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Debate: Zoom meetings – love them or loathe them?

Farmers Weekly

Our columnists Guy Smith and Will Evans debate the pros and cons of using new meeting video technology, Zoom. Will Evans basks in the delights and Guy Smith scratches at the irritations. Find out why they love it or loathe it. See also: Opinion: Time for a Zoom tsar to get farming back on track […]

The post Debate: Zoom meetings – love them or loathe them? appeared first on Farmers Weekly

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Our columnists Guy Smith and Will Evans debate the pros and cons of using new meeting video technology, Zoom.

Will Evans basks in the delights and Guy Smith scratches at the irritations. Find out why they love it or loathe it.

See also: Opinion: Time for a Zoom tsar to get farming back on track

Guy Smith

Guy Smith

Me and young Will Evans (scroll down below this article and you’ll find him) have been known to compare notes when writing our Opinion columns.

This week we thought we’d weigh up the joys, or otherwise, of not actually meeting people in person, but rather by shouting into a laptop like a loon.

Unsurprisingly, I am playing the part of Mr Scrooge, while my Welsh friend takes the role of sweet Bob Cratchett, for whom the “virtual” experience is nothing but the purest bliss.

If you’ve never come across Mr Evans’ immense social media presence, I can only assume you must live on another planet. On reflection, even if you did live on another planet, there’s still a good chance you might have heard his podcasts.

See also Diversified farmers’ guide to using social media

The thing is, I’ve had enough of Zoom and Teams meetings where some of the participants really do need to keep their faces a little further away from the camera.

Then there are the technically challenged types, who manage to unmute themselves as they start on a packet of cheese and onion, only to mute themselves when they speak.

There’s also the permanent distraction of whatever happens to be over their shoulder in the background. Is that really Mein Kampf next to The Joy of Sex on that bookshelf?

And didn’t those calendars with that sort of specialist photography die out in the 1980s? And why are they still on Miss November when it’s December?

Then there’s the menagerie of badly trained beasts that seem magnetically drawn into camera shot – and that’s just the children.

As for barking dogs, don’t get me started. Suffice to say that, not long ago, if someone had asked me: “Is it alright to bring my Alsation to the meeting as we can’t leave him at home because of his incessant barking”, my answer wouldn’t have had many syllables.

And what about the lottery of the signal? There’s nothing worse than to have given two minutes of your finest oratory, only for the chairman to stare blankly into the screen replying: “Sorry, but you froze just as you said ‘my key point is…’”

Then there is the flushed, over-refreshed demeanour of some for whom you suspect the proximity of the drinks cupboard to their home workspace has done them no favours. That benign-looking coffee cup on their desk can be hiding a multitude of sins.

As for those who have their laptops set up in their bedroom… When they switch their camera to blank mode you can’t help but suspect they aren’t actually still at their desk, but have just popped into the “en-suite”.

Your suspicions are confirmed when it becomes horribly evident that, while they have switched the camera off, they left the mic on.

To be honest, I do fully appreciate that there are clear advantages to bringing people together for a conflab online rather than lugging them over vast distances, but I’ll leave those points to young Evans.

I’m sure he’ll convince you there’s no form of social interaction that can’t be achieved remotely.

My response to that is that he has four delightful daughters who I very much doubt were the product of a Zoom or Teams meeting.

Read more from Guy Smith

Will Evans

Will Evans

Back in the 1980s, when my esteemed friend above wasn’t cruising around Essex, blasting out the latest Spandau Ballet single in his beige Ford Cortina, the only way that he had to tell random strangers that his farm is the driest in the country was either face to face, or via a contraption plugged into living room walls, known simply as a “telephone”.

In late 2020, we can only speculate on how this plucky generation survived those Spartan times.

See also: How to make the most of social media to promote farming

What happened if you needed to get hold of somebody urgently? Were you just supposed to wait until they eventually called back three days later on this telephone thing? Unthinkable.

And how did they manage without hundreds of vitally important emails to reply to every day? The mind boggles.

But most of all, how on earth did they cope without social media in their lives? Frankly, one can only marvel at the hardships these poor impoverished souls faced. Imagine not updating your followers on what you’re doing on an hourly basis, or being unable to share photos of tonight’s dinner.

Even worse, how about not vehemently arguing with people you’ve never met about complex subjects that neither of you are even close to being expert in, such as international trade deals, epidemiology, or whether ploughing a field or murdering someone is the worse offence?

How did they instantly find out what was happening in the wider world, or the gossip from the latest reality TV show?  And no tractor selfies either? No thank you!

I’m also tempted to ask how they held meetings, webinars and conferences back in those days, but after studying grainy archive footage of the time on YouTube, I’m something of an expert now. It seems that they drove (yes, you read that correctly), actually drove to places known as “venues”, if you can believe it.

