At the time of writing, those landowners who are trying to bring in the harvest are enduring a stop-start affair.

Cereal crops – which were already late to ripen – are now being cut at a fairly slow pace. To date, just 2.5% of the UK’s winter wheat crop has been combined – the slowest start to harvest for five years. But with machinery parked up, it provides an opportunity to cast your eyes over some of the headlines which you may have missed from the past few weeks.

Rural crime could rise significantly

The good news? The cost of rural crime fell by 20% last year. The bad news? Experts believe thefts could increase ‘significantly’ as the true economic impact of the pandemic begins to bite. The NFU Mutual’s Rural Crime Report revealed that while lockdown literally locked some criminals out of the countryside, thefts of high-value kit by organised criminals remained at over £9m and other rural crimes, such as dog attacks on livestock and fly-tipping, rose significantly, with the former increasing by 50% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year.

Rural areas overlooked

As the government allocates funds for its ‘levelling up’ programme in the wake of Brexit, experts believe the needs of rural communities are being overlooked. The Rural Services Network believes the fund as it stands currently prioritises non-metropolitan urban locations, with large swathes of rural central and southern England seen as low priority.

The government’s priority list of 123 local authorities only includes 18 rural districts. Those carrying out the Rural Services Network report into this urban bias said: “The levelling up fund is the latest in a line of UK government-funded programmes to disadvantage rural communities – partly the result of Whitehall’s choice of data on which they make their selections. Although detailed, the government’s complex algorithms for allocating funds remain partial, judgemental and, too often, confused.

Geronimo case raises public awareness

Bovine TB hit the headlines again this month, with the high-profile case of Geronimo the alpaca dominating front pages. Despite testing positive for TB twice, Geronimo’s owner took the case to the High Court in a desperate attempt to save him. However, the verdict was clear: the alpaca must be put down. A further appeal has been lodged. Although many have been critical of the airtime this case has received in comparison to those who have lost multiple animals to the disease, it has reignited public awareness of the industry’s plight and the terrible emotional and financial impact the disease has inflicted on farmers.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Defra secretary George Eustice reiterated the devastation TB has caused: “There has been a great deal of focus on the case of Geronimo the alpaca last week. However, each week, on average, we have to remove more than 500 cattle from herds due to infection in England alone. Behind every one of those cases is a farmer who has suffered loss and tragedy.

Red Tractor agrees new standards

More than 50,000 farmers will be required to adopt new standards from Red Tractor Assurance from 1 November. Following consultation earlier this year, more than 3,000 pieces of feedback were fed into the process, which led to certain proposals being dropped, while others were simplified and clarified. Some new standards reflect legislation change, such as an amendment to vermin control standards to comply with food safety law, or industry commitments to improving animal welfare, including the wider dairy sector’s pledge to eliminate the routine euthanasia of calves by 2023. “Our standards need to achieve two key objectives – first to meet the needs of consumers who expect high standards but shop keenly on price, and second to provide farmers and the supply chain with manageable standards,Jim Moseley, Red Tractor CEO, said. “Getting that balance right then also satisfies the needs of food businesses and government.

Broadband trial targets hard-to-reach homes 

A three-year government trial aims to target remote rural properties by running fibre optic cables through water mains. While exploring options to avoid digging up roads and land in order to improve broadband, the Fibre in Water project will also explore solutions to reduce the amount of water lost every day to leaks. Many farmers still don’t have access to fast and reliable broadband, but experts hope this technology, which is already used in countries such as Spain, could provide the answer.

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Rural View

Our thoughts and insights on the key issues and opportunities within farming and rural businesses.