Bureaucracy brings Welsh most stress
FORM filling and coping with changes of government policies and regulations are the principal causes of farmer stress, according to a survey by the Welsh Institute of Rural Health.
Analysis of questionnaires completed by 325 Welsh farmers revealed that they ranked government actions and associated bureaucracy higher than financial problems or isolation as stress inducing factors.
The results were featured at the launch of a WIRH report on tackling rural stress at a Farmers Union of Wales organised seminar at Haverfordwest. The report calls for a much more comprehensive approach that brings together professional and statutory agencies to work with voluntary organisations and individual carers.
It suggests that priority must be given to raising awareness of the problem, and of the medical, legal, financial and technical advice and help that is already available.
Dame Deidre Hine, a former chief medical officer for Wales, told the meeting that the idyllic image of life in the countryside tended to hide the true extent of rural stress, and the unacceptable increase in the number of farmer suicides. Tackling the causes was the answer rather than pills and potions. Farmers had to be persuaded that the public did not regard them as countryside despoilers, and that their efforts were valuable and valued.
Delegates decided to ask the Welsh Assembly to appoint a full-time member of staff to liaise with strengthened rural organisations and agencies.
Pembrokeshire FUWcounty executive officer Jane Howells said: "Everyone who works with farmers and rural communities knows that they are under stress, and that there are many causes that must be tackled. Somehow we have to convince politicians that help is needed urgently." *
Bone-in beef decision delay
HOPES for the early unilateral lifting of the ban on sales of bone-in beef in Wales have been dashed.
The National Assemblys agricultural committee has decided to delay any decision until it receives updated evidence from Ruth Hall, Waless chief medical officer, next month. The summer recess now means that there will be no action until the autumn, when many believe the UK-wide ban will be lifted anyway.
Two Conservative and one Lib Dem AMs on the committee voted against a postponement. Ieuan Wyn Jones, chairman, said members would meet again as soon as reasonably practicable to consider Dr Halls assessment of the public health implications of lifting the ban.
The committees decision could widen the rift between the two Welsh farming unions, which gave contrasting evidence at the inquiry. This led to the accusation from the FUW that the wishes and best interests of Welsh NFU members were being subjugated to those of English beef producers. *
UKfalling behind in organics boom
ORGANIC farming in the UK has failed to keep pace with that in other countries, according to a new report from Brussels-based statistical body, Eurostat.
In the mid-1980s, the UK ranked third in the EU pecking order, with 6% of the total organic area, says the report. But by the end of the 1990s it had slipped to ninth.
The Soil Association says this is because almost all other member states enjoy maintenance grants, (as well as conversion subsidies), which are not available in the UK.
"Having to rely on market premiums only discourages farmers from going organic," says policy co-ordinator, Gundula Azeez. "Denmark, in contrast, has a national action plan to develop organic farming and target other markets, including the UK."
Despite this, all countries in Europe have seen dramatic increases in the number and area of organic farms in recent years. "From 6300 units in 1985, the number in the EU is estimated to have exceeded 100,000 in 1998 – an average annual growth rate of around 26%," says the report. The land area under organic farming grew even faster at 28% a year.
The fastest expansion has been in Greece, Spain, Italy, Austria, Finland and Sweden, which now account for almost 70% of all organic farms. The northern states have a strong tradition in this area, while the southern countries have latched on to the growing demand for organic fruit and vegetables.
Eurostat says the provision of subsidies in 1993/94 was the "turning point". But the Soil Association says, for the UK, it was the downturn in conventional farmings profitability in 1997 that sparked the interest in organics.
"Last year we were getting 30 applications a month for conversion. This year it is 120 a month," says Ms Azeez. *
More markets start in London
MORE farmers markets are being planned for London after the success of the first site which opened last month in Islington.
Market organiser Nina Planck has already applied for planning permission on a larger site in the Islington area so the first market can expand. She is now assisting with the planning by Camden Council of two more markets at sites in Notting Hill and Swiss Cottage.
And in a joint initiative between the NFU and Tesco, Ms Plank has also organised a one-off farmers market in Cromwell Road, West London, to be held on Aug 21.
If all goes well, the Cromwell Road market, which is expected to attract 20-25 producers, could continue on a regular weekly or fortnightly basis.
Ms Planck said inquiries from farmers interested in selling were being dwarfed by the number of communities which wanted to set up their own market. "Every borough in London could support a farmers market," she told farmers weekly. "What we need most of all are fruit and vegetable growers."
The markets will be open to all conventional and organic farmers within 100 miles of London. Producers pay about £15 each for a stall at Islington. Farmers must grow everything they sell and those selling processed food, such as pork sausages or cheese, must also produce the ingredients. *
Farm manager Bill Hedgecock amongst some of the 7.2ha (18 acre) sunflower crop at Lark Hall Farm, Cavenham, Suffolk. The main crop and Sunflower Association trial sunflowers, form part of a diverse set up at the farm which grows 220ha (543 acres) of rye, triticale and linola.