The year got off to a relatively quiet start for farming news, but as political parties gear up for a General Election this is set to change. Recent polls suggest the Conservatives are struggling to keep hold of their rural heartlands, so it’s all to play for 


NFU Conference asks which party will deliver a plan for British food? 

Minette Batters used her last opening address as President at the NFU Conference to ask which party will back British farming and deliver the right plan for British food. “This election will be critical to the future of farming and the food on our supermarket shelves, in our pubs, hotels, bars and restaurants,” she said. “There is a reason why countries invest in food production. It is to mitigate risk and volatility for consumers and give farmers the confidence to keep producing food. But global events have challenged British agriculture, adding to the instability and volatility farmers and growers are facing, when what they really need is certainty.” A recent survey showed that 82% of British people want to see targets to increase home-grown food production, and 66% said that parties’ plans for farming will be one of the issues that affects who they vote for at the general election. “It couldn’t be clearer – progressive policies on sustainable food production aren’t just important for farmers and growers, but anyone who eats food,” Ms Batters added. “And it matters at the ballot box.” 


New law to tackle sheep worrying 

Proposed laws designed to clamp down on rising sheep worrying cases have received full government backing. The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) Bill will make it easier for police to collect evidence and seize and detain dogs in the most serious cases. The sheep sector has welcomed the Bill, which has replaced the proposed Kept Animals Bill scrapped last year. NSA Chief Executive, Phil Stocker, said: "The Bill addresses issues identified with a lack of police powers, relating to gaining evidence, detaining, and gaining entry to property where responsible dog owners and their animals reside. The Bill will include also extending the landscape covered where attacks on livestock can be considered a crime to include roads and paths.” Cases of sheep worrying have increased year-on-year, with numbers shooting up following covid lockdowns and the subsequent increase in dog ownership. 


Vigilance over spread of Schmallenberg 

Farmers are being urged to remain vigilant as cases of the Schmallenberg virus continue to rise. During the period 1 December 2023 to 16 January 2024, 63 cases were confirmed, predominately in stillborn lambs. Spread by biting midges, the virus spreads quickly and symptoms in adult cattle include fever, milk drop and diarrhoea. There is no vaccine currently available. The NFU has recommended farmers consider moving the timing of mating until later in the year to avoid the risk of infection.  


Long term resilience of UK farming set to be ‘challenged’ 

Cumulative inflationary pressure and the ongoing cost of living crisis will threaten the agricultural industry’s long-term resilience, according to AHDB’s latest Agri-market Outlook report. It reveals that markets, food businesses and consumers are still battling with the ongoing challenges of inflation, fuelled by the energy crisis, the war in Ukraine and shortage of labour. Sarah Baker, AHDB Head of Economics and Analysis, said: “With the current level of uncertainty on multiple fronts, markets, businesses, and consumers are now operating in a short-term bubble which poses a risk to long-term resilience and inward investment. Without long-term certainty and the recovery of consumer confidence, challenges are likely to persist for the industry in 2024.” 


Broadband boost for rural areas 

Around 700,000 homes, farms and businesses across England will benefit from the roll out of ‘gigabit-capable’ broadband in a bid to deliver connectivity to hard-to-reach areas. The government’s broadband scheme ‘Project Gigabit’ has signed £1.1 billion worth of contracts to help remote areas in counties including Buckinghamshire, Warwickshire and Kent. Data and Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez said: "We’re wasting no time in our mission to bring lightning-fast broadband to rural areas - with a billion pounds in contracts already signed. Project Gigabit is already driving growth, creating jobs and putting an end to snail’s pace internet speeds, and we will continue to work to ensure people feel the benefits of our rollout.


Improving Farm Productivity grants available 

Farming businesses planning to invest in solar panels, automated equipment or robotics have until March to apply for funding through Defra’s Improving Farm Productivity scheme. Grants between £25,000 and £500,000 will be available for automated equipment and robotics, covering up to 50% of the total cost. Solar projects can secure funding of up to £100,000, covering up to 25% of the total project cost. The deadline to use the online checker is 21 March and depending on the outcome you will be invited to make a full application.

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