Growing concerns over African swine fever

African swine fever

One of my articles earlier in the year about fears regarding African swine fever

As African swine fever continues to spread westwards from Russia, UK pig keepers are becoming understandably concerned by the threat that the disease poses to the domestic pig industry.

African swine fever (ASF) is a particularly nasty disease and whilst it does not pose a threat to human health, infected pigs suffer from abortion, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in the majority of cases, death.

It is highly contagious and can be spread amongst pigs by direct animal-to-animal contact, animals coming into contact with infected faeces and via the consumption of infected meat products.

As a notefiable disease, an outbreak of ASF would necessitate whole scale culling of animals and the closure of the UK’s lucrative pig export markets.

With the UK carrying out such high levels of trade with other European nations, it is particularly susceptible to the disease being transmitted to pig farms via the transfer of infected animal faeces on trailers or through the import of infected animals, be it via legal or illegal movement channels.

Having recently interviewed a number of people involved in the pig industry (ranging from first time farmers to managers of large pig production companies), what became abundantly clear was the crucial role that on site bio-security measures would play in ensuring that ASF does not establish a ‘foothold’ in this country; irrespective of the size of one’s pig keeping setup.

(Further readingNew entrants alert to threat of African swine fever)

All of those interviewed reiterated the importance of what should be routine on site bio-security controls, such as the thorough washing of transport vehicles after livestock movements, quarantining of new animal arrivals and thorough questioning as to the previous movements of anyone visiting a site with pigs.

The National Pig Association has some fantastic advice, which is succinctly summed up on a simple awareness poster and can be downloaded directly as a Pdf or indirectly viewed on the NPA website.

The cost of an outbreak of ASF would be devastating to the domestic pig industry, with the estimated loss of revenue due to export restrictions alone amounting to over £300 million. Thousands of animals would also have to be culled, with knock on implications in terms of lost revenue, breeding lines and de-stocking.

With many pig keepers critical of the government’s approach to the disease – which seems to focus more on containing ASF once it reaches our shores, rather than stopping its arrival in the first place – there is the belief that those within the pig industry will have to bear the responsibility for preventing the disease from establishing itself in the UK, themselves.

(Further readingAfrican swine fever strategy concerns pig industry)

Hopefully, with increasing awareness about the disease (in large part thanks to the good work of the NPA and BPEX) pig keeper will be able to take proactive steps to combat the disease from entering their premises and prevent ASF from disrupting our highly respected pig industry.

Watch this space.


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Launch of PigPeopleUK



@PigPeopleUK was established at the end of July 2014 to act as an accessible, Twitter based hub for all pig farmers in the United Kingdom.

The primary aim of @PigPeopleUK is to provide a platform from which to distribute up-to-date industry news as well as an open forum on which people can share ideas, ask questions and connect with fellow pig keepers; no matter how large or small their setup.

However @PigPeopleUK will also perform a vital subsidiary role in helping to educate members of be public as to why, in the face of increasing global competition, UK pig producers deserve to be supported by consumers; actively illustrating the passion, dedication and commitment to welfare standards that are so prevalent amongst the UK’s pig producers.

So, if you are actively involved in pig farming or are just a member of the public wanting to gain an insight into the porcine world, please log on to Twitter, give @PigPeopleUK a search and join us!

We look forward to you getting involved:



P.S Don’t forget the hashtag: #pigpic #pigtalk

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Survey suggests renewed optimism in the farming industry

mha agricultural insight survey 2015The Agricultural Insight survey conducted by MHA at this year’s Cereals 2014 event identified continuing optimism amongst the nation’s farmers.

The second in a series of agricultural surveys conducted this year by MHA (a UK wide association accountancy and business advisory firms) reveals increasing levels of confidence amongst farmers in the UK, but concerns over succession planning are still a serious issue.

Instead of doing a written assessment of the surveys findings – which was based on interviews with 100 farmers from various geographic regions – I decided to put together an infographic instead.

All of what I identify as the key findings of the survey are highlighted in the infographic below, but if you would like to look at the whole document you can do so buy following the link provided: MHA Agricultural Insight Survey 2014

MHA Agricultural Insight Survey

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British Guild of Agricultural Journalists and John Deere Training Award 2014

BGAJ JD Training Award 2014_classroom A,British Guild of Agricultural Journalists John Deere Training Award

Training at John Deere HQ

Last week I was privileged to attend the 2014 British Guild of Agricultural Journalists John Deere Training Award held at John Deere’s Nottingham based headquarters.

