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.”
UK Government publishes Agriculture Bill
NFU CYMRU has welcomed the reintroduction of the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill to Parliament after the previous version was lost in light of December’s General Election.
Commenting on the Bill’s introduction, NFU Cymru President, Mr John Davies said: “I am pleased that a new Agriculture Bill has now been introduced to Parliament, with many of the provisions NFU Cymru has pushed for reflected in this important piece of draft legislation.
“In particular, I am glad to see that the Bill will provide a mechanism to reform the sharing out of the red meat levy across Great Britain. The fact that a significant proportion of Welsh livestock ends up being slaughtered outside of Wales means that there is a significant annual loss of levy funds to Wales’ red meat promotion body, Hybu Cig Cymru.
“The current basis for levy collection is flawed, as it based solely on the location of the abattoir, something which lies completely outside the control of the primary producer. NFU Cymru has been calling for reform in this area for many years now. Once the relevant parties are equipped with the powers they need to address this anomaly, we will look to them to work together to ensure that a mutually agreed, equitable and fit for purpose scheme is up and running as soon as possible
“I also welcome the obligation that the Bill will place on Ministers to report on food security to Parliament. The issue of food security has not been given the prominence it deserves, and hopefully, this new duty that the Bill places on Ministers will go some way towards ensuring that food security is at the forefront of politicians’ minds.
“Fairness and transparency in the supply chain is another issue that NFU Cymru has been pushing hard for many years, so I welcome the fact that the Bill equips Ministers with powers to address supply chain issues. Across many sectors, we have seen inexplicable downward price pressure, including most recently in the beef sector, which dents farmers’ confidence and their ability to invest for the future. Stamping out unfair trading practices and improving the bargaining position of farmers in the supply chain are vital steps we must take to ensure a viable future across different sectors.”
Mr Davies did, however, raise concerns about the omission from the Bill of provision concerning standards: “Although we have had numerous assurances from the UK Government that it will not allow the import of food produced to environmental and animal welfare standards which would be illegal here, I think an opportunity has been missed to legislate around standards in future trade deals.
“For some time now we have been pressing the Government to introduce a standards commission as a matter of priority to oversee and advise on future food trade policy and negotiations – this Bill could have been how this could have been delivered. We will continue to press the Government on this issue, to ensure that Wales’ farmers can compete on a level playing field after Brexit.”
About future Welsh agricultural policy, Mr Davies said: “Agriculture, and the development of future agricultural support policy, is, of course, a devolved matter. When the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill was first introduced in 2018, the Welsh Government took powers in it which would have allowed them to operate new schemes in Wales post-Brexit.
The Welsh Government has confirmed it will not be doing so this time around, opting instead to introduce its own legislation to the National Assembly in Cardiff in due course. NFU Cymru looks forward to working with politicians in Cardiff to deliver policy for Wales which delivers against our three cornerstones of productivity, stability and the environment to realise our ambition of a productive, progressive and profitable Welsh agricultural sector.
“In the nearer term, the UK Government Agriculture Bill will provide Welsh Ministers with the powers they need to continue paying direct payments beyond 2020. I very much welcome commitments made by our own Minister, Lesley Griffiths AM in this respect to continue with the Basic Payment Scheme unchanged for 2020 and 2021, this provides stability to the sector at what is an uncertain time.
“NFU Cymru will continue to scrutinise and examine this Bill in great detail over the coming days and weeks to ensure that it delivers on these vital issues for farmers while providing the environment we all need for a thriving agricultural sector post-Brexit.”
Lesley Griffiths said: “As we prepare to leave the EU and enter the post-Brexit transition period, my message to the UK government is to ensure Wales’ interests are taken into consideration in trade negotiations and during talks about the future relationship with the EU. We also strongly believe there must be no erosion of standards for food, human and animal health and environmental protection.”
