THE FUW’s Manifesto for the Welsh Assembly elections could not be clearer.
The contribution of agriculture to the economy of our rural areas and Wales as a whole cannot be underestimated; Welsh Farm Business Survey figures show that, despite low profitability, a typical farm can annually contribute between £100,000 and £250,000 to the wider economy.
Yet such direct contributions are just the tip of the iceberg; our food and drinks industry is worth £5.2 billion to the Welsh economy, and agriculture has been identified as the most significant contributor to an estimated £1.9 billion in ‘wildlife related activity’ – while the contribution of generations of farming families to the unique landscape and culture so important to our tourism industry is clear to all.
Put simply, farming is the bedrock of our rural communities, without which vast direct and indirect contributions to Wales’ economy as a whole would disappear.
And yet farming and rural affairs have often been perceived to be of little interest to a Welsh Labour government, which draws its strength from Wales’ former industrial heartlands around the south Wales valleys.
In a recent debate in Ceredigion County Council, many members expressed agreement with the view advanced by Cllr Paul Hinch, who said: “This last Welsh Government has no about rural life in Wales or anywhere else.
PARTY POLICIES AND PLEDGES
Certainly Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru have both carved out distinctive positions on rural policy which point out a relative policy vacuum on rural affairs in Welsh Labour’s Assembly election manifesto. Not a single one of Labour’s six ‘key pledges’ relates to farming, other than tangentially, and a sweep of Welsh Labour’s website shows not a single announcement in relation to initiatives to help farmers under threat.
By way of contrast, Plaid Cymru has prepared a specific agricultural manifesto. Shadow Minister for Sustainable Communities, Farming and Food, Llyr Gruffydd, launched his party’s Agriculture Manifesto on Tuesday (April 12), vowing that a Plaid Cymru government would be a strong voice for Wales’ rural communities.
The plans included measures to address Labour’s CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) fiasco, scrap the six-day-standstill rule which is hampering farm businesses, introduce a strategy to save council farms from being sold off, and increase the amount of Welsh food purchased by the public sector in Wales.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Llyr Gruffydd, who lives on a family farm said: “If elected in May, a Plaid Cymru government would vow to be a strong voice for Wales’ rural communities.
“For too long, Labour Ministers have undermined our vital agriculture industry by making Wales the most modulated country in Europe – a decision that took £250m out of the pockets of Welsh farmers.
“Plaid Cymru wants to put this right by bringing forward policies that will ensure that the industry prospers in future.
“Our agriculture manifesto includes ambitious but achievable proposals to address Labour’s CAP fiasco and make sure Welsh farmers have a stronger voice in CAP simplification discussions, and scrap the six-daystandstill rule which is hampering farm businesses at the very time we need more flexibility.
“We would also introduce a strategy to save council farms from being sold off, under a wider programme to support new entrants into the industry.
“As part of Plaid Cymru’s wider proposals to raise procurement levels throughout Wales, we would ensure that the agriculture industry benefits from this by increasing the amount of Welsh food purchased by the public sector.”
Meanwhile, the Welsh Conservatives launched their rural manifesto on Friday, April 8.
Pledging to ‘bring rural Wales in from the cold’, Andrew RT Davies and Russell George announced a series of policy promises which they claimed recognised the specific needs of rural communities.
Andrew RT Davies, himself a member of a family farming business, said: “Welsh Conservatives would stand up for the farming industry and the rural communities around it.
“Assessing the impact of government policies shouldn’t be done by the same civil servants who draw it up. That responsibility should lie with the people who know best – rural communities themselves.”
Prospective Welsh Conservative Assembly Member, Russell George, said: “That Welsh Labour have relegated Rural Affairs to a junior cabinet post speaks volumes for Labour’s neglect of agriculture and the countryside.
“A Welsh Conservative Government would end this neglect and stand up for rural Wales.”
ONE POLICY: NO AGREEMENT
The Liberal Democrats’ agricultural manifesto launch, on April 11, was a feisty affair – as detailed by our reporter Matthew Bearne elsewhere in these pages. Noticeably, Kirsty Williams, the Welsh LibDem leader did not fight shy of providing her personal opinion on one of the burning issues affecting West Wales’s farmers: Bovine TB. The view of two of west Wales’s councils and both of Wales’main farming unions is crystalline on the point: in short, culling badgers is a necessary part of a combined approach to the control of Bovine TB. Not the only solution, but part of a holistic approach to the issue.