The course has been running for 22 years now; seeking applicants from all over the United Kingdom and providing aspiring horticultural and agricultural journalists with the skills needed to forge a successful career in the agri-media industry.

I was surprised to obtain a place on the course for 2014 but was very pleased to be crawling along the M5 last Sunday, Nottingham bound and chomping at the bit to learn as much as possible over the three-day course.

Having checked in at the hotel, I popped down to the bar to meet the other course members before the training award officially began, with the course leader David Mascord launching us all into a series of warm up exercises.

Monday was when the real hard work began and the entire course convened at John Deere’s headquarters in Langar; ready for an intense day of lectures and writing tasks.

John Deere’s PR consultant (and course organiser) Steve Mitchell introduced us all to the head of marketing at John Deere, Gordon Day, who proceeded to provide us with an overview of the company’s history, its current dominance of the tractor market and the continuing development of its FarmSight technology system.

The FarmSight system was one that I was aware of, but it was interesting to get an inside overview of the technology and the potential it had for helping day-to-day farm operations and management.

By utilising JDLink wireless as part of the FarmSight package farm machines can be constantly monitored by a third party; be it in terms of location, performance and control set-up. As such, the system would enable a farm manager to oversee all farm machinery operations from a single location (provided that they had access to a computer), making it much easier to co-ordinate operations and ensure that everything is running as efficiently as possible.

(If you would like to read more about the FarmSight system, or watch some videos regarding the product, do check out the John Deere website)

BGAJ JD Training Award 2014_group,British Guild of Agricultural Journalists John Deere Training Award

After the presentation, David Mascord resumed the training from where it left off on Sunday evening and we soon found ourselves immersed in writing tasks and mini-tests; learning how to carry out effective interviews, compose compelling news articles and construct magazine features.

We had a brief pause in proceedings to test drive some of John Deere’s machines before heading back to the training room to stage a mock press conference with the returning Gordon Day.

Having been suitably grilled about John Deere’s machinery market share, FarmSight and the company’s dealership structure, Mr Day was released from our journalistic clutches and we were set an overnight assignment. By first thing on Tuesday, everyone had to write an introduction to a news article that they would have written based on the press conference that had just occurred.

So, having retreated to the hotel, a couple of hours were spent frantically scribbling before we all reconvened for a jovial evening meal; trying to forget about the assignment and the fact that it was going to be assessed!

All too soon Tuesday morning reared its sunny head and I found myself back at John Deere HQ, ready for the last day of training.

With some trepidation I handed in my overnight assignment, silently willing David to be kind in his assessment of my efforts when he came to examine the introduction later in the day.

Once our assignments were handed in, the group was treated to a brief overview as to the importance of social media in agri-journalism by one of the course ‘observers’ and AgriChatUK co-founder, Simon Haley.

British Guild of Agricultural Journalists John Deere Training Award

It was inspiring stuff and certainly left me re-assessing the way in which I use social media to promote and research my written work. Simon’s words left a great impression on me and I can see why he has been in such high demand for presentations about the benefits of social media and it’s role as a business communications tool.

(The AgriChatUK website is well worth a visit – – and ‘chats’ happen every Thursday from 8pm-10pm, covering a wide range of agricultural issues. Alternatively follow Simon on Twitter)

Steve Mitchell then gave us an overview of work in the PR industry, before we investigated potential freelance writing opportunities and how to go about adapting news articles from press release material.

We also obtained some advice on how to get the most out of the work experience placements that every attendee has arranged for them as part of the training award.

Whilst that was an end of the formal training, I will still have to complete a 400 word agricultural news article which, along with the entries from all the other award attendees, will be judged by a panel of experts and a winner declared.

The whole experience was brilliant and I left Nottingham with a renewed confidence in my writing, determination to fulfil my agri-based ambitions and a lot of new ideas.

My sincere thanks go out to Steve Mitchell for organising the training, John Deere for sponsoring the award, to the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists and to David Mascord for putting together such a strong training package.

I would strongly recommend anyone considering a career in agricultural journalism to enquire and apply for the course next year (visit the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists webpage to find out more:

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Fly larvae set to replace soya in animal feed?

insects,animal feed, fly larvae, soya, pig feed, PROteinsect

Scientists now believe that insects could provide a sustainable alternative to soya in commercial animal feeds.

