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Devon farmer sentanced for illegally grazing cattle on SSSI
By Philip Case
A Devon farmer who allowed his cattle to graze on protected land has been ordered to pay almost £74,000.

David Rillie, of Brandis Corner, near Holsworthy, also received a suspended prison sentence for illegally grazing cattle on the Whiteleigh Meadows site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

The 76-year-old farmer was sentenced at Taunton Magistrates' Court after pleading guilty to two offences at a hearing brought by Natural England in November.

One offence related to his occupier obligations under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, the other a breach of a Stop Notice.

He was sentenced to 16 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay all of Natural England's prosecution costs of £73,927.

The court heard how Natural England was made aware of unpermitted winter grazing on the Whiteleigh Meadows SSSI in December 2020. More than 50 cattle, owned by Mr Rillie, had overgrazed the vulnerable vegetation to such an extent that they had then broken down the neighbouring farmer's fencing to get to food.

Natural England said Mr Rillie ignored a Stop Notice and grazing continued throughout 2021 and towards the end of the summer in 2022.

Whiteleigh Meadows was notified as a SSSI in 1987 for its rare Culm grassland habitat. At the time of notification, marsh fritillary butterflies, adder and curlew bred on the site.

Previous agri-environment schemes on the land had paid for ecologically sensitive management; but there has been no scheme since 2018.
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Why stem rust could be back in wheat crops and what to do about it
By Philip Case
There are several measures that farmers can take to protect their wheat crops from stem rust disease, which is on the brink of re-establishing itself in UK fields. Conditions have become more conducive to the disease, with warmer summers, a move to later maturing wheat varieties and more spring cropping in rotations.

The disease, which can reduce yields by up to 90% in severe cases, was once common in western Europe, with frequent epidemics.

However, since the last big epidemic in 1955, there were several decades when it hadn't been seen in the UK, says Diane Saunders, a plant pathologist at the John Innes Centre in Norwich.

In 2013, the UK saw its first recorded case in nearly 60 years. Since then, stem rust has been observed at several locations, generally affecting just one to two plants in each case.

But this all changed last summer when it was the most widespread since 1955.

Prof Saunders knows of sites across 12 different English counties and Wales and the AHDB reported earlier this summer that its Recommended List trial site in Lincolnshire had plants showing the classical stem rust symptoms on stems, leaves, and ears.

So where has it come from and could this spell its return? To answer this, you need to look at its life cycle.

Prof Saunders points to its very complex life cycle, with five different spore releasing stages (see panel) and two different plant hosts - cereals and barberry bushes.

Possible source of 2022 outbreak

With no evidence of local infection from barberry bushes, the thinking is that the disease is moving long distances on wind from other parts of the world as urediniospores.

“This year has been unusual and we have seen more Saharan dust clouds - these may help move spores to the UK.”

She noted that in mid- to late June, there was one notable cloud and this could have picked up these urediniospores from North Africa or anywhere along the cloud's route through Europe to the UK.

About two to three weeks before stem rust reports started to come in, there was a particularly big Saharan dust cloud that moved north to the UK and she believes this may have led to widespread infection this summer.

Another change this year is that up to 2021, all UK outbreaks were caused by a single race of stem rust, but researchers are now seeing more races in the UK. So what was the reason the epidemics stopped in the 1950s? One key factor was a focus on managing the alternative host of the disease - common barberry (Berberis vulgaris).
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8 new products at Dairy Tech that focus on welfare and efficiency
By Philip Case
Innovations that make UK dairy farming more efficient have never been more important.

With a big range of new products set to launch at Dairy-Tech 2023, it is clear manufacturers are rising to that challenge.

Companies will showcase products that can advance productivity in the dairy sector and maintain that all-important environmental and economic efficiency.

We look at some new products that will be on offer at the event when it returns to Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire on 1 February.

Datamars has extended its range of automated walk-over weighing systems to include a model for dairy herds.

The Tru-Test Dairy WOW 4000 features a platform with a non-slip surface that can be integrated into a milking parlour.

An electronic identification (EID) ear tag reader allows the system to capture weight data as each cow walks over the platform to exit the parlour.

The system communicates with the farm office through 4G, satellite or wi-fi.

In many ways, it is the automated equivalent of manual body condition scoring but with the benefit of picking up subtle changes in weight quickly, because the data is collected daily.

It does not need a skilled herdsperson to make that assessment, either.

