THE FUW is hosting an All Wales Mental Health Conference on the eve of World Mental Health Day to shed light on the wider context of poor mental health in rural communities.
Taking place online via Zoom on Friday 9 October, the conference will hear from a top panel of speakers. The morning session will explore the wider context of poor mental health in rural communities and what steps need to be taken by Government, decision makers and policy shapers to address the situation, especially as Covid-19 has put further pressure not just on people’s mental health but also their finances.
Speakers for the morning session, which starts at 10.30am and is chaired by Farmers Guardian Chief Reporter Abi Kay, include Sara Lloyd, Team Leader, South Ceredigion Community Mental Health Team; Cath Fallon, Head of Enterprise and Community Animation Enterprise Directorate, Monmouthshire County Council; Lee Philips, Wales Manager, Money and Pensions Service; John Forbes-Jones, Corporate Manager Mental Wellbeing Services, Ceredigion County Council and Vicky Beers from The Farming Community Network.
The afternoon session, which starts at 2pm, will take a practical approach and hear from various dedicated mental health charities offering hands-on advice for those who are supporting a loved one going through mental issues as well as those who are currently experiencing poor mental health.
Speakers for the afternoon session, which is chaired by well-known TV Presenter Alun Elidyr, include Gareth Davies, Chief Executive Officer, Tir Dewi; David Williams, Wales Regional Director, the Farming Community Network; Kate Miles, Charity Manager, The DPJ Foundation and Linda Jones, Regional Manager, Wales RABI.
The event is also supported by Welsh Government’s Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, and New Zealand farmer and mental health champion Doug Avery through video message.
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “Poor mental health and suicide in rural and farming communities is sadly an increasing problem and one that the FUW has made a commitment to tackle.
“We understand that mental health problems can affect a person’s ability to process information and solve problems, deplete their energy and motivation, and increase impulsive behaviour. Whilst the symptoms are being treated, the root causes of these issues are not so frequently addressed.
“This conference will therefore go beyond the usual points of discussions and explore the subject further. It is an open event and anyone with an interest in mental health is welcome to join us virtually on the day.”
Commenting on the issue, Janet Finch-Saunders MS – the Welsh Conservatives’ Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Energy, and Rural Affairs – said: “The sudden and striking impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Wales’ rural communities has once again shone a light on the precarious position that many residents find themselves in, as isolation has been compounded by troubles over public transport links, broadband connections and access to medical treatment.
“Taken together, this has left a marked impact on the mental well-being of rural residents, which is a demographic that typically skews older. From my recent conversations with rural villagers of North Wales, it is plain that many have struggled with loneliness throughout this most challenging period.
“I am also greatly concerned about the impact of the pandemic on our rural farming communities, which has only added to the stresses of this vital sector. A recent shocking analysis of the sector has found that one agricultural worker in the UK takes their own life each week. Some 84% of farmers under 40 also now believe that mental health is the single biggest danger facing the industry.
“We know that entrenched issues with Bovine TB has had a dangerous and regretful impact on farmer’s mental well-being. It is why the Welsh Conservatives have called for a two-pronged approach, which includes dealing with the disease in wildlife. We must work to relieve this unnecessary stress.
“More must be done to support our rural communities in combating the mental health stigma. I have repeatedly urged Lesley Griffiths MS to look at launching a digital awareness campaign that signposts towards counselling and support services, targeted towards farmers and young people across the broader rural community.
“I have also praised the efforts of the Tir Dewi helpline, a bilingual support network which is supported by The Church in Wales (Dioceses of St David’s) and the Prince’s Countryside Fund. This fantastic initiative, showing the excellent role that the charity sector can play, has now expanded its network to include the North of Wales.
“Our rural communities are the guardians and custodians of our land. The Welsh Government must stand with these residents by facilitating access to support networks. They must also take seriously the experiences and challenges that a rural way of life can bring, realising the hugely detrimental impact that any future pandemic restrictions may have.”
Economic value of red meat sector rises
THE 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.
Ian Rickman: 2021 is a critical year for Wales’ farming future
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.
Excellent Easter for lamb sales
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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