While the validity of statistical evidence and the science deployed by those on either side of the culling debate is likely to remain subjective and views to remain entrenched, there is a marked divide between most farmers and the west Wales councils on the one hand and the immediately past Welsh Government on the other.
But it is a mistake to conflate the debate about the future of Welsh agriculture with a single topic, no matter how passionately argued. A CONNECTED WALES Access to rural broadband is a live issue. A recent public meeting held in Whitland highlighted the gulf between public desire and expectation and the willingness of BT to provide a solution to every household and every business. As more and more of the paperwork that accompanies farming is planned to be completed online, fast and reliable broadband is essential for all farmers and all rural communities.
In addition, as Richard Walker of the FUW recently said: “The revolution in renewable energy, brought about by recognition of the need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, has resulted in the development of new commercially viable sources of renewable energy, such as solar panels, as well as improvements in the efficiency of wind and water power.”
Despite Wales’ being perfectly suited for some forms of renewable energy generation, the percentage of electricity generated in Wales from renewable stands at just 10% – 5% lower than the UK average, and the lowest of all the UK devolved regions.
NFU Cymru’s ambition is for every farm to be able to become a net energy exporter, and in doing so helping contribute towards the Welsh Government’s greenhouse gas reduction targets.
The FUW has gone a step further and called on the next Welsh Government to seek ‘alternative and innovative ways’ in which funding can be provided in order to develop on-farm energy production and identify those barriers to on-farm energy production which fall within the remit of Welsh Government.
Next week, The Herald will be reporting on one such on-farm project and establishing just how viable it is for farms not only to power the rural economy, but also to provide power to Welsh homes and businesses.
No one size solution for farm exports
BRITISH food exporters need to gain an understanding of consumer needs in different countries if the UK’s farmers are to fully reap the rewards of overseas trade, according to AHDB.
In its latest edition of the Horizon Brexit series, AHDB argues that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to unlocking export opportunities should be avoided and that we cannot rely on ‘Brand Britain’ alone to boost sales.
The report, focuses on international buying behaviours and looks at exporting from a consumer perspective. It highlights the need for industry to monitor and adapt to the needs of each marketplace to create more opportunities.
The study included responses from more than 4,500 consumers in nine countries – from key UK export markets in North America, Europe, Gulf States and Asia – around what motivates and drives them to choose the food they buy.
Among the key findings was that, while seven out of the nine countries surveyed said ‘quality’ was the most important factor, both China and Japan stated ‘food safety’ as critical in their food choices.
Christine Watts, AHDB chief communication and market development officer, said: “Concerns and priorities vary by market and many could benefit from tailored messaging to appeal to these different interests.
“For instance, in China and Japan food safety is critical. Communication to these markets needs to be tailored to meet the desires of consumers so they know more about the safety of the food they eat.”
The report also closely considers the impact of ‘British’ branding overseas and looks at some of the opportunities and challenges this holds in a post-Brexit world.
Steven Evans, AHDB consumer insight manager and author of the report, said: “The research looked to capture the reaction to ‘Brand Britain’ and understand objectively how other countries see us. We found that many consumers have not had direct exposure to British food products and, therefore, have not had the opportunity to build a firm view of their qualities.
“This highlights that exposure to products and clear branding is necessary to drive awareness and build brand reputation.”
Other key aspects from the report include how different sectors also have different drivers in buying behaviour. For example, while quality was important for both meat and dairy, price featured second in the list for meat while freshness was the second highest purchase motivator in the dairy industry.
Also, promoting the same meat cuts across all countries would not be beneficial for British exporters as lifestyles, tastes and food choices differ around the world.
AHDB International Market Development Director Dr Phil Hadley said: “Often, what we as a British consumer perceive as a good product message will not be relevant for all export markets.
“For example, the Chinese Sunday roast is not commonplace but Dong Po Rou (braised pork belly) is. Both hold a similar association as they both use larger joints but each fit very different meal occasions.
“We also know that a Chinese consumer is comfortable to view the whole journey from farm to fork. But it would be dangerous to assume that the same approach across all export markets will result in the same sales performance.
“A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t allow for customisation and adapting to meet specific domestic demands. It is critical that British food producers don’t make assumptions that their product has the same relevance across all markets.”
Rural areas vital for economies
RURAL areas are vital to national economies and addressing global challenges, according to the policy statement released at the 11th OECD Rural Development Conference held in Edinburgh.
The policy statement, which provides guidance to governments to support rural economic development, also declared that innovation will be critical to the future competitiveness and sustainability of rural economies. It also outlines the case for focusing on rural areas as engines of national prosperity and how policies should leverage this opportunity.