Concerns over the reliance on soya to form the protein content of compound animal feeds have long been documented (read more at Global Meat News), but with demand for soya only set to rise with increasing global demand for meat, there are concerns that soya supplies will become severely overstretched; pushing up feed prices to record levels in the future.

Europe has now reached the stage where 80% of protein requirements for animal feed are met by imports from non-EU nations; a unsustainable and potentially dangerous position for European nations to find themselves in.

As such sustainable, financially viable and domestically produced alternatives of protein for use in animal feed are being investigated and one of the most interesting plans receiving EU funding is that of industrial scale fly larvae production.

Animals naturally prefer to consume insect based feed and, with a higher protein content and digestibility rate compared to vegetable based protein sources, larvae could be a useful alternative to soya in animal feed.

Questions still arise over whether enough fly larvae can be produced in an economically viable manner to meet potential consumer demand and there are food security concerns that need to be answered but it is a fascinating idea and one that the UK coordinated PROteINSECT research project are seriously investigating.

For a more detailed overview of the subject and how fly larvae can be produced and incorporated into animal feed, please read my article that featured in the Western Daily Press newspaper last week (the headline is not my own…) or visit the PROteINSECT website.

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Greening, CAP, EFA’s and the RPA – the latest causes of concern for farmers


Hedges and buffer strips will be allowed to contribute towards of EFA’s

Owen Paterson’s recent announcements regarding new ‘greening’ elements of the Common Agricultural Policy represented a mixed blessing to farmers, with many within the industry still unsure of the exact implications that proposed reforms will have.

Under the most recent round of reform to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), member states were compelled to include environmental, or ‘greening’, components as compulsory criteria for any farmers wishing to receive direct financial subsidies in 2015 and beyond.

How these greening policies would be implemented within England had not been confirmed , but in recent announcements from Owen Paterson and Defra there is now greater understanding of just what farmers will be expected to do in order to meet new environmental requirements.

On the one hand, farmers breathed a collective sigh of relief when the criteria for greening were released as it does seem that, in England at least, reforms have been designed to limit the amount of farm land that will have to be taken out of production in order to meet environmental new rules.

It has long been understood that under CAP reform proposals any land holder with more than 15 hectares of arable land wishing to claim farming subsidies through the new Basic Payment Scheme (replacing the Single Payment System, or SPS) will be liable to designate 5% of their arable holding as an Environmental Focus Area (EFA); with 30% of their subsidy payment dependent on meeting EFA and other greening criteria.

For farmers, wishing to maximise the productivity of every available inch of land, such proposal caused understandable anger; with those who feared the worst envisaging 30% of their land going to ‘waste’ as EFA’s and not actually producing any food.

Farmers were therefore pleased to hear that they will be able to allocate land lying fallow, buffer strips, catch and cover crops, nitrogen-fixing crops and hedges towards their total acreage of designated EFA. As such, many (in theory) will not have to sacrifice too much valuable arable land to meet EFA requirements and therefore secure much needed funds through the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).


Apprehension does however still surround another element of greening policy; that of crop diversification.

Crop diversification policies will be another compulsory element of EU greening legislation and any famer with between 10 – 30 hectares of arable land will have to grow at least two different types of crop, with no single crop making up more than 75% of their total arable holding. Those farmers with in excess of 30 hectares of arable land will have to grow three types of crop, with the same 75% limitation.

This has serious implications for farmers who specialise in growing single varieties of produce; a decision more often influenced by market trends and geographic growing conditions (over which growers have limited influence) rather than ‘choice’.

To be forced to grow crops with a lesser financial value than others, or crops that won’t grow as well, just to meet diversification criteria is a particularly galling prospect.

There are also very real concerns about the Rural Payment Agency’s (RPA) ability to successfully carry out the transition from SPS to the BPS, with all the greening criteria that will need to be included.

These doubts are well founded when one looks back on the disastrous consequences that came about due to the last round of CAP reform, when the Defra coordinated change to the Single Payment System in 2005 led to governmental costs of £600 million, a bureaucratic nightmare for applicants and thousands of farmers experiencing delayed subsidy payments.

This transition didn’t even include complicated data issues that will be caused by greening.

All claims for BPS subsidies in 2015 will have to be made online through the RPA and it will be up to the agency to confirm environmental compliance, process greening data and then store it on their central computer system.

