As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, NSA is working on a number of different policy areas that need addressing as a consequence of the disease outbreak and is responding to member enquiries and the changing picture as quickly as possible. This page has information for farmers in all Devolved Regions.
Guidance has now been produced by Defra for farming and farmworkers. This is available on the Government website here and states:
- Farming and maintaining animal welfare are important and can continue if done in accordance with the social distancing guidelines wherever possible.
"If you provide services such as sheep shearing, sheep dipping and foot trimming to different farms it is not possible for workers to stay 2 metres apart at all times. You should communicate to all staff that they should wash their hands for 20 seconds or more and more frequently than normal, and always when arriving at or leaving a farm or premises, or use hand sanitiser when they cannot wash their hands. They should be careful to avoid touching their face at all times. You should arrange work so that you and colleagues can frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products. This should be done both during the working day and when moving between premises."
NSA has produced a letter for farmers/shepherds/sheep contractors/vets / veterinary students/shearers, to carry and produce if questioned why they are out and about during the lockdown. This is available to download at the bottom of this page.
NSA has has been speaking to members and has produced a list of non-farming roles that it argues are essential for animal health and welfare, and therefore must be able to continue. This list has been shared with Defra and NSA is continuing to push for clarification for members on whether they are able to continue working. NSA is working on the below assumption, interpreted from the Government guidelines:
- Alongside farming roles, non-farming, agricultural roles are also essential to allow food production to continue. Therefore, those performing such roles can continue, provided they follow Government rules and guidelines on social distancing.
NSA is following Government guidelines available here: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus or, in Scotland, here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-livestock-keepers/, or in Wales, here: https://gov.wales/coronavirus-regulations-guidance.
Various forms of financial support for businesses is available. Information is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/support-for-those-affected-by-covid-19/support-for-those-affected-by-covid-19. On Tuesday 5th May, the Government officially launched its Bounce Back Loan scheme - more information is available here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/apply-for-a-coronavirus-bounce-back-loan
NSA Sheep Event: NSA has taken the difficult decision to postpone Sheep 2020 until Monday 19th October 2020. The location, Three Counties Showground, Malvern, Worcestershire, remains unchanged.
As health and agriculture are devolved policy areas the advice across all four regions of the UK may be slightly different.
Guidance for England
If you farm in England you can follow this link: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-farmers-landowners-and-rural-businesses to the Governments most up to date guidance for farmers. It is important to note in England you can:
- Attend markets for Breeding, Store and Prime sales. You MUST follow strict social distancing rules. Vendors may only drop stock off. Only buyers are allowed to enter markets and they must preregister. More information is available here: https://www.laa.co.uk/news/3995/laa-statement-on-the-sales-of-breeding-animals/
- Bring shearers and other contractors onto farm, provided nobody is displaying Covid-19 symptoms. You must socially distance where possible.
- As key-workers, farmers and their families in England are entitled to a test. Click here https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-getting-tested for more.
Guidance for Scotland
If you farm in Scotland, you can follow this link: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-animal-owners/ to ScotGov's most up to date guidance for farmers. In Scotland you can:
- Attend markets for Breeding, Store and Prime sales. You MUST follow strict social distancing rules. More information can be found here: https://iaas.co.uk/some-breeding-sales-to-recommence-under-strict-operating-guidelines-for-coronavirus/
- Provide support to a local farmer where required, provided social distancing measures are adhered to.
On 9th April Scottish Ministers made a statement available here https://www.gov.scot/publications/ministerial-statement-on-access-rights-during-covid-19/, that outlined measured being taken in Scotland. These are:
- Essential workers, including farmers who are helping to maintain the nation’s food supply and have important animal welfare responsibilities, must be allowed to go about their business without interference or fear of unnecessary exposure to COVID-19
- It is a requirement of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code that we all behave in a responsible way that is considerate of other people. This means that, during the current emergency, everyone should:
- Stay local – please do not travel in your car to take exercise; please make use of the paths, open spaces and quiet roads in your own local area
- Maintain your distance – please stay at least 2 metres away from other people and if possible try to avoid busy times on popular paths or places
- Respect the health and safety of farmers and others working the land – please follow all reasonable requests and signs to avoid particular areas, such as farmyards, fields with pregnant or young livestock, and other busy working areas
- Keep your dog under control – please put them on a lead or keep them close at heel and do not let them approach other people or livestock
- Avoid contact – try to avoid touching surfaces and if possible plan a route that does not require you to open gates
- The Scottish Outdoor Access Code requires that people walking dogs act responsibly, take notice of any signs, and prevent their dogs from scaring or attacking any livestock.
