THE FARMERS’ UNION OF WALES has long known that the family farm is the cornerstone of our economy and culture here in Wales and, as such, Wales has an opportunity to be a rural economic powerhouse post -Brexit.
Speaking at the FUW Press Conference on Sunday (Jul 17) ahead of the Royal Welsh Show, Union President Glyn Roberts said: “In these times of political uncertainty, only a few things are constant: the grass will continue to grow and it will probably rain soon!
“So we are blessed with those strategic resources that make our industry successful.”
Much political and media attention has recently been focussed on risks to jobs and the local economy in and around the M4 corridor in South Wales – and quite rightly so, the FUW President told delegates.
“But you may be surprised to learn that there are almost as many people engaged in the milk industry in Pembrokeshire as there are people making a living in our Welsh steel industry. Yet there is a clear imbalance in political focus for supporting these two very important industries – an imbalance which also extends to all our agricultural sectors,” said Glyn Roberts.
He added that his aspiration and indeed the intention of the Farmers’ Union of Wales is to change this.
“We want to see the value and importance of the rural economy truly recognised, and to build a visible and valued Rural Powerhouse – not something that attracts industrial focus in a small geographic area, like the north-east Wales ‘powerhouse’ built around foreign manufacturing; what is needed is recognition of the fact that 80% of our land mass is rural; that more than a third of Wales’ population live in rural areas; and that farming is the bedrock of our rural communities, without which vast direct and indirect contributions to Wales’ economy as a whole would disappear,” continued the Union President.
He told delegates that the Rural Powerhouse the FUW envisages that it will take all that is valuable in our rural economies and maximise their outputs and impact. It will recognise the interactions that exist in rural Wales, the communities that work and live together, the networks that support each other and of course the importance of rural Wales to our culture.
Glyn Roberts further stated: “If you want a clear indication of the cultural importance of farming, you need only consider this: in Ceredigion, less than 50% of the population now speak Welsh. But within the farming community, the percentage is close to 100%.
“Consider also the value of the Young Farmers Clubs playing such diverse and vital roles in their communities, where they also protect our culture and language so very effectively. There can be no doubt that farming holds these groups together and makes them a real force in our rural communities.”
The message from the FUW is clear – this is not just about farming; it is about the wider recognition of how farming matters, where supply chains are involved, how money circulates in the local economy, where people survive, where profits are made, communities are sustained and our culture continues to thrive.
Glyn Roberts, in his speech, asked: “Why is it that the supply chains, which employ millions and ultimately supply the food we eat, through our dairies, slaughterhouses and other processors, don’t even appear on the radar of the National Infrastructure Commission? Why do our rural areas not attract the sort of attention and funding the M4 relief road has attracted given their direct importance to our economy, not to mention other key related industries such as tourism – and, of course, feeding people?”
Addressing the upcoming exit from the European Union, the FUW President said: “Since June 23, we have all been immersed in a sea of political turmoil and uncertainty: we know something will happen, we know it will be big and far-reaching, but we don’t know when it will start or when it will end.
“For our part, we have made it clear since the referendum result was announced that matters should be progressed at a sensible pace, and I am pleased to have seen increasing numbers of politicians and commentators coming over to our point of view.”
Glyn Roberts asked those in power to resist the temptation to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty prematurely for a number of reasons, not least because of the vast amount of work which needs to be undertaken to repeal, or redraft, the 5,500 acts relating to agriculture and the rural economy; the likely timescales over which trade agreements can be negotiated; the risk that elections in France and Germany would impact on negotiation time and the huge job of unravelling the current CAP and our commitments made under the Multi- Annual Financial Framework.
“We know what we’ve potentially got until 2020, so let’s stick with it. Let’s maximise the return on what is planned.
“Moving at speed towards Brexit brings with it huge risks, so we certainly don’t want speed – but there is certainly a need for haste in terms of what can be done to prepare for a post-Brexit world, and provide as much clarity as possible in terms of removing confusion, uncertainty and rumour,” he said.
Staying within the Multiannual Financial Framework timescale, as favoured by the FUW, would allow precisely this according to the FUW.
“Setting out detailed expectations for life post-Brexit would of course be inappropriate at this stage, but we have already outlined key overarching priorities for Welsh agriculture to all the political parties and, as a democratic organisation, we have initiated a process of consultation with members which will be moved forward at an appropriate pace.
“We are also pleased to be involved with the Welsh Government discussions to plan the future, and so we return to the issue of the creation of a Welsh rural powerhouse.
“Whatever concerns we have, the decision made on June 23, coupled with recognition of the importance of agriculture and our rural communities, provides us with an opportunity to create something that is absolutely right for Wales in the near, medium and long term,” said FUW President Glyn Roberts.
