As the milk price crisis continues our regular Grass Roots columnist Gareth Jones discusses the issue in this week's edition. Views are his own.

WITH Christmas now feeling like a long time ago and February fast approaching, I reported in my first column back in November on the challenges facing the dairy sector in Wales.

Unfortunately, earlier this month, the announcement by dairy co-operative First Milk to defer payments for milk and to increase member capital contributions was a disappointment to everyone.

This will be a major concern to all involved in the industry which has already seen prices falling consistently during 2014, poor profitability and the number of dairy farmers in the UK falling below 10,000 for the first time in history.

This adds to concerns on volatility within the sector which I also reported upon back in November which is a challenge to all involved.

I’m sure the farming representative organisations will be expressing their views strongly on this latest development and supporting not only the sector but also those farmers affected by this latest announcement.

Looking ahead to 2015, the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will have a major affect on farming businesses with uncertainty remaining about the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and its distribution across Wales.

I’d advise all farmers to ensure they’re aware and familiarise themselves with the new rules.

2015 will be used as a reference year for the scheme entitlements and therefore any breaches or errors in 2015 could potentially result in losses for future years.

I’m sure many of you will have gathered by now that 2015 is indeed an election year with the Westminster general election taking place in only a few short months.

The election campaign has already started in many areas and will be stepping up a gear over the coming weeks.

I believe this year’s campaign, and the eventual result, will be very interesting.

A number of differing scenarios are being discussed and questions asked - who will win, will there be an overall majority, will there be a coalition and if so, who will be the largest party.

I’m sure you’d agree, as an industry we hope for a government that understands the role and importance of agriculture in the UK in terms of food production, preserving the countryside and protecting the environment and biodiversity.

We hope this understanding will encourage positive and pro-active policies to ensure the industry has a long and vibrant future.

Finally, as we enter the second half of the wool-selling season, a brief update on the current situation.

The British Wool Marketing Board are encouraged by the continuing strong demand and are hopeful this will continue for the remainder of the selling season.

At the last sale held on January 6, 2015 there was a 98 per cent clearance and to date 17 m/kg of the wool has been sold - 60 per cent of the anticipated 2014 clip.

This is a reflection of the steady demand and also our rostering and reserve policy, our main aim being to keep the sales buoyant and regulate the amount of wool offered throughout the season.

In terms of wool clip values for producers I’m sure everybody is aware in the last four years the wool clip values have been consistently higher than the previous ten years.

Currently, the overall sale average price is up by 4p/kg compared to the same period last year.