- Farmers and other land managers are entitled and indeed encouraged, to put up signs when they have pregnant or young livestock in a field.
- if threatened by cattle, release your dog and take the shortest route out of the field. As always pick up and remove all waste.
- As people responsible for animal health and welfare, in Scotland, sheep farmers are eligible for testing. Go to https://self-referral.test-for-coronavirus.service.gov.uk/ to sign up if you are a key worker and you or a member of your family is symptomatic. Any questions from employers or key workers about accessing testing, the website, or results should be made through [email protected]
Eligible key workers will be notified of where to go to get their test through the booking arrangements described below.
Testing under the UK programme in Scotland is currently conducted in drive-through sites operating at:
University of the Highlands and Islands campus in Inverness
These facilities are run by private sector organisations on behalf of the UK Government. This guidance will be updated as additional testing capacity is deployed on Scotland.
A limited number of home test kits are also available.
A Framework for decision making for Covid-19 has been released by ScotGov and is available below.
Scotsheep: Scotsheep is still intending to go ahead but on the slightly later tentative date of Wednesday 8th July 2020. The location, Over Finlarg Farm, Tealing, By Dundee, DD4 0QE, remains unchanged.
Guidance for Cymru/Wales
If you farm in Wales, you can access information about how Covid-19 is impacting farming communities in Wales here: https://gov.wales/rural-payments-wales-rpw-service-update-coronavirus-covid-19.
In addition, Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs made a speech on Wednesday 8th April outlining the following measures for Welsh farmers:
- Farmers have an extra month to submit their Single Application Form (SAF), with the deadline extended to 15 June.
- In response to concerns about Crop Diversification requirements following the recent flooding and the added pressure of the coronavirus situation, Welsh Government is removing the requirements completely for BPS 2020.
- An additional £5.5m has been allocated to the BPS and Glastir 2019 support scheme which re-opened on 1 April to support those 800 contracts or claimants who’ve not received a payment. Farmers will be able to apply for support through the scheme to alleviate potential cash flow problems.
- Tackling agricultural pollution is a priority and draft regulations will be published on the Welsh Government website, to be introduced as we recover from the current crisis, to prevent damage being done to our fragile ecosystems and to help nature to flourish. Further information on support available for farmers in Wales is available here: https://gov.wales/emergency-measures-support-farmers-during-covid-19-unveiled
- The Critical Worker Testing Policy has been updated and the website now also includes the extended list of who can be tested.
Food and other necessary goods workers
Critical personnel in the production and distribution of food, drink and essential goods, including but not limited to:
- those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery such as, but not limited to,: Abattoir workers, Fishers (crewed vessels), Farmers, Milk Processors, Food retailers, manufacturers, distributors; storage (inc. cold & hub), food animal vets
- individuals that support the production, testing and front facing services of the food industry such as engineering or maintenance roles, quality control, food testing and customer relations
- those critical to the provision of other essential goods, such as medical supply chain and distribution workers, including community pharmacy and testing, and veterinary medicine in food producing and public health roles
- workers critical to the continuity of essential movement and storage of goods such as collection and delivery drivers, agricultural merchants and haulers
- essential agriculture services i.e. sheep shearers, foot trimmers, sheep dippers, supply chains
Access to the Essential Worker UK.Gov website for all Critical Workers based in Wales to access tests has also gone live. Initially this access is for requesting home tests only. Work is ongoing to enable the functionality to book appointments at the mass drive-through testing centres, mobile testing units and community testing units. For further guidance and access to the testing website, visit www.gov.wales/coronavirus or www. llyw.cymru/coronafeirws .