HCC take red meat message to health professionals
NURSING and health professionals from Wales have been improving their knowledge about the health benefits of eating red meat and its vital role in a healthy diet.
Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) was present at the recent Nursing in Practice conference, held in Cardiff at the All Nations Centre to improve knowledge and understanding amongst health professionals of the importance of red meat in a health context.
The conference, which is held annually, drew in an audience of 200 nurses and community healthcare workers from across Wales and surrounding areas, all eager to improve their professional knowledge and development.
Conference delegates were pleased to visit the HCC stand to engage with the interactive displays and discuss how the role of red meat in a balanced diet could contribute to patient and client health. Delegates were also challenged to test their red meat knowledge with a survey which showed that 100% of delegates would recommend red meat to patients who are iron deficient or anaemic.
HCC’s Consumer Executive Elwen Roberts commented:
“It was great to see so many nurses and healthcare practitioners genuinely interested in the relationship between red meat and health. Many of the people we spoke to were already aware that Welsh red meat was a great source of protein, but left with a greater understanding of how Welsh red meat plays a pivotal role in a healthy diet and lifestyle.”
“Many delegates were surprised to learn that 100g of standard cottage cheese actually has more fat than 100g of lean grilled pork which goes to show some of the misconceptions around red meat being healthy.”
HCC’s continued work promoting red meat as an important part of a healthy and balanced diet comes after the annual HCC Conference in November which this year had health high on the agenda and featured leading dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton.
Dr Ruxton dispelled many of the myths about red meat, and presented evidence that moderate consumption of lean red meat has no link to cancer, type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol.
She emphasized that: “Lean lamb, beef and pork are rich in protein and important nutrients for health, such as iron, zinc, vitamin D and B vitamins. Many people in society, particularly the elderly, women, girls and young children often lack these nutrients and could benefit from eating more red meat.”
Gove’s Oxford speech sparks debate on farming’s future
DEFRA Secretary Michael Gove used a keynote speech to the Oxford Farming Conference to say that if UK agriculture does not embrace change we will be left behind, and Brexit offers the opportunity to shape that change and how we meet the challenges ahead.
SUBSIDIES CONTINUE TO 2024
Mr Gove guaranteed farmers the same level of subsidy until 2024, but said that CAP was created for a post-war world which is no longer relevant.
He said: “Paying land owners for the amount of agricultural land they have is unjust, inefficient and drives perverse outcomes. Indeed, perversely, it rewards farmers for sticking to methods of production that are resource-inefficient.”
In his paper, Farming for the Next Generation, as well as moving away from subsidies, Mr Gove’s proposals for future agricultural policy are based on incentivising innovation and giving the farmers the tools they need to progress, maintaining the UK’s reputation for quality food and high welfare, and building on natural capital to sustain the countryside for the future. He is also aware of the Government’s responsibility to public health.
Mr Gove told his audience: “I want to ensure we develop a coherent policy on food – integrating the needs of agriculture businesses, other enterprises, consumers, public health and the environment.
“I want to develop a new method of providing financial support for farmers which moves away from subsidies for inefficiency to public money for public goods.
“I want to give farmers and land managers time and the tools to adapt to the future, so we avoid a precipitate cliff edge but also prepare properly for the changes which are coming.
“And I want to ensure that we build natural capital thinking into our approach towards land use and management so we develop a truly sustainable future for our countryside.”
Addressing both the pace of demographic change and the challenges posed by Brexit, Mr Gove said: “We can’t stop change coming, we simply leave ourselves less equipped to deal with the change. There is a tremendous opportunity for productivity in our farms. We have some of the best performing farms in the world and there is no reason why our farmers cannot lead the way in achieving better levels of productivity throughout adoption of best practice and new technologies.”
Touching on the vexed issue of migrant labour’s importance to farming, Mr Gove suggested that seasonal labour would still be easily available and looked to a future where labour-intensive farming was replaced by as yet undefined new technology.
The government now proposes to keep similar payments to the BPS available until 2024. The current EU payments may well end at the end of 2020 to tie in with the EU budget, and Mr Gove suggested that area-based support payments would be phased out over a longer period after that, but “we won’t perpetuate that forever”.
‘PERVERSE’ SUBSIDY SYSTEM BENEFITS THE WEALTHY
Responding to Michael Gove’s speech, Professor Ian Bateman, Director of the Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute (LEEP), at the University of Exeter, said: “Michael Gove’s reaffirmation that the public money supporting farm subsidies should be spent on delivering public goods is to be welcomed; if this is carried through then he will deserve to be congratulated on breaking more than four decades of failure in agricultural policy. But it is disappointing to see that the system of paying most subsidies on a per acre basis is going to carry on for several years.
