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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

Hemp: the old new supercrop

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HEMP could become a more common feature of the countryside, our diets and everyday life, thanks to a new £1.1m research partnership.

The two-year project between Aberystwyth University and industry aims to make hemp a more valuable crop by increasing the amounts of compounds used to make a variety of food, health and pharmaceutical products.

Hemp is currently used in specialised fire-resistant fabrics, mattresses, building materials, insulation, animal bedding and biofuel.

An environmentally friendly, natural material, it is seen as a crop that can replace petrochemical products.

Hemp fibre has been used extensively throughout history, with production climaxing soon after being introduced to the New World. For centuries, items ranging from rope to fabrics, to industrial materials were made from hemp fibre.

Hemp was also commonly used to make sail canvas. The word “canvas” is derived from the word cannabis.

Pure hemp has a texture like linen.

Because of its versatility for use in a variety of products, today hemp is used in a number of consumer goods, including clothing, shoes, accessories, dog collars, and homewares. For clothing, in some instances, hemp is mixed with lyocell.

The new PHARMHEMP research partnership will develop the crop’s compounds sustainably; making them from parts of the plant that are currently left unused.

The research will also make the crop more valuable and allow use in more industrial and non-industrial sectors – making it more attractive to farmers who are keen to include alternative crops when rotating the use of their land.

Aberystwyth University’s involvement has benefited from the Welsh Government funded SMART Expertise programme.

Alan Gay, Senior Research Scientist at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University commented: “We’re delighted and excited about this new partnership. We will use our long-established expertise here in Aberystwyth to help spread the benefits of this crop to many more people.

“We also hope to contribute to improving awareness of the crop among both consumers and farmers.

“The project is also an economic boost: supporting highly skilled jobs in the west of Wales. As well as the cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical uses, we will also explore industrial applications, which would significantly reduce the need for expensive imports.”

Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University commented: “The Pharmahemp project builds on IBERS expertise in developing new opportunities for Welsh farming. It also represents an exciting opportunity for us to revisit and tailor a highly sustainable and versatile crop for the 21st century.”

The project links a number of the UK’s experienced operators in Hemp with the specialised breeding expertise of IBERS, Aberystwyth University.

The commercial partners are: TTS Pharma, specialists in pharmaceutical and health products; Voase and Son, specialist hemp growers; Elsoms Seeds, who develop and distribute seeds to the farming community; and GrowPura®, experts in controlled growing of plants where high levels of control are required.

Mark Tucker, Chief Executive at TTS Pharma, added: “This project builds on the foundations we laid in 2018 with Aberystwyth University, along with our other research projects.

“The resources and expertise at IBERS in Aberystwyth are particularly well suited to this research. They will help us to develop new cultivars, optimised for the UK climate and the end-use.

“We are delighted to have such strong partners to deliver the project’s objectives.  We are confident that this project will contribute significantly to improving existing yields.  It will also accelerate the introduction of a domestic supply chain and help eliminate the importation of illegal and non-compliant materials from China, South and North America.”   

David Coop, Director of Elsoms Seeds Ltd, commented: “Elsoms Seeds is the UK’s leading independent seed specialist and plant breeder. We breed, supply, and treat high quality vegetable and agricultural seed throughout the UK, using the latest in plant breeding research and seed technology.

“We are looking forward to working with IBERS and our partners on this project, and one day providing UK farmers with high quality seed of the new and innovative varieties which will result from it.”

Nick Bateman of Growpura added: “In the pharmaceutical industry, the all-year-round production of materials under well-controlled conditions is important. 

“With this project, we are keen to see how this plant can be adapted to growing in our high throughput sterile growing conditions, so that high quality products can be produced right throughout the year.”

Industrial Hemp Grower Nick Voase said: “We have been growing and processing industrial hemp since 2002 but have seen little development of the crop in the UK. 

“We are happy to be involved in this project which will adapt the crop to new uses and is specifically aimed at optimising yields from UK grown crops.”

