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Farming

Farmers’ manifestos stress importance of rural economy

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Llyr Gruffydd with Elin Jones, Simon Thomas and Adam Price: Launching Plaid’s rural manifesto

Llyr Gruffydd with Elin Jones, Simon Thomas and Adam Price: Launching Plaid’s rural manifesto

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.

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Farming

FUW criticise Assembly Committee

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Committee naive: Gavin Williams, FUW

ACCORDING to the FUW, a National Assembly for Wales committee has been misled into making a draconian recommendation that would play into the hands of multi-billion pound telecommunication companies.

The union has also suggested that the committee may have been naive in not identifying the true motives of those advocating such moves.

The National Assembly for Wales’ Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee published a report entitled Digital Infrastructure in Wales, which included a recommendation that ‘The Welsh Government should consider making future public subsidy conditional on supporting government policy to improve digital infrastructure, and to ensure that it meets the needs of consumers in the future, in particular any likely convergence between broadband and mobile internet connectivity.’

Responding to the report in a letter to Committee Chair Russell George AM, Gavin Williams, chairman of the FUW’s Land Use and Parliamentary Committee, said: “The Farmers’ Union of Wales has long been a proponent of increasing both broadband and mobile phone coverage in Wales, and has worked closely with Ofcom and others for more than a decade to highlight the needs of Wales’ communities in terms of both.”

Mr Williams goes on to highlight the fact that the union is unaware of any instances where farmers have refused to enter into a fair agreement with commercial companies responsible for digital infrastructure – but is aware of many cases where agreement has been reached between farmers and communication companies but planning permission has been refused, and of instances where companies have behaved in unacceptable and unprofessional ways in order to try and install communication infrastructure on private land.

“There may well be a handful of cases where landowners have been uncooperative, but we would suggest that members of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee have been misled if they believe this is so widespread that it warrants a draconian recommendation to Government, said Mr Williams.

“Rather, we would suggest that the underlying motive for those who have suggested such a barrier exists at any scale is the wish to boost company profits by seeking changes which would allow farmers and landowners to be bullied into signing contracts which do not represent the commercial nature of work and installations.”

Mr Williams concludes his letter by saying, “We share the Committee’s frustrations regarding barriers to broadband and mobile coverage, but find it wholly unacceptable that a National Assembly for Wales committee has been led to believe – some would say naively – that it would be desirable to see multi-billion pound commercial companies boosting their profits by forcing family farms to accept one-sided agreements that in no way reflect the commercial nature of mobile and broadband infrastructure.”

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Farming

Lynx trial decision near

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Eurasian lynx: Could be introduced next year

THE NATIONAL SHEEP ASSOCIATION (NSA) is concerned to hear rumours that Secretary of State for the Environment Michael Gove may be prepared to fast-track a decision on lynx release.

It is calling on representative farming bodies and individuals to unite and take action to voice unanimous concerns over the proposals.

NSA is aware the Lynx UK Trust is continuing its campaign work while the application is considered, and feels it is essential Mr Gove appreciates the substantial and widespread concerns rural communities have around the proposed lynx release.

Lynx became extinct in the UK around 1,300 year ago.

The medium-sized cats can grow to around 1.3m, are apex predators in their environments, and hunt by ambush in forest habitats.

Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, said: “I know Mr Gove is interested in these proposals and I am certain now is the time for individual farmers, land managers and their representative organisations to make their feelings heard. I would go as far as urging every farmer who has views over this to write to the Secretary of State so he can appreciate the strength of stakeholder concerns, which go way beyond the losses that will be suffered by sheep farmers.”

A verdict on whether lynx should be released in Kielder Forest, Northumberland, is still pending after Lynx UK Trust submitted a formal application to Natural England earlier this year. The Government advisory body is currently reviewing information, and is expected to announce a decision in the coming months.

The Trust has also asked landowners in Wales if they would be happy to allow lynx to roam their properties and its chief scientific advisor, Dr Paul O’Donoghue, claims that five Welsh landowners have expressed an interest in lynx being placed on their land.
Dr O’Donoghue said in Europe, the kill rate was 0.4 sheep per lynx per year.

Mr Stocker continued: “The risks to landscape and wildlife, heavily invested in for years, are real. Alongside disease and welfare risks, coupled with concerns around whether any lynx population could be genetically sustainable on our heavily populated island. This of course in addition to the resultant losses and stress on farmers.

“It is not a simple matter of a compensation package putting everything right. We know from sheep farmers in Finland, Norway and elsewhere that losses go way beyond those predicted. I simply cannot accept that the conscious release of a high-level predator is compatible with the high level of animal welfare expected of British farmers.”

The Lynx UK Trust has announced an agreement with Lloyds Syndicate ARK Speciality Programs, which they say will insure the entire sheep population against lynx attacks throughout the period of a trial – if it goes ahead.

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Farming

Brexit trade agreement attacked by US

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WTO members: Object to EU and UK deal

AN ADVANCE in the Brexit negotiations between the European Union and the UK Government has been rejected by the US Government and other major agricultural exporters.

EU negotiators had reached a tentative agreement with the UK to establish a single approach to dividing up their relationship with other members of the World Trade Organization post-Brexit.

At the moment, the UK is a joint member of the WTO with the other 27 EU members.

The British economy accounts for about 16 percent of the EU economy but its share of EU imports from other WTO countries at preferential tariffs varies according to products.

As the UK quits the EU in 2019, it will need to separate out its share of the EU’s overall quotas for farm goods that can be imported from countries such as New Zealand and Australia.

According to Reuters, neither the remaining EU states nor Britain want to have to accept greater quantities of low- or zero-duty farm imports from the rest of the world to avoid increasing competition for their own producers. But determining where such goods currently end up being consumed inside the EU customs union is problematic.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said: “We have come to an agreement on the methodology of splitting EU quotas as we move forward,”

The Cabinet Minister described the agreement as ‘a step in the right direction’, but not a final agreement.

However, the agreement reached on quotas has been rejected by seven members of the WTO, including the USA.

Those signing a joint letter objecting to the agreement are US, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Thailand.

The letter from the objectors states they were not consulted and the deal would disrupt “the delicate balance of concessions and entitlements that is fundamental to the global trade architecture today.”

It continues: “We are aware of media reports suggesting the possibility of a bilateral agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union 27 countries about splitting Tariff Relief Quotas based on historical averages,

“We would like to record that such an outcome would not be consistent with the principle of leaving other WTO members no worse off, nor fully honour the existing TRQ access commitments.

“Thus, we cannot accept such an agreement.”

A spokesperson for the UK Government promised to coordinate with the complainants: “The UK wants to ensure a smooth transition which minimizes the disruption to our trading relationships with other WTO members and tariff rate quotas are one of the issues that we are discussing with the EU, and with WTO members.”

But New Zealand’s Deputy Trade Secretary tweeted: “Sorry that key partners assume a deal they strike between them will suit the rest of the world.”

And the US Government said: “Ensuring that US exporters of food and agricultural products have the market access in Europe due to them even after Brexit is a high priority for the administration.”

In a response to Brexit, exporters to the EU will want to redress what they regard as an imbalance in quotas by seeking larger export quotas for their own goods. That move could spell disaster for UK farmers, as goods could be dumped on to the UK market, potentially pushing already pressed British farmers out of business.

The British-EU proposal is expected to be debated during the WTO’s week of agricultural talks later this month and at the WTO ministerial conference in Buenos Aires in December.

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