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A bespoke post-Brexit agriculture policy has the potential to improve farm safety

Leaving the EU and its stringent ‘farming by calendar’ rules gives the UK an opportunity to improve farm safety, says County Armagh beef farmer John Henning.

As summer rushes towards autumn at an alarming pace, harvest is in full swing, despite the distraction of Covid-19 all around us.

 

We completed second cut silage around four weeks earlier than normal in mid-July, with winter barley now ready to be harvested.

 

Cattle continue to perform well, with calving completed here in under 90 days with no losses, so the focus for breeding season is to tighten the calving pattern further next year.

 

This has started well, with 70 per cent cows AI’d in the first ten days.

 

Injuries

 

Farm livestock, regardless of breed, account for a large proportion of injuries and deaths on farms, so it was good to see the importance of heath and safety featured once again during Farm Safety Week.

 

Nevertheless, it is disappointing to see so many farmers and farm workers continuing to treat safety in such a relaxed manner.

 

Recent social media posts showing people ‘playing’ with bale wrappers or treating ‘dodgy brakes’ on a borrowed tractor with bravado are very concerning.

 

In recent years, the approach to farm safety has undoubtedly changed, but the ‘carrot or stick’ dilemma of culture versus legislation remains unresolved.

 

Addressing

 

However, most agree that both must play a part in addressing the high level of fatalities and injuries on farms.

 

Obviously most of the legislation affecting farmers has been driven by the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), with many criticising ‘calendar farming’ where slurry spreading is limited to specific dates across the EU, regardless of local or climatic conditions.

 

This undoubtedly creates real pressure and stress for farmers to beat deadlines, with inevitably increased risk of death or injury.

 

The adoption of a more pragmatic and sensible approach to slurry spreading would definitely help ease this pressure for farmers and reduce the risk of accidents.

 

Encourage

 

Onerous legislation and bureaucracy driven by the CAP did encourage many farmers to support Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum, but I have yet to meet a farmer who believed leaving the EU would abolish rules and regulations.

 

Over recent months, Covid-19 has attracted most media attention and public interest, but the reality of Brexit is getting very real despite the protestations of those who continue to highlight the perceived faults of the referendum result.

 

The challenge associated with the UK-EU land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland continues to tax many experts, with approaching deadlines cited as a valid reason by some to reverse or extend the process.

 

If only those voices had focused on getting the best outcome four years ago.

 

Shade

 

Or perhaps heeded the advice of Tom Peters who said: ‘If a window of opportunity appears, don’t pull down the shade’.

 

When the UK completely leaves the EU, our farming industry will still be at the forefront in feeding the nation and coping with the vagaries of the weather.

 

This work will inevitably continue to present risks to farmers and farm workers.

 

Let us hope that the regulatory environment and industry culture will advance sufficiently to improve the industry’s safety record and reduce death and injury on our farms.

 

Always remember how important it is to think FarmSAFE!

 

John can be found tweeting at @johnhenningmoo

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