Despite a common misunderstanding, the industrial hemp strains grown in the UK are all varieties with negligible levels of the psychoactive substance THC and are selected from an ‘Approved List’ and only grown under Home Office licences.

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Farming

NSA Lambing List closes

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AS A much-valued service to its members, the National Sheep Association’s (NSA) Lambing List provides farmers with a place to advertise for much-needed lambing assistance from students and others seeking work experience each year.


The list annually provides an annual matchmaking service for around 400 farmers and veterinary and agriculture students. And despite a second lambing season under the constraints of Covid-19 restrictions the list has once again successfully helped farmers across the UK at this busy time of year.

The list has now closed and will reopen for advertisements for the 2021/2022 lambing season in the Autumn.


 NSA Communications Officer Katie James says: “The popularity of the NSA Lambing List grows each year.
“The guidance it provides to farmers using it and the links it offers students means it is incredibly valued by all parties involved. For most, the past two lambing seasons have taken place during Covid-19 restrictions meaning potential shortages of staff due to travel constraints or illness from the virus itself and additional measures to consider such as separate accommodation for temporary staff and social distancing.
“All at NSA are therefore pleased that the list has been able to help remove some of these concerns and provide a trusted method of securing extra help for its sheep farming members.”


 In a previous survey of NSA members using the list, more than 90% of respondents said they valued the list and would use it again to try and source additional lambing help from veterinary and agriculture students.
 Students who will be looking for work experience to assist their application to university or as part of ongoing veterinary studies are encouraged to consult the list from November 2021 when it becomes available once again to aid the student/farmer matchmaking.


NSA members will be able to add details of their available placements for their next lambing season from October.

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Farming

MPs urge level playing field

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IN its new report—Seafood and Meat Exports to the EU—the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee expresses urgent concerns for exporters of highly time-sensitive fresh and live seafood and meat shipments to the EU, particularly small and medium-sized businesses.
Despite overcoming initial “teething problems” the new barriers small seafood and meat export businesses face could render them unviable, and factories and jobs may relocate to the EU.
The Committee’s report, therefore, calls on the Government to ease burdens, including:

• as a matter of priority, seeking agreement with the EU on digitising the certification of paperwork such as Export Health Certificates
• taking a flexible approach to the compensation fund for seafood exporters—including reconsidering the cap of £100,000 on individual payments, and providing similar support to meat exporters
• providing the same help to small meat and seafood businesses with the costs of extra red tape for exports to the EU as they can receive for moving goods to Northern Ireland
• establishing a ring-fenced fund to help create new distribution hubs, which allow smaller consignments to be grouped into a single lorry load, so reducing transport costs.

The Committee criticises the fact that controls on EU seafood and meat imports will not commence until 1 October 2021, with checks at the border only commencing from 1 January 2022.
This has placed British businesses at a competitive disadvantage and reduced the incentive on the European Commission to negotiate measures that would lessen the burdens facing British producers.
The report finds that adhering to the revised timetable will be ‘crucial’, to ensure food safety and to create a regulatory level playing field.
Neil Parish MP, Chair of the EFRA Select Committee, said: “British businesses have acted with incredible agility and perseverance to adapt to the new processes for exporting meat and seafood to the EU.
“With the many checks causing delays and costs, this hasn’t been easy. We are concerned that in the absence of equivalent checks for imports from the EU to Great Britain, there will be serious long-term repercussions for our producers.
“As it stands, the playing field is not even, and the Government must ensure that the new timetable to introduce import checks is adhered to.
“Even as “teething problems” are sorted, serious barriers remain for British exporters, and it is now imperative that the Government take steps to reduce these.
“It must be pragmatic in seeking an agreement with the EU to reduce the red tape that harms both sides, and in the meantime, crack on with giving practical support to small British businesses to sell their produce abroad.
“By the end of the year, the Government must have developed a digital system for certifying EHCs for imports from the EU, enabling it to then negotiate a reciprocal arrangement.”

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