NFU CYMRU has urged Welsh Government to consider a ‘workable alternative’ to reducing nitrates from agriculture to prevent further extension of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) in Wales.
The Union has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths AM, to reiterate earlier commitments to provide the resources required to support the development of such a solution as an alternative to NVZ proposals that could see the percentage of NVZs in Wales rise from 2.4% to 8% – or even a leap to an all territory approach covering the whole of Wales.
The Cabinet Secretary is expected to make an announcement on the NVZ designations before the end of 2017.
The new option put forward by NFU Cymru has been designed by farmers and builds on an off-set scheme that has been operating successfully by a group of First Milk dairy farmers in the Cleddau Catchment in Pembrokeshire. The approach requires farmers to select mitigating measures appropriate to their system. The scheme is recorded, audited by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and meets the strict requirements of the Environmental Permitting and Habitats Regulations – on average each participating farm is saving a tonne of nutrient annually.
This model has significant potential to be developed and could deliver measurable reductions in nitrates, well above those modelled for the NVZ Action Programme, as well as broader environmental benefits.
Speaking ahead of the Welsh Dairy Show in Carmarthen, NFU Cymru President Stephen James said: “We are clear that any new designations will have a significant impact upon the businesses of farmers and, severely hit the rural economy of these areas. The costs associated with implementation vastly outweigh the benefits to water quality. Farmers do, however, recognise their role in improving water quality and have developed a workable solution that has the potential to deliver far more than can be achieved through the NVZ Action Programme.
“The measures suggested with this approach address diffuse pollution issues and also provide habitat improvement. Developed in partnership, we believe they are likely to engender the confidence and ‘buy-in’ of the farming community – our own survey work shows significant willing from Welsh farmers to address the issue of nitrate pollution and improve water quality.
“This proposal is a workable alternative to the options currently on the table and delivers farmer-led solutions that bring environmental benefits – something that all parties share a vested interest in achieving; also aligning with Wales’ new legislative framework which presents opportunities and the flexibility to move forward and make progress on water quality issues on a different basis than previously.
“An alternative approach, rather than an unwieldly EU directive, will enable us to develop, grow and realise NFU Cymru’s vision of a productive, progressive and profitable industry that will deliver jobs, growth and investment for Wales and we have extended an offer to the Cabinet Secretary to join us on a visit to farms in West Wales to see the benefits of this approach for herself.”
WHAT IS AN NVZ?
An NVZ designation places a series of restrictions on farmers’ ability to use certain types of fertiliser on their land at prescribed times of the year. The aim is to reduce the effect that run off from agricultural land has on the environment.
The effects of nitrate pollution on the aquatic environment can be significant. High nitrate concentrations can cause a deterioration in water quality and disturb the ecosystems of rivers and other watercourses. Over enrichment of water can lead to a depletion of oxygen levels leading to a loss of marine life and causes increased toxic and non-toxic algal blooms, which make the situation worse by reducing water transparency. Nitrate pollution can reduce not only the diversity of plant life but also damage fish and shellfish stocks, as the algae consume the available oxygen suffocating other life.
In the worst case scenario, anaerobic (oxygen-starved) conditions cause toxic bacteria to thrive and can create ‘dead zones’.
In order to tackle the threat posed by nitrate pollution, in 1991 the European Union adopted rules governing nitrate pollution and sought to regulate the extent of nitrate pollution entering the environment.
WG APPROACH LACKS EVIDENCE
FUW Senior Policy Officer Dr Hazel Wright, who has been representing the Union in the review process, said: ‘‘The FUW has been involved in the NVZ review and has made successful representations on several designations, which resulted in their removal from the discrete areas option of the consultation.
“However, the number of proposed new designations remain a concern and the FUW continues to reiterate the operational and financial impacts those designations would have upon farms that reside within an NVZ area. Given such costs, there must be full justification for any proposed increases in designation.”
Two options outlined in the consultation include the continuation of the discrete approach to designation or the designation of the whole of Wales as a NVZ. A continuation of the discrete approach would see an increase in the amount of NVZ designations in Wales rise from 2.4% to 8%. This would mean significant changes to NVZ designation in counties such as Pembrokeshire, Carmarthen and Anglesey.
