By Debbie James

We are a year on since the first Covid-19 national lockdown, a shutdown that triggered unprecedented supply and demand shocks for agriculture.

For me, an abiding image of that first lockdown is of thousands of litres of fresh milk gushing down the drain after processors instructed dairy farmers to pull the plug on their bulk storage tanks.

With coffee shops shut and airlines grounded, there was no market for their milk.

Later that summer the photographs being shared on social media were of on-farm milk vending machines after dairy farmers took back control and cashed in on the ‘stay local’ message by supplying fresh milk direct to the public.

Those contrasting images summed up the winners and losers in a pandemic that has tested the resilience that farmers are famed for.

Covid-19 demonstrated that where there are crises there can also be opportunities. For farming it meant that the worst-case impact on the sector has been avoided.

In general, agriculture has been far less affected by the economic impact of Covid-19 than many other types of business.

Fears that there would be a sharp drop in farm incomes in 2020 were largely averted following a gradual recovery in commodity prices.

But, for some, the challenges at certain periods in the pandemic have been huge, notably dairy farmers with liquid milk contracts and farmers with diversifications in holiday accommodation and visitor attractions which haven’t been able to operate for long periods of time.

Economics aside, charities and support services have reported that stress and isolation caused by the repercussions of the pandemic have challenged the mental health and wellbeing of farmers.

Key sources of support for rural communities – friends in the pub, agricultural shows, on-farm demonstrations – have been unavailable for a year, heightening feelings of separation and loneliness.

Some farmers with public footpaths crossing their land have found themselves under siege from walkers as people take the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors when so many other activities are off limits.

In most cases this has been at manageable levels but there have been reports of damage to farmland and property caused by the influx.

It has even prompted discussion around an updating of the Countryside Code.

With Pembrokeshire braced for another surge in visitor numbers this summer, for farmers that new guidance can’t come soon enough.