The Welsh farmers helping to keep us fed during the coronavirus pandemic

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Nine-year-old Morgan Morris is proving his worth at the family farm in the hills above Swansea.

“He helps with the lambing, he opens gates, he can feed the dogs, and keeps his eye on anything,” said his mother, Brigitte Rowlands.

“He is very, very useful!”

Likewise Morgan’s sister – 16-year-old Jasmine Rowlands-Lean – who drives tractors and helps with the lambing and calving.

Miss Rowlands, who is also a Swansea councillor, said: “The first thing people think of in a crisis is being able to eat.

“We’ve got to think where it all comes from. It’s not from Tesco.

“I’ve had dozens of people asking what suppliers there are locally.”

Cllr Rowlands and her partner Peter Morris are tenant farmers who work 500 acres of land near Rhyd Y Fro and at Craigcefnparc.



Swansea councillor Brigitte Rowlands with two of her children, Morgan and Jasmine

They have 75 suckler cows, raised for beef, and 50 sheep – down from 850 last year.

“We are lucky,” said Cllr Rowlands. “We are pretty isolated up here at the top of Mynydd y Gwair and can keep ourselves safe.

“The challenge is how long our suppliers will carry on supplying us with feed for the animals, with diesel and fertiliser.

“It’s these kinds of deliveries which are integral to the running of the farm.

“At the moment we are okay, but I do fear that could change.”

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Coronavirus latest

She said there were egg suppliers locally, while milk could be delivered by Birchgrove Dairy.

A couple of miles west, near Hendy, people can buy milk direct from the dairy house at Tal Y Fan Fach farm if need be.

Agriculture’s impact on the environment has been increasingly debated over the past couple of years.

Cllr Rowlands, who represents Swansea’s Mawr ward, said her land was not suitable for arable farming.

“Farmers have been blamed for a lot of environmental damage,” she said.

“I think we all contribute – and that’s life. But people need to realise that farmers are a vital part of the food chain.”

Many Welsh farmers have diversified into the tourism sector, but bookings have been decimated by the coronavirus.

“I feel so sorry for them,” said Cllr Rowlands.

She felt blessed to have space for her children to roam around, although eldest son James Rowlands-Lean, aged 22, is still in his digs at Aberystwyth University.

“I’m very, very fortunate,” she said.

But it has been an unusual winter, with so much rain that the animals had to be put into sheds. And a close eye is being kept on beef and lamb prices.

Cllr Rowlands asked people in Mawr to get in touch if they needed help.

“We are here to help,” she said.

A few miles south-west is a dairy and beef farm which is run as partnership between Mansel Stevens and his two sons, John and younger brother Andrew, who is a Swansea councillor and cabinet member.

His cabinet role has been so busy in recent days that he has distanced himself from Llannant Farm, near Gorseinon, to avoid any risk of passing on the coronavirus to his older brother and father.

“We’ve got to think sensibly,” said Cllr Stevens. “The fact that I’ve got to keep away, knowing my brother and father are holding the fort, is quite difficult.”

But he said the risk of all three of them becoming unwell was untenable, given the needs of their 200 cattle and the wider emergency.

“Farmers have to keep going because the nation has to be fed,” he said.



Cllr Andrew Stevens’s father Mansel at the farm near Gorseinon

The business was started in 1941 by Andrew’s grandfather, William, who was ploughing one time when a Second World War bomb landed in the field.

Cllr Stevens used to put 30 to 60 hours per week into the farm but has reined in his time since being appointed cabinet member for better communities last year.

“I’m still a partner in the business, and I do quite a lot of the paperwork,” he said.

This is the latest government advice for employers and employees:

Who can go to work?

The new measures, in place for at least three weeks, tell Britons to only leave home to go to work “where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home”.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said those who cannot work from home should go to work “to keep the country running”.

He confirmed that people whose jobs has not already been shut down by the government measures to date should continue to work but should only be travelling to a workplace “where that work can’t be done at home”.

He said construction workers – many of whom work outdoors – could and should continue to go to work as long as they are able to remain two metres apart at all times.

The cabinet minister said: “The judgement we have made is that in work, in many instances, the two-metre rule can be applied.

“Where possible, people should work from home and employers have a duty to ensure that people are more than two metre apart.

Asked what staff should do if their employers told them to turn up when they did not believe they were key workers, Mr Hancock said: “We have been incredibly clear about the rules. We strengthened the rules yesterday and essentially flipped the basis of the rules, so it’s not ‘Do whatever you like, so long as you don’t do the following’, it is ‘Stay at home, unless you’ve got a good reason’. And we will also enforce against those rules.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that the Construction Leadership Council had issued guidance to the industry.

He added: “It should continue where it can happen in a way that follows Public Health England and industry guidance.

“We urge employers to use their common sense when managing live projects and ensuring that employees can follow the Government guidance and practice safe social distancing on site.”

Staying at home

If you have symptoms of coronavirus infection (COVID-19), however mild, stay at home and do not leave your house for seven days from when your symptoms started.

Sick pay

You can get £94.25 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you’re too ill to work. It’s paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks.

If you are staying at home because of COVID-19 you can now claim SSP. This includes individuals who are caring for people in the same household and therefore have been advised to do a household quarantine.

To check your sick pay entitlement, you should talk to your employer, and visit the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) page for more information.

The 35-year-old said the farm was largely self-reliant, except for diesel and a small amount of feed.

He said he believed most people appreciated farmers, but hadn’t supported their local grocers and butchers until now.

His wife Rebecca’s family grow fruit and veg in Gower and have a store called Shepherd’s on High Street, Gorseinon.

“There were barely any customers prior to this – all of a sudden they are overwhelmed with orders,” said Cllr Stevens.

Llannant Farm used to grow fruit and veg and have pigs and sheep, but it now focuses solely on dairy and beef.

The Stevenses currently have 110 British Friesians and 90 Limousin cattle.

Cllr Stevens also empathises with farmers who have opened up visitor accommodation to diversify, only to see income dry up.

“But that worry is small compared to the pandemic facing everybody,” he said.

The keen rugby player is well versed in the environmental debates which have proliferated.

He felt it was very unfair to compare UK beef production with that of huge industrial farms abroad, some of which could cause deforestation, plus require more feed, operate on a lower profit margin per head of cattle, and have lower welfare standards.

“It’s about balance and it’s not what you eat, it’s how it’s produced that matters,” he said.

Cllr Stevens, who has a two-year-old daughter, Violet, said he has heard talk of ewe prices dropping significantly closer to home, and worries that beef and milk’s value could fall.

“But everyone is in this financially unstable situation,” he said.

“We’ve got self-employed people who can’t work.”



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