“The FUW remains resolutely against the option to apply the action programme throughout the whole of Wales as this would require all landowners to comply with the NVZ action programme measures.
“There is a distinct lack of evidence for a whole territory approach and the difficulties and costs associated with regulatory compliance for farms whose land does not drain into nitrate polluted waters, makes this option both unwarranted and unreasonably excessive,” added Dr Wright.
FUW explores innovation at Royal Welsh
AMERICAN entrepreneur Steve Jobs, Co-founder of Apple, once said that ’innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower’. Recognising the importance of innovation in the agricultural industry, the Farmers’ Union of Wales is hosting a special seminar at the Royal Welsh Show.
The innovation seminar, which is held on Tuesday, July 23, at 2pm at the FUW Pavilion, will focus on how farmers can embrace innovation in many different ways, and stay ahead of their competitors as Brexit looms.
Those attending the seminar can look forward to hearing from Geraint Hughes, of Madryn Foods, who leads on Business and Innovation in the Farming Connect’s Agri-Academy scheme, whose forum include Welsh farmers looking at technologies such as Genomics, Smart farming, Virtual reality, Social Media and Vertical farming.
He also operates as a broker for the European Innovation Partnership programme that aims to bridge academia and industry by conducting field trials of cutting edge technologies in a commercial environment.
Previously, Mr Hughes conducted agriculture research at Bangor University and was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship to study “Crops for functional foods” in 2006.
“I look forward to sharing knowledge I have gained from travels seeing innovation at work, which has now become reality, such as retail vending, the “farmacy” concept in supermarkets such as Planet Organics where shoppers buy with their health being the main consideration, pasture fed meat, robotics, genomics and more,” said Geraint Hughes.
Also joining the panel of speakers is Karina Marsden who is a post-doctoral researcher in the Ecosystems and Environment group at the Environment Centre Wales, Bangor University.
She has researched soil nitrogen cycling in livestock production systems, with a particular focus on emissions of the greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide, from agricultural soils. Karina works alongside Professor Dave Chadwick who specialises in sustainable land use systems and Professor Davey Jones who specialises in soil and environmental science.
Bangor University researchers have been investigating novel methods of utilising nitrification inhibitors to reduce diffuse nitrogen pollution from agriculture, including nitrate leaching and emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.
Novel strategies include targeting the use of these inhibitors to critical pollution source areas and quantifying how effective they are in terms of cost of application and alleviation of nitrogen pollution. Compounds of biological, rather than chemical origin are also being investigated. There is potential to adopt these technologies, possibly under the support of agri-environment schemes, but research is key to determine how effective they are and how their use can be optimised before wider adoption can take place.
Another novel technology being studied is the use of real-time in-situ sensors which can detect soil nitrate. The major aim is to better improve nitrogen use efficiency, to match the supply of nitrogen fertilisers to the demand of the crops.
The research will assess how these sensors perform in comparison to existing technologies,such as crop canopy sensors measuring greenness. The technology has been advancing with improvements to sensor robustness and design.
Research is continuing into how this technology could be adopted on farms e.g. how many sensors would be required across a given area and how to link the soil nitrate concentration data to crop growth and nitrogen demand.
FUW Policy officer Bernard Griffiths said: “The FUW has collaborated with other industry Welsh stakeholders for the past 18 months to tackle diffuse and point source pollution from agriculture sources and innovation was identified as one of the 5 key prongs to bring about improvement.
“We therefore welcome innovative research that will develop alternative strategies to keep Welsh farmers working on the land and we look forward hearing more about this from Karina at the seminar.“
Updating attendees on the latest developments on a range of sensors to help farmers remotely monitor livestock in extensive systems, is Shiv Kodam of Hoofprints Technologies – who have carried out a year-long trial in collaboration with Scottish Rural Colleges at their remote hill farm in Crianlarich, Scotland.
The company has also developed gate sensors to monitor the opening and closing of gates on farms. The gate sensors could play an important role in notifying the farmer if a farm gate has been opened by someone other than the farmer.
