Farmers set for rewards if they encourage insects

Gwyn Jones' Farm Diary
Gwyn Jones' Farm Diary

Rain, rain, rain! My goodness me the ground it wet and winter conditions are here to stay?

Even the light ground at Tillington has had enough water for the time being and we have very big cover of grass in all the paddocks which needs to be grazed very soon.

It is still mild although there is a raw edge to the wind at times, and there was one frosty morning last week.

I have spent a few days in Wales where the weather was predictably a lot worse than it was here with driving rain, high winds at times and some hail to throw into the mixture.

I was struck by how many buzzards and other birds of prey I saw in Wales. Whilst these are very beautiful birds and protected by law, how many more would it take to upset the balance of nature? Do we assume that their numbers will stabilise according to the amount of food available? Would that be the right balance as far as their prey is concerned and who is looking after their interests?

I attended the NFU Cymru Annual Conference at Builth Wells on Thursday where I listened for the first time to the new Deputy Minister for Farming and Food, Rebecca Evans and other farming leaders in Wales.

I was particularly impressed by the three young farmers who presented in the afternoon, all three in different sectors, dairy, arable and sheep. Their background was very different as indeed was their route to farming with the young man from Manchester who had visited Wales with his parents as a child, deciding to become involved in dairy farming, working in New Zealand as well as Wales to gain experience and buying heifer calves and renting land to rear them on as he earned money.

Today he is milking his own cows in a share-farming partnership in Wales, where a successful local dairy farmer had noticed his dedication, hard work and determination, becoming his mentor and providing the land and facilities for the joint venture.

As Professor Wynne Jones stated at the Conference whilst discussing young people, training and opportunities: “There is no such thing as good luck; what people refer to as good luck is in fact what happens when good preparation meets an opportunity.”

The big news last week in the dairy industry was the announcement by Dairy Crest that it is selling its liquid business to Muller Wiseman. There are three big players in the country when it comes to liquid milk, and of the three, Dairy Crest has been struggling to make money out of their liquid business, making their profits from their branded business such as ‘Cathedral City’ cheese.

Arla are very big players in the liquid business and have recently invested heavily in dairy, especially the very large new factory near Aylesbury, and Muller bought Robert Wiseman Dairies who had until Arla’s expansion been the largest and most invested company in the sector.

This sale is a good move for the industry and subject to clearing the Competition authorities, will remove a weak player from the equation.

The two well invested and efficient companies in liquid milk will be in a better position to offer first class service to retailers, and Dairy Crest will be able to concentrate on its core business.

Whilst in Wales there was a little nervousness around as Dairy Crest source quite a lot of milk from South Wales, but industry leaders thought that there was no real threat to those farmers and of course it will take quite a long time for a deal of this size to be completed.

Defra’s latest farm income figures are proof of the volatility in the agricultural world these days. The figures are from March 2013 – April 2014, where arable farmers saw a dramatic fall in income, whilst dairy, beef and poultry made substantial gains. Arable farmers had enjoyed a good year in 2012-13 whilst dairy, pigs and poultry had been weaker and of course since April of this year all sectors have seen prices fall dramatically.

Since this time last year wheat prices have fallen 30%, dairy is down by 45% and beef prices have been very low. We have been talking about volatility for a long time and as we get closer to world markets it has certainly arrived. It is vital that farmers and their partners in the supply industry and customers adopt the same long term approach if we are to be successful as an industry.

Many dairy farmers were given more bad news last week as prices for December have dropped once more. Some farmers have suffered seven cuts in as many months with the amount cut around 10p per litre in some cases as the effect of excess milk is processed into commodities.

There is concern about the price of milk next spring as production increases due to spring calving and grass growth takes off.

Farmers are to be rewarded for encouraging bees and other beneficial insects under Defra’s new environmental stewardship scheme. Full details are yet to be announced but Defra Secretary Liz Truss described the package as a key part of the government’s 10 year national pollinator strategy.

There will be payments to farmers for maintaining hedgerows and strips of wildlife friendly ground around arable fields, which was welcomed by Friends of the Earth. Farmers will need to wait until they can study the detail before they will know how the new scheme can fit into their own farming activities, but given that so many farmers are involved in past stewardship schemes I am sure that they will embrace the challenge of this new scheme.

Whilst launching the government’s national pollinator’s strategy, Liz Truss rejected calls for new restrictions on pesticides, choosing to focus not only the work farmers can do for pollinators but owners of suburban gardens after an experiment showed an increase of 37% in bumblebees where a bee-friendly mix of grasses and flowers were planted and lawn mowing frequency was reduced. Our lawn has ordinary grasses and clover in it, and we see quite a number of bees keeping busy on the clover in particular.