In a written statement responding to the Bill, Ms Griffiths said: ‘The powers being taken for Welsh Ministers are intended to be temporary until an Agriculture (Wales) Bill is brought forward to design a ‘Made in Wales’ system which works for Welsh agriculture, rural industries and our communities. Provisions relating to Wales are contained in a separate Schedule.
‘The Bill introduced on January 16, provides powers for the Welsh Ministers to continue paying Direct Payments to farmers beyond 2020 and gives our farmers much-needed stability during this period of uncertainty. It also contains certain other powers, including those which are important to ensure the effective operation of the internal market in the UK.
‘Given the passage of time since the original Bill was first introduced in September 2018, I have reflected on the scope of the Welsh schedule, taking into account the helpful reports provided by the Senedd during scrutiny.
‘I have concluded it is no longer appropriate to take powers to allow the Welsh Ministers to operate or transition to new schemes. My intention now is these will be provided for instead by the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. I intend to publish a White Paper towards the end of 2020 which will set out the context for the future of Welsh farming and pave the way for an Agriculture (Wales) Bill’.
The TFA, while welcoming the UK Bill, said it could be further improved.
George Dunn, TFA’s CEO, said: “Whilst the Bill is better than the one that went before, the task now is to ensure that we make it the best Bill it can be.
“For example, the obligation upon the Government to prepare a report on food security should be annual, not just every five years. The strengthened supply chain measures should be regulated by the Groceries Code Adjudicator and not given to the Rural Payments Agency to oversee. The schedule of changes to tenancy legislation also needs to be bolstered with further measures to assist older tenants into retirement, encourage landlords to let for longer periods of time and protect tenants from spurious notices to quit.”
“Rather than supporting non-active landlords,” Mr Dunn said, “it is also essential to ensure that future financial assistance properly supports active farmers – those in occupation of land, taking the entrepreneurial risk for the activities occurring on that land and in day-to-day management control. If the Bill does not spell this out, there will be a significant risk that public funding will be misdirected.”
George Dunn sounded the same note of caution as John Davies and Lesley Griffiths about the risk of watering down food standards: “There’s nothing in the Bill that protects the UK market from imported food and food ingredients produced to standards that would be illegal within the UK.
“To date, the Government has shied away from legally binding commitments. It’s time for the Government to enshrine its strong words on protecting our standards in trade in legislation.”
FUW concerned by National Trust plans
FUW staff have expressed major concerns regarding the implications for members, who are National Trust tenants, given the Trust’s plans to plant large numbers of trees on their land.
The concerns were expressed during a meeting of the Union’s County Executive Officers who represent members in Wales’ twelve FUW county regions, some of which include large areas of land owned by the trust.
On Thursday (January 9) the General Director of the Trust revealed plans to grow 20 million trees over the next 10 years by planting saplings or removing livestock to allow self-seeding and dozens of farm tenancies are to be altered as they come up for renewal to cut sheep and cattle numbers.
To achieve their target, the Trust is looking to spend about £90 million creating 18,000 hectares of woodland, increasing the proportion of Trust land that is forest from 10 % to 17 % by 2030.
Speaking after the meeting, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “Our members are fully supportive of appropriate tree planting where this does not undermine farm productivity and the environment. Indeed they regularly complain about the obstacles they come across when they try to plant trees.
“However, many National Trust farmers have contacted us to raise concerns regarding the announcement. Of course, given the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the role played by soils and plants in sequestering carbon is rightly attracting significant attention, with a particular focus on the planting of trees.
“But we mustn’t forget that within the past century, the area of woodland in Wales increased threefold, from 5% in 1919 to around 15% in 2016, with mainly deciduous farm woodlands making up 30% of the area.”
The Union President further stressed that the experience over the past century highlights the damage that well-intentioned policies aimed at increasing woodland areas can have.
“With the trust proposing to remove sheep and cattle from land to allow natural afforestation, it must also be remembered that the removal of agriculture has been directly associated by scientists with habitat and species loss in hundreds of examples from around the world, including the UK.”