“Currently, Hoofprints Technologies are working on several farms across the UK on a range of different systems for different uses. For example, cows and sheep are collared which log and transmit the location of the animal every few minutes. This can then be displayed on a dashboard in real time.
“Other technology developed will accurately and automatically “mother-up” ewes and lambs within 48 hours with up to 99% accuracy of the ewe and lamb relationship. This also works with ewes with multiple lambs. The technique can be used on suckler cows to identify cross suckling traits.
“The technology allows the accurate identification of the behaviours of remote livestock so that farmers could be notified if their animals behave differently from the norm, or if the animal displays signs of illness, characterised by lack of movement or motion. I’m looking forward to provide further updates on this at the FUW’s seminar and look forward to seeing many of you there,” said Shiv Kodam.
FUW Policy Officer Bernard Griffiths said: “We are very excited about this seminar, which will explore a variety of innovations made, that can help the sector progress in future. The seminar is free to attend and open to all – I hope many of you can join us in exploring further aspects of innovation in agric sector.”
FUW focuses on mental health
THE FARMERS’ UNION OF WALES made a commitment at the Royal Welsh Show last year to continue raising awareness of mental health problems in rural communities and in line with that commitment is continuing the conversation about the wider issues surrounding mental health in rural areas at this year’s Royal Welsh Show.
Hosting a dedicated seminar on Thursday, July 26, at 11am at the FUW pavilion, the Union looks forward to hearing from Alzheimer’s Society Cymru, The Farming Community Network and DPJ Foundation.
Speaking ahead of the event, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “Mental health – good or bad – has affected us all at some point in our lives. Standing by the commitment we made at the Show last year, I’m pleased to see the excellent line-up of speakers we have with us once again.
“They will be discussing a variety of issues and look at solutions that are available to those who have suffered, are suffering or are supporting someone close to them who is affected by mental health issues, may that be depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s or any other form of poor mental health. I therefore hope that many of you will be able to join us on the day.”
The discussions are chaired by Lilwen Joynson, Agrisgop leader, who said: “I appreciate that for many farmers, rural businesses and families having a chat about being stressed out and what to do and where to go for help, sits below the to do list of a busy rural enterprise.
“The thing is, if we don’t talk we don’t support and we end up with problems and an industry that isn’t facing up to the reality of how mental health affects us all.
“I want you to think right now of one person who is affected with stress, anxiety or depression it could even be you. Where do they go for support? Very often nowhere and that’s why we have been known to be an industry that shuts up and puts up. We have an industry that thinks that a person is soft if we are feeling depressed; we all know that well-oiled phrase “pull yourself together”.
“That’s why as a working practitioner I am keen to push forward and pull together and talk about mental health – let’s take the stigma out of mental health in farming. And I hope to see many of you at the seminar.”
David Williams, Wales Regional Director for The Farming Community Network, who manages a group of 40 Welsh volunteers and is the FCN’s lead contact with the Welsh Government on farming-related issues said:
“It is very easy to underestimate just how important the mind is when it comes to farming. Along with the body, it is, without doubt, the best bit of kit a farmer can have.
“However, if your mind and body are not well-maintained, the consequences can be disastrous. There is a significant amount of stress and anxiety in farming at present. Concerns about the unpredictable weather, animal disease, support payments and the impact of Brexit are weighing on the minds of many farmers throughout Wales.
“Coupled with the loneliness and isolation that comes with farming means that farmers and agricultural workers are highly susceptible to poor mental wellbeing. Failing to deal with poor mental wellbeing could lead to all sorts of issues. It could lead to the farm running inefficiently, a serious injury, relationship breakdowns, poor physical health and, even worse, it could lead to suicide.
“Thankfully, the stigma surrounding mental wellbeing in farming is slowly reducing, thanks to the incredible support services that are now available to the farming community. One of the aims of the FUW’s “Let’s Talk” seminar, is to help farmers better understand mental health, identify poor mental wellbeing in both themselves and their loved ones and signpost them to the most appropriate support services for their situation.