Imagine getting dressed up in formal clothes to head out and leisurely burn several litres of fossil fuel with all its catastrophic effects on the climate and our precious children’s futures, to go and listen to some insufferable old bore ask a five-minute-long question that’s entirely irrelevant to the presentation that’s just taken place; not to mention being subjected to the absolute horror of having to make small talk afterwards.

And don’t get me started on being in dangerously close proximity to one another and the shocking lack of PPE. I even watched one video where participants not only indulged in an arcane ritual known as “shaking hands” on arrival, they didn’t even immediately disinfect afterwards. The thought of it alone is enough to put me off my Netflix fix.

Yes, I’ll take my meetings and social interaction in the comfort of my own home with a convenient mute button, the option to turn off the camera if I’m not feeling particularly instagrammable that day, and the opportunity to surreptitiously scroll through Twitter chatting to friends in the same echo chamber as me when no one’s looking.

And if my exceptionally well-behaved daughters or Jack Russell terrier make an appearance, then so much the better.

Read more from Will Evans

Source: https://www.fwi.co.uk/news/debate-zoom-meetings-love-them-or-loathe-them

Agricultural

Agriculture Archives – John Deere MachineFinder

When you’re on the hunt for a self-leveling loader for your small tractor, you can rest assured that John Deere has you covered. The company has recently rolled out its Mechanical Self-Leveling Loader (MSL), which is compatible with John Deere 1E, 1R, 2R, and 3E compact utility tractors.

“Our new MSL makes it easier for our customers to move materials by automatically keeping the bucket or pallet forks level,” said Ray Gherardini, product marketing manager, John Deere. “With the new Mechanical Self-Leveling loaders, customers can confidently operate the loader through a full range of motion while keeping the load level, and save time by moving more with every load.”

Republished by Plato

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When you’re on the hunt for a self-leveling loader for your small tractor, you can rest assured that John Deere has you covered. The company has recently rolled out its Mechanical Self-Leveling Loader (MSL), which is compatible with John Deere 1E, 1R, 2R, and 3E compact utility tractors.

“Our new MSL makes it easier for our customers to move materials by automatically keeping the bucket or pallet forks level,” said Ray Gherardini, product marketing manager, John Deere. “With the new Mechanical Self-Leveling loaders, customers can confidently operate the loader through a full range of motion while keeping the load level, and save time by moving more with every load.”

Source: https://blog.machinefinder.com/category/agriculture

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Agricultural

Agriculture and Farming – The New York Times

In a Hard Year, Families Find Joy in Real Christmas Trees

Bell’s Christmas Trees in Accord, N.Y., closed early this month after its customers, worn down by the pandemic and looking for a safe family activity, bought out its entire inventory.

By Christina Morales and Judith Levitt

Republished by Plato

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In a Hard Year, Families Find Joy in Real Christmas Trees

Bell’s Christmas Trees in Accord, N.Y., closed early this month after its customers, worn down by the pandemic and looking for a safe family activity, bought out its entire inventory.

By Christina Morales and Judith Levitt

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/topic/subject/agriculture-and-farming

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Agricultural

Outlook 2021: Poultry market risks and opportunities

Farmers Weekly

The pandemic has created mixed outcomes for the poultry industry. While egg producers saw a rise in demand, which helped offset increased costs, broiler farmers were hit by reduced access to processing facilities. Elsewhere, travel restrictions should present a bigger Christmas market to capitalise on, though turkey farmers have struggled to secure migrant labour due […]

The post Outlook 2021: Poultry market risks and opportunities appeared first on Farmers Weekly

Republished by Plato

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The pandemic has created mixed outcomes for the poultry industry. While egg producers saw a rise in demand, which helped offset increased costs, broiler farmers were hit by reduced access to processing facilities.

Elsewhere, travel restrictions should present a bigger Christmas market to capitalise on, though turkey farmers have struggled to secure migrant labour due to quarantine rules.

We look back at the year so far and offer some expert pointers to help farmers identify the risks and opportunities ahead in egg production, broilers and turkeys.

See also: Avian influenza prevention tips and how to handle an outbreak

Egg production

Free-range egg producers have enjoyed a fair year, with strong demand buoying prices in 2020 and a positive outlook ahead.

One silver lining to the Covid pandemic has been the increase in homeworking, which – combined with The Great British Bake Off television series – means retail egg sales have soared.

According to Kantar Worldpanel, free-range egg sales increased by nearly 22% in the 12 weeks to 4 October, to more than 1.2bn eggs.

The extra demand is reflected in Defra data, which shows that average free-range egg prices have jumped from about 80p/doz a year ago to over 91p/doz now.

However, costs of production have also increased, to around 85p-95p/doz, meaning margins have not seen such a significant improvement.

Over the same period, enriched colony prices have increased from about 53p/doz to over 58p/doz, against a 45p-55p/doz cost of production. 

“The cage-free by 2025 commitment made by the retailers looms ever larger, and there are big concerns that perhaps they have bitten off more than they can chew,” says Andersons partner Lily Hiscock.