The charity Plantlife recently warned that ‘…more than half of all wild plants need regular management or disturbance to thrive; 611 (39.6%) species will decline within a decade if the land on which they grow is simply abandoned and 127 (16.4%) will decline within 1-3 years’.
“If the National Trust wants to do more to become carbon neutral, perhaps looking at providing public transport to their sites would be a good place to start. That is especially pertinent if we consider their annual visitor numbers top 25 million and the carbon footprint these generate.
“Transport is the third-highest polluter, with agriculture responsible for just 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, UK beef and lamb carbon emissions are 35% lower than the current global average and emissions from Welsh agriculture have decreased by 12% since 1990 as a result of a range of improvements.”
Given such concerns, Mr Roberts has written to the Trust to ask them to clarify their plans and highlighted the concerns of tenants as well as those who farm near National Trust land.
More slaughter as TB strategy fails
THE LATEST data relating to bovine TB in Wales has revealed an alarming and unsustainable rise in the number of cattle slaughtered due to this disease.
According to recent data, the number of cattle slaughtered in Wales in the 12 months to October 2019 was 12,742 and this is the highest number on record.
Indeed, whilst the most recent data reveals a 12% fall in New Herd Incidents in the 12 months to October 2019, the number of cattle slaughtered over the same period was 24% higher than the previous year.
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “Although the data from TB Dashboard shows improvement in some areas, the number of cattle slaughtered remains unsustainably high. Just 917 cattle were culled in 1996 due to this disease and it is a sad and disturbing fact that the Welsh cattle sector has now become somewhat used to cattle slaughterings reaching the many thousands each year.”
The Union President added that losing TB-free status is devastating to farming families and their businesses. “The loss of precious stock and the restrictions on a farm business can be incredibly destructive and it is extremely distressing for our members who have worked hard to gain TB-free status, only to lose it again in the subsequent years.
“A TB breakdown is not only financially crippling for the farm, but also impacts more widely as struggling farm businesses are less able to contribute to both the local economy and further afield.”
High sensitivity testing, such as gamma testing and the removal of inconclusive reactors at severe interpretation, is blamed for some of this rise. However, this will be of little comfort to FUW members, many of whom have seen a huge number of cattle removed from their farm, he added.
“Despite a wealth of evidence on the important contribution of wildlife control to TB eradication in some places, the current TB programme continues to focus almost entirely on cattle controls.
“The FUW has continued to reiterate members concerns regarding the implementation of measures such as high sensitivity testing, without significant measures to tackle the disease in wildlife.
“The number of cattle herds registered in Wales has declined by 43 per cent since 1996. Bovine TB is one of the most serious issues facing Welsh cattle farmers and a more holistic approach, which seriously tackles the wildlife reservoir, is required urgently,” said Glyn Roberts.
Andrew RT Davies AM/AC – Shadow Minister for Environment, Sustainability, and the Environment – said: “Each month, farmers and others in our rural communities anticipate these figures with apprehension, and with good reason.
“The stats for the year to October 2019 show that 12,742 animals were slaughtered because of bovine TB, which – up from 10,303 – is a rise of 24 percent on the same period in 2018. England, by contrast, saw a drop of two percent.
“Clearly, the Welsh Labour Minister for the Environment and Rural Affairs has not got to grips with her brief in the almost four years in her post, and farmers – and the rural economy – here in Wales suffer as a result.
“But the suffering is not only financial.
“In the Senedd last week my colleague Paul Davies AM/AC spoke passionately on the subject of farmers enduring mental health problems. Bovine TB is another pressure, another cause of stress that our hardworking farmers and their families suffer, and it’s time it ended.
“A Welsh Conservative Government would develop a new, holistic approach for the eradication of bovine TB and look at all options to achieve this.
“Until then, we will harry this Welsh Labour administration to listen to farmers – as well as the Farmers’ Union of Wales and NFU Cymru – to step up its efforts to control this disease and bring this crisis to an end.”
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