There have already been hints that the mapping of hedges (likely to be popular component contributor towards many farms EFA’s) will cause the agency exceptional difficulties and could easily lead to significant delays in farmers receiving much needed subsidy payments.

(To read more on this topic, please read my latest contribution to TheJournal newspaper on 30th June: Farmers fear cash delay due to CAP changes)

So, whilst the announcements on greening were welcomed by some, there is still concern that the new CAP reforms could be incredibly costly in terms of lost productivity of farmland and wasted time due to bureaucratic procedures or delayed BPS payments.

With more detailed information about the BPS application process set to be released later in the year, along with further clarification over elements of certain greening regulations, it waits to be seen just how big an impact new regulations will have on our nation’s farmers.

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A man with a plan


Deer on the move

April, in many ways, represents my favourite time of year.

Whilst the weather may still not be brilliant and work schedules seem to get ever fuller, I can’t help but get excited as I start to day dream and plan the coming months; the months when my garden reawakens, weekends are free of sporting commitments and the sun – fingers crossed – shines.

At the fore front of my mind are my plans for this year’s vegetable growing efforts, already on the back foot after an awful few months of weather and pressing work commitments.

Last year I tried to grow a wide variety of produce and whilst what I grew was undeniably yummy (I may be slightly biased…..) there simply wasn’t enough of it. Any hopes of being self sufficient in veg over the spring and summer months didn’t materialise and I found myself in the grocers far more often than I would have liked.

But then again what did I expect? With only limited growing space and a large variety of crops (most of which took up a lot of room ), it was clear that I would never grow the level of produce that I desired.

As such, my plan this year is to play it safe by going for volume rather than variety and growing as much as I can of staples that I eat a lot of; mainly peas, potatoes, salad crops and tomatoes. All these vegetables are relatively expensive in the shops and give good returns for the amount of space they require to grow in. Also, if I have a glut of goods I can feed all these crops to the chickens.

By concentrating on this small selection of veg, I will be much more focused and keep on top of their care and cultivation; ensuring that I have a much more productive year and move further towards my goals of veggie self-sufficiency.

With April also representing the start of the pheasant breeding season proper, it would also appear that the cock pheasant which regularly visits my garden has his own ‘plans’; plans which involve inappropriate interactions with my chickens!


The resident pheasant

As a result of these ‘plans’, said pheasant is to be found continually strutting around the hens, puffing himself up, showing off and then looking totally crestfallen when all of his advances are totally ignored.

Now, I appreciate that Pheasants are daft, but this chap really does the whole species a disservice. I have lost count of the number of times I have chased him out of the garden only for him to reappear seconds later or watched him get stuck in the hedge. I have even clonked him on the noggin with a particularly well aimed clod of earth more than once and yet nothing persuades him that:

1) The chickens do not find him a particularly alluring character (poor chap)


2) If he continues to eat the bird’s expensive chicken feed he will end up in some form of casserole.

My wife has grown tired of me suddenly shouting ‘that little bugger’ and then run out of the backdoor whenever I spy the beast and our neighbours must also think I’m quite mad as I do so without any comprehension as to what I am wearing at the time. A mad man wielding a stick, shouting nonsense, clad only in boxer shorts and walking boots is not a particularly strong look; even in our neck of the woods.

All in all, I do hope that the pheasant buggers off!


Spring is finally on the way

Outside of the garden, I am itching to spend more time outdoors, with lots of plans for walking, running and cycling adventures clogging up my mind.

For ages now, I have been meaning to walk the Coleridge Way; tackling the 36 miles from Nether Stowey to Porlock, recreating the route that the famous poet once trekked across the Quantock hills and Exmoor. Whilst I always envisaged taking a couple of days to walk the route, I have been doing a lot of trail running recently and am now considering tackling the challenge in one fun-filled, muddy, hilly run. It’s quite an exciting prospect.

I am also hoping to do a multi day walk along the coast path between Swanage and Seaton, spending some weekends in the Brecon Beacons and tackling the famous Two Moors Way walk on my mountain bike. And that’s not to mention the various running races and cycling events that I can take part in over the summer months, when rugby and work commitments are not eating up all of my spare time.

There are simply so many options to choose from and I am desperate to make the most of my summer.

So, I’m off to read some gardening books and stare at more maps, but I wish everyone out there the best of luck with their own plans, whatever they may be.  Let’s hope that we have a few months of decent weather so that they can all come to fruition.

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