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.