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Farming

Horizon document looks to future

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Sheep industry: In the firing line

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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Farming

Big Farmland Bird Count returns

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JIM EGAN has sent out a rallying cry for people to pick up their binoculars and go bird-spotting for the Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC) which returns on Friday, February 8.

The passionate organiser of the count, organised by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), is urging farmers, land managers, gamekeepers and all wildlife enthusiasts to spend 30 minutes recording what species they see on their patch of land from February 8th to the 17th.

Your support will help identify the farmland birds that are flourishing due to good conservation methods and ones in need of most support.

“It would be fantastic to see even more farmers to take part in the count this year,” said Jim.

“Counting birds on farms is a great way to recognise what species are there as well as being an opportunity to take time out and see the benefits of work such as wild seed mix and supplementary feeding.

“Taking part and submitting results enables us at GWCT to shout about the important conservation work many farmers are doing.

“We want landowners to be proud of their efforts. We will make sure that the public and policymakers hear about what can be achieved on Britain’s farms. The BFBC is a very positive way to showcase what can be achieved.”

Backing this vital citizen-science project, running for the sixth successive year, is the NFU, which is this year’s sponsor.

President Minette Batters is vowing her support to the count by going bird-watching on her farm in Downton, Wiltshire.

She will be joined on day one with GWCT biodiversity advisor Pete Thompson, an advocate of the count, both of whom will be ready with their binoculars, notepads and sharpened pencils, recording what they see.

“I am delighted to be taking part in this year’s GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count which the NFU is pleased to be sponsoring for the very first time,” she said.

“It’s becoming an important national event where thousands of farmers and growers around the country are able to take stock of and importantly, take pride in what they find on their land.

“The NFU supports initiatives like the Big Farmland Bird Count as without sound management of the environment, enhancement of habitats, protection of wildlife and support for pollinators and soils, we do not have farming businesses.

“So, I would encourage all farmers to take part, and also remember to submit your records to the GWCT, so we can pull together a vital national snapshot of the state of the nation when it comes to farmland birds.”

A record-breaking 1,000 people took part in last year’s count, recording 121 species across 950,000 acres.

A total of 25 red-listed species were recorded, with five appearing in the 25 most commonly seen species list. These include fieldfares, starlings, house sparrows, song thrushes and yellowhammers. The most plentiful of these were fieldfares and starlings, which were seen on nearly 40% of the farms taking part.

At the end of the count, the results will be analysed by the Trust. All participants will receive a report on the national results once they have been collated.

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Farming

Agri-food robotics centre launched

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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.

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Farming

OSR yields hit

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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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