Jose Enrique Garcilazo, Head of OECD’s Regional and Rural Policy Unit, said: “Rural regions are not synonymous with decline or agricultural specialisation, but places of growth, opportunity and inspiration, yet rural is still not central to government policy. Rural areas have a key part to play in some of our major global challenges. They are best placed to develop new energy sources, to help sustain our natural environment and to ensure food security.
“In an increasingly interconnected world, opportunities are emerging to promote rural prosperity. Digitalisation will propel rural economies forward, and the conference has highlighted that supporting innovation in rural areas will be key to the future prosperity and wellbeing of rural regions.”
The policy statement identifies 10 key drivers of change predicted to influence the future of rural economies and communities and their potential to prosper, including additive manufacturing (for example 3D printing); decentralised energy systems; digital connectivity; the future of health; shifting values and preferences; drones; and driverless cars.
The statement also recommends that, in addition to prioritising rural innovation, a robust rural policy should place social, environmental and economic wellbeing at the forefront of policy decisions and take an integrated view across policy sectors to avoid one policy detracting from another.
The 2018 Conference, Enhancing Rural Innovation, was hosted by the Scottish Government and co-hosted by the European Commission and the UK, to provide a forum for key policy officials and academics from OECD member countries to engage and share ideas and experiences on rural policy.
It is the eleventh in the OECD Rural Conference Series, which has been held all over the world since its inception in 2002.
Prior to the main conference, a series of interactive sessions, led by the European Network for Rural Development, showcased exemplary projects and approaches already launched by rural communities to embrace 21st century challenges and opportunities.
Rural Wales in ‘the 4G Wilderness’
NEW DATA gathered by the CLA has shown what rural communities have suspected for a long time; that the mobile industry is willing to abandon rural areas to the digital wilderness.
Director Rebecca Williams says: “Our information has revealed that too few planning applications have been made for mobile phone masts in our rural counties to bridge the digital divide between the urban and rural community.
“Latest research has shown that a county such as Powys – which has appallingly poor mobile connectivity at less than 3 per cent – has seen just 13 mast sites applied for in the past 12 months, yet urban counties such as Cardiff have seen as many as 62 applications. Even a rural county, such as Monmouthshire, close to the urban centres of Bristol, Newport and Cardiff, has seen just two mast applications.
“With 5G on the horizon in 2022, progress needs to be better – and Wales must not be left in the boondocks. The rural community must not be excluded. Farms and rural businesses lack the digital service they need to be competitive. We must remember that this is not about resident population numbers, since mobile communication should be available to everyone everywhere.”
In February, the CLA asked Ofcom to force reluctant mobile network operators to improve coverage in rural areas by imposing a legally binding coverage target on their operating licenses. It called for EE, O2, Vodafone and Three to be required to deliver 4G coverage to at least 95% of the UK geographic landmass on all networks by 2022.
Rebecca Williams continues: “Three years ago, we were told that coverage would be delivered in the countryside and yet rural communities are still waiting. In the same period the mobile industry has extracted concession after concession from UK Government Ministers. They have got the new legal powers they wanted, on the basis that they are a utility service.
“Now they must be forced to deliver the universal service that a utility operator provides. We expect government and the regulator to take a tough line on this, and if Ofcom won’t then Ministers must step in.”
The CLA has highlighted Ofcom’s failure to push mobile network operators to achieve universal coverage for consumers. It is calling on the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to review Ofcom’s statutory remit and confirm that the body should prioritise working towards universal, quality mobile coverage for consumers.
“The mobile operators have no market incentive to improve coverage in these rural areas. It is absolutely clear that the only way they will deliver the coverage the countryside needs is if they are forced to do so. However rather than pushing them to achieve universal coverage for consumers, Ofcom is setting soft targets for rural coverage. As a result rural consumers face inadequate service and lack of network choice for years to come.”
Further information can be found at www.cla.org.uk/4gForAll and Ofcom’s 700Mhz spectrum auction proposal.
Popular This Week
Politics5 days ago
Carwyn Jones to step down as row over Sargeant inquiry intensifies
News2 weeks ago
Two charged over serious Aberystwyth assault
News2 weeks ago
Dog thefts up 200% in Dyfed-Powys region
News6 days ago
Man sentenced following Tregaron assault
News1 week ago
Men appear in court over serious assault
News1 week ago
Aberystwyth to Cardiff Bus service upgraded and fully reinstated
News3 days ago
Police appeal following Aberystwyth RTC
News1 week ago
Another man charged in Ifan Owens assault case