All adds up to a awful lot of data
IT IS nice to feel that life is coming back to some semblance of normality after the oddity of the past couple of years with the return of the Welsh Dairy Show held in Carmarthen last month.
We had a very good day there and again it was a strong reminder of just how many industries live off the back of a cow.
The Welsh dairy industry is important, there are approximately 250,000 dairy cows in Wales and considering it requires one person to manage a hundred cows that makes 2,500 people directly employed. On top of this figure there are the vets, feed suppliers, milk tanker drivers, contractors, the list can go on and on ending with the inevitable clip-board brigade keeping their beady eye upon us.
Much of what was being exhibited at the show was a triumph of technology in its quest to eliminate labour requirements on farms. This it certainly does, but in addition to the actual financial cost there is the loss of human observation and intuition resulting from time spent with the cows. Robotic milking machines measure everything that it is possible to measure from the colour of the milk to its conductivity, its constituents and even the weight of the cow. Couple this with collars which monitor movement and rumination, add a Herd Vision camera which will measure body condition and mobility score, this all adds up to an awful lot of data which requires yet another computer programme to analyse and store. Follow this with an automatic feeder and a robotic yard scraper there will be no need for any dairy farmer to even get out of bed!
At a recent International Federation of Agricultural Journalists in Denmark, climate change and feeding an increasing global population were discussed. All the usual stuff about limiting global warming, water use and embracing technology were on the agenda. However, several facts from the report of this event caught my eye – 50% of food is wasted (when tubers and fruit are included) representing significant green-house gas emissions and while 600 million people go hungry more die of obesity than starvation. From the humble perspective of a Welsh dairy farmer it seems that these huge problems, be they green house gas emissions or food shortages, lie beyond the farm gate in that we farmers just produce the food required, it is those responsible for the distribution that are the real problem.
One is always hearing about the damaging effects of border checks on the economy, but there is a very good reason for having them. Last month at Dover 22 lorries were searched, 21 of them contained illegal meat imports.
There were raw animal products stored in plastic carrier bags mixed up with cheese and cake. One lot was in a wheelie bin, all with no refrigeration.
This was not just the driver’s sandwich fillings but two and a half tonnes of pork, from eastern Europe. Border controls are there for a reason especially with regard to disease control, the economic impact of African Swine Fever (a deadly disease of pigs) would be catastrophic. All the above lorries were from countries with ASF. One hopes that border controls can be increased considering the last Foot and Mouth epidemic was reckoned to come from one ham sandwich.
It seems that the Welsh Government is handing out large sums of money to projects on the periphery of agriculture to enable the recovery of depleted land. One of the projects receiving this funding is a donkey sanctuary where the animals are to be grazed upon said areas.
Two questions arise from this story, one is why native breed cattle are not being encouraged to help in the land recovery programme that can then go into the food chain and why is more money being allocated (£15 million) to this and other environmental projects than is being offered to livestock farmers (£11.5 million) to help them comply with the new pollution regulations resulting from the policy of making the whole of Wales a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) with a nitrate per hectare limit lower than that in England and Scotland. This NVZ policy puts Welsh farmers at a financial disadvantage compared to the rest of the UK.
Autumn has arrived with its glorious blaze of colour transforming the valley views from fifty shades of green to a kaleidoscope of rich golds, russet and auburn tints.
As well as the arrival of the visual pleasures of this season we are in the throes of our calving season and are having regular arrivals of good strong calves which are all part of the ongoing cycle of the year alongside the falling of the leaves.