Free-range currently represents 52% of total egg-packing station throughput, and 68% of the retail sector.

“If consumption remains unchanged, to increase total free-range production to 65% (assuming some increases in barn and organic production) by 2025 would require more than 4 million extra birds,” she adds.

That would mean an extra 16,000-bird unit coming online every week.

“With planning permission for new sites remaining challenging and avian influenza discouraging single-site growth, this target looks nigh-on impossible,” says Miss Hiscock.

In the short term, this is likely to result in strong demand and prices. Brexit will only exacerbate the tight market, with potentially reduced imports, particularly for liquid egg.

Perhaps there are a few golden years that free-range producers should look to capitalise on, ready for more difficult times to come.

Those “difficult times” could be the result of turning free-range eggs from a premium offering into a commodity.

Commodities tend to decline in value over time and this downward pressure will almost certainly be passed down to producers.

It seems unlikely that any other form of production will fill the “value-egg” sector once enriched colonies are removed.

Some retailers are looking to barn eggs by converting colony sheds.

However, most enriched colony producers are still paying off investment from 2012 and, with barns requiring a 30-40% lower stocking density, the new investment does not look appetising or economically viable at over £18 a bird to convert these sheds.

Barn eggs also only cost 5p-10p/doz less to produce than free-range eggs – compared with a 20p/doz gap with colony eggs – so don’t offer a significant price reduction.

They are therefore only likely to comprise about 10% of the market by 2025.

So what happens to the premium end of the market? Miss Hiscock predicts a two-tier free-range sector – standard and differentiated.

“This is perhaps where the opportunity lies – tapping into the growing culture for high-welfare, environmental credentials, foodie culture and home cooking.”

Advice for egg producers

Short-term pointers:

• Obtain contracts with stable pricing across the board (XL to seconds)
• Work with packers to develop “differentiated” shell eggs and time peak lay to meet demands
• Focus on efficiency and high quality – fast turnaround times, reduced antibiotic usage, minimal seconds.

Long-term pointers:

• Decide whether to focus on being a highly efficient commodity producer
• Or switch to targeting a premium market.

Broilers

Poultry carcasses hanging in a processor

© AdobeStock

In contrast to the egg sector, broiler producers have had a challenging year. Covid-19 made it difficult to source wood shavings for bedding and dust masks for farm staff.

The forced closure of some processing factories meant some birds had to be culled on farm.

Factories will hopefully be allowed to operate on a skeleton crew rather than shutting down in any future Covid outbreaks.

But some processors may also reduce farm placings by 10% if the pandemic continues, to create spare processing, allowing birds to be diverted to other factories if required.

“This makes factory communication nearing clearout time even more important. Turnaround periods may be reduced, so planning with subcontractors for cleaning and bedding is vital,” says Ms Hiscock.

Producers should also check their insurance cover for factory closures. Disposal for on-site culled birds is in the region of £100/kg, and a huge risk.

“We are potentially in for a volatile year, so anywhere producers can get security in place – by fixing feed prices, vet and med costs, and contracts – will be a good thing.”

Free-range and organic chicken are experiencing firm demand, with homeworkers looking for quality, high-welfare options during lockdown.

Butchers and farm shops should continue to do well with these ranges. Looking further ahead, the row over chlorinated chicken imports from the US continues.

But Andersons does not foresee large shipments, given the commitment of several large UK retailers to only sell chicken produced to UK standards.

“The need to shout about the quality of British chicken to the country’s population has never been higher.”

Advice for broiler producers

  • Due to Covid-19 ensure effective communication with factories nearing clearout time to ensure there is capacity
  • Turnaround periods may be reduced, so work closely with subcontractors to ensure cleaning is carried out, and bedding is in place, in the required timeframes
  • Fix feed prices, contracts, vet and med costs to help reduce the impact of price volatility
  • Consider added-value diversifications and marketing to promote British quality product.

Turkeys

Free-range turkeys

© AdobeStock

Covid-19 has been a big concern for turkey producers this year, with difficulties around access to seasonal migrant labour for processing work. EU workers have had to quarantine for two weeks before work.

“There must be efforts to recruit UK labour to reduce the cost of paying migrant staff to isolate,” says Miss Hiscock.

Given Covid-19 restrictions, Christmas sales of large turkeys may be difficult, and there is little producers can do to reduce growth rates without affecting eating quality.

Producers need to spread the word about leftover recipes.

That said, there will be an estimated 4.6m more people in the country for Christmas due to travel restrictions – these may be from the affluent proportion of the population.

“Good marketing is key; small producers need to tell the story behind their turkeys to give their product identity, something larger retailers cannot do.”


Information in this article was drawn from the annual Outlook 2021 report compiled by farm business consultancy Andersons.

Source: https://www.fwi.co.uk/livestock/poultry/outlook-2021-poultry-market-risks-and-opportunities

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