If you live in Wales you can attend markets for Breeding, Store and Prime sales. You MUST follow strict social distancing rules. Vendors may only drop stock off. Only buyers are allowed to enter markets and they must preregister. More information is available here: https://www.laa.co.uk/news/3995/laa-statement-on-the-sales-of-breeding-animals/
Guidance for Northern Ireland
If you live in Northern Ireland, you can find information here: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/impact-covid-19-day-day-farming. In Northern Ireland:
- Sales for prime, cull and store animals have recommended in Northern Ireland but only at a gradual level. It is expected that breeding sales will begin soon.
- You can sell stock farm to farm. If you need to sell stock and are unsure the best option, contact your market who may be able to assist in your sale.
- Farmers in Northern Ireland are eligible for tests as they are essential for food production. For more information click here: https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus/testing-covid-19#testing-for-essential-or-key-workers
NSA has also produced work in certain areas - please see below for more information:
Defra has now confirmed shearers from abroad are allowed to travel into the UK without the need to quarantine. However, significant hurdles still remain, with international flights limited and, naturally, a possible reluctance to travel in the current climate.
NSA is continuing to encourage people to use the shearing register set up with NAAC and British Wool to provide an online shearing register to help UK contractors and UK Shearers link up. This is available here https://www.naac.co.uk/jobs/shearingregister/. NSA has set up a complimentary list for farmers and shearers to connect on a more moderate scale where a contractor is not needed. This is available here: https://www.nationalsheep.org.uk/shearing-list/
NSA encourages members to plan ahead for shearing and take every precaution to ensure your health and welfare is protected along with your stocks.
Environmental Land Management
NSA welcomes the announcement from Defra that the ongoing call for views on the Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) has been paused. Defra was due to travel across England to deliver explanatory sessions of the current thinking on the schemes and invite farmers to share their views before the schemes moved on. The decision has been taken to pause this for the time being, until normal service somewhat resumes.
NSA is working closely with the Sheep Dairying Association to support sheep dairy farmers during the Covid-19 outbreak as the vast majority of the market is in the catering trade. See below for a PDF NSA has produced and sent to Defra to highlight the situation and show why sheep dairy needs support as much as the cow dairy sector during this time.
NSA has released a statement here https://www.nationalsheep.org.uk/news/29283/nsa-calls-for-respect-from-walkers-during-covid-19-outbreak/, calling for people to avoid farms to help protect farmers.
NSA is happy to support its members in any way it can. Please look at the FAQ's we have received below. If you have any further questions, please contact [email protected]
Government's job retention scheme
From 1 July, employers can bring back to work employees that have previously been furloughed for any amount of time and any shift pattern, while still being able to claim the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme grant for their normal hours not worked. When claiming the grant for furloughed hours employers will need to report and claim for a minimum period of a week.
The scheme will close to new entrants from 30 June. From this point onwards, employers will only be able to furlough employees that they have furloughed for a full 3 week period prior to 30 June.
This means that the final date by which an employer needs to agree with their employee and ensure they place them on furlough is 10 June. Employers will have until 31 July to make any claims in respect of the period to 30 June.
Further guidance on flexible furloughing and how employers should calculate claims will be published on 12 June. Find out more information on how the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is changing.
Can I go out and look after my livestock if I'm displaying symptoms of covid-19?
Government guidelines say you should remain at home and self-isolate if you are displaying symptoms of Covid-19. These are a new and continuous cough, and/or fever. If you have livestock it is recommended you ask somebody else to check your animals until you have completed your quarantine. If you cannot find anyone else to help you, you must ONLY go to your animals, ensure you wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after you go out, and avoid other people.
What if we cannot stay more than two meters apart to provide care to an animal, for example, lambing complications?