“At present 75% of public subsidies go to just 25% of farms; the largest farms in the country. This rewards multi-millionaire estate owners while other farmers remain in poverty. I have no problem with large farms getting payments if they produce high levels of public goods; but to get these payments just because they are large is perverse. It’s good to hear that this scheme may be capped, but it needs to end.”
INCENTIVES SHOULD TARGET ANIMAL WELFARE
RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles said: “Paying farmers to achieve high animal welfare standards is a no-brainer. Farm subsidies targeted at animal welfare will be good for new trade deals, good for consumers and good for the animals.
“If post-Brexit farm support schemes include ring-fenced incentives for farmers to improve animal welfare, the government’s laudable ambitions for the UK to produce the highest quality food will be met. This, coupled with Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s newly announced comprehensive food labelling system which includes, amongst other things, indicators on animal welfare standards, would be the icing on the cake.
“As the UK leaves the EU and nationalises the farming support system this presents us with a once-in-a-generation chance to radically transform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) into a British policy for humane animal and sustainable land management.
“If we get it right now, the UK’s food quality can become the world’s gold standard – and that can only happen with the highest possible animal welfare.”
The RSPCA also welcomed Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s commitment to a much more comprehensive food labelling system that measures how a farmer or food producer performs against a number of indicators, including animal welfare.
ENVIRONMENTAL INCENTIVES WELCOMED
Helen Browning, CEO of the Soil Association said: “We warmly welcome the move towards an agricultural policy that prioritises environmental protection and the new emphasis on the vital links between food, farming and public health. The clear timetable provides much-needed certainty for farmers, whilst the commitments on public procurement and better labelling are important for food producers and consumers alike. We now need to see more detail on how farmers will be enabled and encouraged to shift to higher animal welfare systems, move away from synthetic pesticides, restore degraded soils and improve water quality.
“We don’t see these proposals as leading to a reduction in UK food production – but rather about a fundamental shift in how we produce food so that farming systems are truly sustainable. In many areas, we want to see more domestic production to meet demand, especially fruit and vegetables and organic.
“The greatest test of this transition is whether the UK’s food and farming system measures up to the monumental challenges of public health, which was highlighted in the speech, and climate change, which received just two mentions. The Government must also make an ambitious and unambiguous commitment to organic and other agro-ecological approaches which are proven to deliver on animal welfare, biodiversity, soil health and climate change – both during the transition and after 2024.”
CAP BAD FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE
Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner said: “Michael Gove’s speech confirmed the direction of travel for British agricultural policy post-Brexit.
“The move away from area based payments to rewards for delivering environmental and public goods is far from the revolution some have hailed, but it will be significantly accelerated by a departure from the Common Agricultural Policy.”
Mr Bonner continued: “Interestingly, just about the only thing that all sides of the Brexit argument, from the Liberal Democrats to Farming minister and Brexiteer George Eustice, seem to agree on is that CAP has been bad for the countryside, consumers and farmers. Attempts to reform the CAP have been achingly slow as the EU convoy moves only at the speed of the slowest. Brexit creates an opportunity for the UK to create our own farming policy for the first time in more than 40 years and move ahead of the pack.”
However, Tim Bonner sounded a cautionary note: “That is the good news, but there are also valid reasons for concern. There remains an inherent contradiction between agricultural productivity and protecting the environment which has not yet been addressed in detail by the Government and which goes to the heart of the big long-term question: how much will the public be willing to continue to pay for the countryside that farmers maintain?
“Under the CAP the question of farm support has been decided in Brussels and the combined weight of the European farming lobby has had a significant influence. Post Brexit levels of farm support will become a direct domestic political issue for the first time for a generation. The farm support budget will have to compete with the NHS, Defence, Education and all other areas of Government expenditure in future spending rounds. In order to maintain levels of support farmers will have to persuade the public, and through them politicians of all parties, that the public goods they provide continues to justify the money they receive from the taxpayer. This will be the greatest challenge for UK farming outside the EU.”
‘A TRIUMPH OF HOPE OVER PRACTICALITY’
TFA Chief Executive George Dunn said “We are used to having our hopes dashed of hearing a meaty Oxford Farming Conference speech from incumbents as DEFRA Secretaries of State but not this time. Like or loathe what we heard, we received a fairly firm view of future Government policy, the like of which we have not seen since Hillary Benn’s speech in 2010 in which he set out his 20 year plan to boost domestic food production. That plan fell by the wayside when Labour lost the 2010 General Election later that year and we will have to wait to see if the Gove plan survives the political choppy waters of our time.
