. Wales already has a very extensive network of paths and access land and it is time that existing routes are maintained and clearly signposted. We would urge members to continue to lobby their own AMs on this important matter.”
Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs Llyr Gruffydd AM has also urged caution over government plans to introduce open access to the countryside. His call comes following the publication of HSE figures showing 74 deaths involving cattle in the past 15 years and in the wake of a series of high-profile animal welfare incidents linked to public access to farmland.
Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs Llyr Gruffydd said: “There is much that needs to be improved with the existing arrangements for access, rights of way and public footpaths in Wales. Updating antiquated legislation and outdated regulations would, for example, reduce many of the administrative burdens on those responsible for our paths.
“A quarter of Wales is already designated as open land and we have over 20,000 miles of public rights of way. There has been a threefold increase in land accessible by right by the public since 2005 meaning that over a million acres of Welsh countryside is already accessible to the public.
“If the Government genuinely wants to encourage more access then it should start by promoting the better use of what we already have. Flinging the farm gates wide open by introducing open access to all land in Wales is the wrong approach.
“Recent incidents involving dog attacks on livestock have reminded us that allowing public access onto farmland brings with it risks to land owners and for animal welfare. Health and Safety Executive statistics also highlight the dangers to the public in terms of injury and deaths. Among the 74 fatalities involving cattle were 18 members of the public who were either rambling or walking their dogs.
“These incidents generally occurred on public footpaths or rights of way and almost always involve dogs. If a dog comes between a cow and its calf then that can trigger an attack, which makes it all the more important that people do not wander at random and put themselves in danger.
“Wales has a countryside of which we can all be proud. Allowing responsible use of it by the public has clear benefits for health and our economy. As well as the national coastal path, our citizens already have access to hundreds of thousands of hectares of land and I don’t believe we’re making the best of this existing potential. The Government would do well to deliver more effectively on what we already have before seeking to introduce open access to all land in Wales.

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Farming

Economic value of red meat sector rises

Thomas Sinclair

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HE VALUE of the iconic beef, lamb and pork sectors to the Welsh economy rose in 2020, as consumers turned to local, sustainable, quality food during the COVID pandemic, according to analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).New figures from the Welsh Government ‘Aggregate Agricultural Output and Income’ report show that the total value of agricultural output in Wales for 2020 is projected to stand at £1.7billion – a 6.2% (or £99 million) increase on the provisional figure for 2019.


Cattle and sheep account for 44% of this total at £750million; the highest proportion recorded since 2016. The agricultural output value for Wales’s pig sector also increased (by 34.3% or £2 million) to a value of £8 million.
The figures reflect the strength of the livestock sector in Wales and sit in contrast to Total Income From Farming (TIFF) figures for the UK as a whole newly released by Defra. Although the TIFF figures are a different form of measuring farm production, the UK data concurs that the livestock sector has had a strong year, but in other parts of Britain, this was more than offset by poor harvests in the arable sector.


Demand for beef and lamb have been strong in the domestic retail market since the immediate aftermath of the first COVID lockdown in spring 2020. After initial market volatility, marketing campaigns by HCC and other bodies encouraged consumers to recreate restaurant meals at home.


Over the past 12 months, domestic retail sales of lamb and beef have trended consistently higher, with spending on lamb 20% higher than the previous year. Sales at independent high street butchers are also strong.
Research shows many demographic groups, including families with children, buying more beef and lamb than previously, and turning to quality home-grown produce.


HCC Data Analyst Glesni Phillips said, “The strong demand for red meat from the domestic consumer has helped drive market prices for beef and lamb at Welsh livestock markets in the second half of 2020 and into the early months of 2021.


“It’s no surprise, therefore, to see that the overall value of the industry is projected to have grown. We have seen inflation in the costs on farmers, which offset some of the gains from improved market price; however, it’s heartening to see consumers’ support for quality Welsh produce.“Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef remain key drivers of our rural economy, and given their excellent brand reputation, they act as flagship products for the growing Welsh food and drink sector.”Further analysis of the aggregate output and income figures for Welsh farms are available in HCC’s latest monthly market bulletin.

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Farming

Ian Rickman: 2021 is a critical year for Wales’ farming future

Thomas Sinclair

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THE INCREASINGLY negative narrative around livestock farming and its portrayed impact on the environment and climate change has led to farmers in Wales standing up to tell their stories and highlight the positive impact livestock farming has.


Through the Farmers’ Union of Wales’ campaign ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’, farmers are addressing misleading claims by various groups about the role livestock farming plays in relation to climate change and the environment.  Launching the campaign, FUW Deputy President Ian Rickman said: “The FUW has consistently recognised the threat represented by climate change and the need to take action. This is clear from a cursory look at our manifestos and policy documents published over the past twenty years.