Where possible maintain 2m distance between you and others. If there is no way to do this follow Government advice on social distancing with others and clean your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Where possible, ask someone from the same household to help as they do not need to socially distance from you. If that is impossible, try to minimise the time you have to be close together and socially distance from others. The government guidelines state:
"Where it is not possible to follow the social distancing guidelines in full in relation to a particular activity, you should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to continue to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between staff. If a 2-metre distance cannot be maintained, staff should work side by side, or facing away from each other, rather than face to face if possible. You should communicate to all staff that they should wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or more and more frequently than normal."
I need to travel with somebody in order to complete my work, what should I do?
If you can, avoid travelling with another person. If your work can be done without you travelling with somebody from a different household (this includes family you don't live with) it should be avoided. Government guidelines say: "If workers have to share enclosed spaces such as the cabs of vehicles, they should keep the window open for ventilation and they should be careful to avoid touching their face at all times. On leaving the enclosed space, they should wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or more or use hand sanitiser when they cannot wash their hands."
What rights do I have with people walking across my land?
Some footpaths have been closed to prevent the public from breaking social distancing rules. Where this hasn't happened, you must try to maintain your distance from people. If you are concerned about cross-contamination on gates, you can use gloves, carry hand sanitiser and avoid touching your face. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds when you can. NSA has released a statement calling for walkers to avoid travelling to walk across farmland where possible.
Do I need to prove I am a farmer or involved in farming to travel?
This is not clear. Just in case, NSA has produced a letter to help provide you with some evidence. This letter is not legally binding and as such should only be used as supporting evidence if questioned. Please do not travel unnecessarily.
Can my vet still come out if we need them?
Yes, however, you should follow Government guidance on social distancing.
What about other services?
This is a difficult question to answer. NSA is working hard to get clarity from the Government about what services can continue. NSA has produced a list of roles that it has asked the Government for clarity on, and will continue to ask for clarity on other roles. In the meantime, NSA is working on the assumption non-farming agricultural roles are also essential to allow food production to continue. Therefore, those performing such roles can continue, provided they follow Government rules and guidelines on social distancing.
Are we still allowed to take lambing students?
This, again, is unclear. Nobody should be travelling unnecessarily. Therefore, if your student is not already with you and you do not rely on their labour to get through lambing, Government guidelines would imply your student should not come. This decision must be at your discretion following the Government guidelines as closely as you can.
We need shearers to come on to the farm, but we're nervous about letting someone onto the farm. Is there any guidance?
Guidance is currently being written and agreed by a group of sheep industry bodies. As soon as it is ready and agreed, NSA will share the link to it here.
Is NSA still working?
Yes, we are still working hard to represent you - we're just doing so from our homes rather than The Sheep Centre. If you need to contact us, please email [email protected] OR https://www.nationalsheep.org.uk/contacts/nsa-head-office/ find somebody specific here.
I'm struggling financially, what help is there?
As always, there is fantastic support offered to farmers through charities such as FCN, RABI, RSABI and others. If you are in England or Wales, you can call 03000 111 999 for help. In Northern Ireland call 08001381678 and in Scotland call 0300 111 4166. There are lots of options for Government support it is worth exploring here gov.uk/business-support to find out if there are any options for you and your business. For more information view NSA's mental health support pages below.
I also keep cattle, can I continue with TB testing?
At present TB testing visits should only continue providing all involved can maintain adequate self-isolating and social distancing requirements. The UK Chief Veterinary Officers are keeping these measures under constant review. Adjustments to TB testing instructions will be made as appropriate as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses.
Letter from the food standards agency to farmers: https://www.food.gov.uk/news-alerts/news/open-letter-to-the-meat-industry-in-england-in-response-to-coronavirus
Letter from the Environment Secretary, George Eustice, to farmers: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/letter-from-the-environment-secretary-to-the-food-and-drink-industry?utm_source=b87a88e9-d5ee-43ec-a56f-3176594441f5&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate&fbclid=IwAR19STE3KufEQcjk9ZyxAETl7RhEItL1FOLnlAAc0R_V6kYlbuMx3iOCpfs
Statement from NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker from 19th March 2020: https://www.nationalsheep.org.uk/news/29187/statement-from-nsa-chief-executive-phil-stocker-regarding-the-continuing-covid-19-outbreak/