“Disappointingly, there was a triumph of hope over practicality in the extent to which Mr Gove seems to be relying upon technological change to provide the swift answers we need to address labour shortages and the urgent need to increase farm productivity. Also on the negative side, there was nothing said specifically about the tenanted sector of agriculture, and there also continues to be too much reliance on the market being the means by which we sort out our food safety and food standards issues in a free trading environment.” said Mr Dunn.
“On the plus side there was a clear understanding of the need for a sufficient period of transition to a new policy framework. A commitment for the Government to act as a strong champion of British produce at home and abroad. A pledge to deal with market failure in the food chain and a promise that no one entering into an agri-environment scheme today will be disadvantaged when new schemes are developed for the post Brexit era,” Mr Dunn concluded.
FUW WANTS ‘MEAT ON BONES’
The Farmers’ Union of Wales described the as welcome, but says Welsh farmers remain in the dark over many important issues.
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “We very much welcome Mr Gove’s apparent commitment to agricultural funding until 2024, and the general thrust of his speech, which described a prosperous and forward looking post-Brexit industry which is rewarded for delivering the very best in terms of food, the environment and social contributions to society.
“However, the nuts and bolts of turning such a vision into reality are where the obstacles will lie, and we look forward to seeing more meat on the bones in the long-awaited DEFRA white paper, due in the spring.”
Mr Roberts said many Welsh farmers would also be concerned that nothing was said about progress on talks between devolved regions on how devolved powers and funding might operate once we leave the legal framework of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
“Wales currently has devolved powers over agricultural and rural development spending and policy, but this is within the limits laid down in the CAP framework.
“The FUW fully supports such devolved powers continuing. But, we now need to ensure that devolved powers are fully respected by all 4 nations and that we don’t see the creation of support mechanisms that benefit one nation over another. Therefore we need to develop a UK framework which ensures equivalence between producers in the four nations, which respects devolved powers and allows a degree of flexibility.”
While acknowledging that this was a difficult balance to strike, especially given political differences between devolved regions, Mr Roberts said progress was necessary.
“We currently have such a system, so it is not difficult to see how a framework could be developed which strikes a sensible balance between respecting devolved powers and avoiding the dangers of a free-for-all.”
Mr Roberts said reaching sensible agreement on spending frameworks should be a priority, in order to avoid inappropriate and unfair divergence between spending areas in devolved nations.
He also emphasised the need for Mr Gove’s vision for the future of UK agriculture to be underpinned by an acceptable post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.
“I therefore welcome his fellow speaker’s, Professor De Castro’s, confirmation of the EU’s desire to ensure tariff-free trade between the UK and EU post-Brexit,” he added.
Mr Roberts also welcomed USA Under-Secretary McKinney’s comments regarding the desire to increase agricultural trade between the UK and US, but warned that care needed to be taken to ensure any new arrangements did not compromise existing markets.
“Standards in the US are very different to those in established UK and EU markets, and we need to ensure new arrangements do not compromise or undermine established markets.”
Producers face milk price cut
NFU-CYMRU says many dairy producers in Wales are facing a milk price cut and these cuts will impact on those farmers paid on a basket pricing mechanism, in particular.
While NFU Cymru recognises that this may not be the case for all processors, with a number of dairy companies choosing to hold their prices for January, news of price cuts will be of concern to dairy farmers across Wales.
Gareth Richards, Chairman of NFU Cymru’s Milk Board, said: “What is extremely concerning and irresponsible at the moment is the unsubstantiated sentiment from various industry commentators, who have been talking the market – if we are not careful – into a new market crash. Welsh dairy farmers have been through huge swings in dairy price volatility and we now, it seems, have commentators urging milk buyers to drop prices.
“NFU Cymru is continuing to call for better dairy market signals as milk price cuts, as recognised by the commentators themselves, don’t work, partly because the impact is too late and too slow in achieving its ultimate aim. We are therefore repeating our call on government, both at a UK and Welsh level, to ensure that market data is collected, audited and published to give dairy farmers the right signals as to what’s happening in the market – both on price discovery and demand. This is already done in other parts of the world, and should be the starting point for dairy risk management mechanisms in Wales and the UK.
“It’s telling that on milk volume notifications Defra and AHDB Dairy are in disagreement on recent milk production with Defra’s monthly volumes well below the daily delivery figures collected by AHDB. The discrepancy has meant that Defra have not published recent UK milk volume figures and the data for August and September is being investigated and subject to change.
“Up to date, accurate figures on price volume and demand are essential moving forward. Farmers having to base their future milk production plans on inaccurate or incomplete data or industry commentators, as there is no alternative, is extremely concerning and damaging to the industry and we urge government to step up to ensure better transparency in the dairy markets.”
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