“I would encourage anyone who has a passion for rural life and wants to support the farming community to attend this seminar at the FUW pavilion.”
Emma Picton-Jones, who set up the DPJ Foundation after her husband took his own life July 2016, will provide an update on the work of the foundation, which aims to support people in agriculture and in the agricultural community by reducing the stigma that surrounds mental health and supporting them by signposting them to support systems that are available.
She said: “We have set up a talking therapies service specifically for people in the rural communities, men in particular who struggle with their mental health and we are currently running a pilot year in West Wales and have taken on on average 1 client per week for each week we have been running. That just shows how important mental health support is in our communities and I hope many of you can join us for this seminar at the Royal Welsh Show to explore what help is available.”
Sue Phelps, Alzheimer’s Society Cymru Country Director, said: “Alzheimer’s Society Cymru estimate that there are 17,000 people affected by dementia living in rural communities across Wales. They face a specific set of challenges and barriers; these include access to specialist support, peer support and a lack of awareness and understanding of dementia within the community.
“Loneliness is a real problem for people with dementia. Alzheimer’s Society research states that a third of people report to have lost friends since their diagnosis. Two thirds of people with dementia remain in their communities, but many feel trapped in their own homes – with almost one in 10 only leaving the house once a month. Carers are also more likely to feel isolated and unsupported.
“Our Side by Side service supports those affected by dementia to remain part of their community and continue to do the things they love. This can help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness which can lead to depression and other mental health related issues. We are particularly keen to recruit volunteers from the Welsh speaking and farming community to Side by Side to help us to keep connected with people living with dementia.
“Alzheimer’s Society Cymru will continue to shine a light on the needs of people affected by dementia in rural Wales, and will be keeping a close eye on the implementation of the Welsh Government’s National Dementia Action Plan, to make sure people in those communities receive the care and support that they are entitled to receive.”
Horizon document looks to future
A NEW analysis of Brexit’s potential impact emphasises the need for agricultural businesses to prepare for the future to ensure the long-term prosperity of the £1.6 billion Welsh farming sector.
The Horizon document, ‘Exploring the implications of Brexit for agriculture and horticulture in Wales’, has been produced by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and analyses a range of scenarios surrounding trading access, agricultural support payments, and movement of labour.
The report echoes other independent analyses which conclude that the sheep sector is most exposed to a ‘hard’ Brexit scenario. Over a third of PGI Welsh Lamb is exported abroad – over 90% of it to the EU – therefore the prospect of Tariffs or other barriers to trade is among the greatest risks.
Various other sectors could be affected in different ways in terms of trade and rural payments, and the report notes the potential vulnerability of the abattoir and processing sector to restrictions on migrant labour.
However the report concludes that the most efficient enterprises are best-placed to thrive in a changed environment, and lists a range of resources, provided by AHDB, HCC and Welsh Government’s Farming Connect programme, which can help farmers to prepare.
HCC’s Industry Development and Relations Manager John Richards said: “The scenarios presented in the report represent the extremes of what we might expect from Brexit – anything from a free trade deal with Europe which allows us to trade exactly as we do now, to full tariffs on all agricultural imports and exports.”
“However, it’s very important that agri-food businesses take steps to assess the possible impact on their sector, and begin to plan accordingly through benchmarking and other tools,” he added. “HCC is ready to work with Welsh Government, Farming Connect and the whole sector on a range of initiatives to help make the transition.”
“We had a number of interesting discussions with farmers and industry representatives at the Brexit roadshow events we held – again jointly with AHDB – earlier this year,” said John. “It’s not easy to plan when we don’t know the final outcome, but knowing their costs and maximising efficiency is something farmers can do straight away which is certain to help.”
AHDB Head of Strategic Insight David Swales said: “For some sectors, Brexit presents a number of opportunities, while other parts of the industry face some potential challenges when we leave the EU.
“While we do not know all the details, we would rather farmers and growers start to prepare now based on the information we have at present. We will be updating our report as more information becomes available, but this latest Horizon document allows industry to avoid the wait-and-see approach, which we believe is high risk.”
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