“We know that farming is already responsible for a critical carbon resource in soils, woodland and semi-natural habitats and I’m pleased to launch the FUW’s environment campaign – ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’ from my home farm here in Carmarthenshire today. As farmers are the most trusted link in the supply chain, they are best placed to communicate their stories, helping to address consumer concerns and influencing political agendas. Members can also look forward to a variety of webinars over the coming months, which will focus on the different challenges ahead for the industry and how to overcome them.


“There is no question in our mind that we need to counteract the continuation by the anti-farming lobby of their campaign to vilify and belittle domestic food producers.  These attacks are corrosive and grossly misleading, negatively influencing consumer perception of the industry and influencing political agendas on a global scale.”


Mr Rickman added that 2021 is an important year for these types of conversations.


“Knocking on our door are the United Nations Food Systems Summit and COP26. The FUW has been engaging with these conversations at an international level and shares some concerns with other industries across the globe about the wider narrative and ambitions set out in inconspicuous looking documents. Plans, we and the general public don’t support.  Telling the positive story of the guardians of our Welsh land is now more important than ever,” he said.


Starting in the first week of June, the campaign introduces four farmers all of whom tell the story of how they are addressing environmental and climate change needs in their unique ways: Carmarthenshire organic sheep farmer Phil Jones, the Roberts family from Meirionnydd, Ceredigion dairy farmers Lyn and Lowri Thomas and FUW President Glyn Roberts who farms with his daughter Beca at Dylasau Uchaf in Snowdonia.


“The campaign will further highlight that Welsh farmers are rising to the challenge of improving soil health and increasing organic matter in soils, improvements which represent further opportunities for sequestering more carbon. These improvements, the campaign will highlight, are achieved through specific livestock grazing patterns and rest periods. The campaign is also clear that the correct options, guidance and rewards are required to encourage more farmers to adopt such systems,” said Mr Rickman.


Soil, the campaign will stress, is a long term investment and at present, around 410 million tonnes of carbon is stored in Welsh soils and 75,700 hectares of Wales’ woodland (25%) is on farmland, representing an important and growing carbon sink.


“As acknowledged in Natural Resources Wales’ State of Natural Resources Report, using land for food production is an essential part of natural resource use and management.  Whilst we acknowledge that  agricultural intensification has undeniably had negative impacts on some species and ecosystems, there is overwhelming evidence that other factors, including reductions in agricultural activity and afforestation, have also had severe negative impacts,” he added.

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Farming

Excellent Easter for lamb sales

Jon Coles

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Lamb proved a popular choice for consumers over Easter with retail sales soaring above the last two years. This demand has been reflected at livestock markets where farmgate prices are still standing strong.

At a time when lamb is always a firm favourite, this year people of all ages were both buying and spending more as a result of a renewed interest in sourcing quality, local produce and cooking at home.

In the 12 weeks to 18 April 2021, the total volume purchased was up 14.8% on the year, and 6.0% higher than in 2019. Consumer spend on lamb reached £190.0 million, which was 18.7% more than in 2020 and 14.6% higher than the same period in 2019.  

Lamb leg roasting joints were the most sought-after cuts despite the fact that Covid-19 restrictions on large gatherings remained, followed by chops and mince.

Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) Data Analyst, Glesni Phillips said: “Lamb performed exceptionally well over the Easter period this year. It saw a 10.2% increase in the number of buyers engaging with the product and a rise of 3.3% in the frequency of which lamb was bought.

“The average price of lamb was also higher, but this obviously did not deter new buyers. The figures show that there are new buyers in all age categories, but this is especially true for shoppers aged under 45 years and those with children.

“The pandemic has led to more consumers cooking at home, giving many the opportunity to realise and enjoy the exceptional qualities and versatility of Welsh Lamb, and at the same time, support the local economy.”

Butchers also benefitted from the popularity of lamb in the run-up to Easter with total spend increasing by 16.1% on the year. The volume sold also increased, by 12.6%.

Glesni Phillips added: “As we approach the end of Spring, the consumer demand for lamb is continuing. This can be seen in the liveweight lamb prices which remain strong when compared to historical averages, with the average SQQ in Wales standing at 329.7p/kg in Wales for the week ending 15 May 2021.

“New season lambs are now entering the market – they accounted for over 70% of lambs at auction in Wales during the latest week – but the supply is still relatively tight. HCC is looking forward to working with retailers over the coming months on new activity, which will include in-store marketing, press and targeted digital communication to maintain this growth in sales. Butchers, who demonstrated their key role in the community during the pandemic, will also be offered training on a number of key skills to boost their sales even further.”

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