As weight loss is often linked to health, lameness or nutritional deficiencies, these can be addressed at an earlier stage.

The weight data can also be combined with milk recording data to track cow performance.
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Amazon Prime 'cuts ties' with Clarkson after Meghan article
By Philip Case
Amazon Prime has reportedly cut ties with Jeremy Clarkson after the presenter's controversial column about Meghan Markle.

The second series of Clarkson's Farm will air on 10 February and series one will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

Mr Clarkson suffered a huge backlash following remarks he made in his Sun newspaper article that he “hated” the Duchess of Sussex.

See also: Clarkson's Farm season two start date confirmed

In the article, he wrote that he had dreamed of Ms Markle being paraded through British towns naked and being publicly shamed, adding that “everyone who's my age thinks the same way”.

The Sun said it was “sincerely sorry” for publishing the article on Ms Markle and it has removed it from its website. More than 20,000 people sent complaints over the article to the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

The TV-presenter-turned-farmer issued a lengthy statement on his Instagram account, saying he had emailed Prince Harry on Christmas Day, admitting his language was “disgraceful” and that he was “profoundly sorry”.

Insiders have told Variety that Amazon Prime will not be working with Mr Clarkson on new seasons of Clarkson's Farm and The Grand Tour beyond those that have already been commissioned, meaning there will be no new shows beyond 2024.

Farmers Weekly has contacted Mr Clarkson's publicist for comment.
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Climate-resilient wheat offers hope for food security
By Philip Case
Wheat plants cross-bred with exotic DNA from wild relatives deliver up to 50% higher yields in hot weather compared with elite varieties lacking these genes, new research has shown.

Following a year in which temperature records have been smashed, the findings offer hope for improving crop resilience and food security in the face of climate change, say scientists.

See also: Food security must top the bill in 2023, say farm leaders

Wheat is grown worldwide and is responsible for about 20% of calories consumed globally.

British researchers from the Earlham Institute in Norwich set up a two-year field trial in Mexico's Sonora desert in collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT).

They studied 149 wheat lines, ranging from widely used elite lines to those selectively bred to include DNA from wild relatives and landraces from Mexico and India.

The researchers sequenced the plants to locate specific genetic differences responsible for the increased heat tolerance.

Later sowing The seeds were sown later in the season to force the plants to grow during hotter months, putting these crops under the kind of heat stress that is predicted to become the norm as global temperatures rise.

They found the plants bred with exotic DNA achieved a 50% higher yield over wheat without this DNA. Importantly, the exotic lines didn't perform any worse than the elite lines under normal conditions.
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Milk shortages predicted if farmgate prices plunge
By Debbie James
Dairy experts are warning of a possible milk supply shortage similar to the recent crisis that left supermarket shelves empty of eggs.

Photos emerged on social media this week of supermarket shelves running empty of milk, although this was blamed on logistical issues rather than a shortage in supply.

However, as milk futures this week point to prices dipping as low as 32p/litre within 12 months, dairy industry commentators fear a milk supply shortage could happen.

Parallels are being drawn with the egg industry, where retailers were warned about a shortage months in advance of that becoming a reality.

That warning by farmers, that they could not continue producing eggs at well below the cost of production, was ignored.

Multiple milk price cuts have been announced for January and February, largely due to sluggish global demand, particularly in China, which is emerging from three years of Covid lockdowns, and an increase in European milk production.

John Allen, managing partner at Kite Consulting, said with the breakeven milk price for UK milk production at 45p/litre, it would be “completely unsustainable” for dairy farmers to produce milk.

“Some of the good operators can produce milk at 32p/litre and for the bad ones it is as much as 60p so the breakeven price is roughly 45p,” he added.

“If the actual market follows the futures market and traders think that the world can make milk within 12 months at 32p/litre, they are living in a dreamland.”

AHDB outlook

The AHDB's projection for the 2023 calendar year is 12.43bn litres, up 0.3% from 2022.

Its lead dairy analyst, Patty Clayton, said that outlook was “highly dependent” on how milk prices and input costs develop, and the impact of further reductions to farm payments and labour shortages on farmer confidence and production decisions.

Futures give a guide to prices but are not always accurate - for instance, the average UK milk price was predicted to peak at 60p/litre in 2022, but the actual figure was 50.44p.

In reaction to growing market volatility, Muller intends to introduce new milk contracts for suppliers this spring with less emphasis on global commodity volatility.

The company said these agreements would give farmers “greater levels of certainty, stability and transparency”.
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