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Farming

Pig haulage faces major challenges

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livestockhaul

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

Economic value of red meat sector rises

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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

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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

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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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