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Brexit – a new dawn for Welsh agriculture?

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Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 09.44.56THE WEATHER was perfect for the Royal Welsh Show – golden Mid Wales sunshine tempered with a welcome mist of drizzle on the final day, to dampen the Llanelwedd dust. 

Strong entries in the livestock classes, the wheat futures market firming up, and, due to the combination of a lower sterling rate and the recent end of Ramadan, fat lamb prices stronger than they have been in recent years. No wonder, then, that Brexiteer AMs such as Welsh Conservative Leader, Andrew RT Davies, and UKIP supremo Neil Hamilton were bestriding the Showground, talking of unparalleled opportunities, with Welsh farmers unshackled from the unloved clutches of Brussels bureaucracy. I dare say that a few pints of Fosters were downed at the Young People’s Village, to celebrate the opportunities of reconnecting with our Commonwealth cousins.

However, such optimism, especially amongst those who campaigned with zeal for Brexit, did not reflect the wider mood that I encountered, talking with Farming Unions and ordinary farmers and growers from all parts of Wales. Rather, I found a genuine apprehension out there about what the Brexit vote means for the future of farming, so central to the prospects for our wider rural economy. Surprisingly, it was the contribution of two, until recently obscure, MPs that crystallised their concerns.

In the last Welsh Questions before the House of Commons Recess, Ian Lucas, Labour MP for Wrexham, hailed the Brexit vote as an opportunity to reassess the public support for agriculture, especially at a time of fiscal stringency. Also, with a hint of dog whistle politics, Mr Lucas referred to ‘prosperous farmers’ who could surely cope without public subvention. While Mr Lucas was doubtless appealing to his own immediate core voters in thus caricaturing farmers, the wider farming community cannot afford to ignore his contribution. Indeed, given the Brexit vote, which it seems that many Welsh farmers supported despite the warnings of the Welsh Farming Unions and agricultural economists, it is inevitable that the debate on farm support, and the payment structure for environmental goods and services provided by farmers, will intensify.

Perhaps of greater significance to farmers in Wales were the recent comments of the Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, a veritable lioness of Brexit, whose rise to DEFRA Secretary after her abortive bid for the Conservative leadership has been meteoric. During the Referendum campaign, Mrs Leadsom commented: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies. That would make a lot more sense for the UK and it’s perfectly possible but only if we leave the EU and sort it out for ourselves.” Alongside her call for the repeal of the Hunting Act and her crusading support for fracking, these remarks certainly single out Mrs Leadsom as a ‘red meat eater’ – but have served to send shivers down the spines of farmers and environmentalists alike. As early as 2007, Leadsom argued that ‘subsidies must be abolished’ in an article on how to rejuvenate British farming, so at least in this respect, there is some depth to her views, if not her analysis.

In the economic conditions that now confront us as a country contemplating the reality of Brexit, pressure on the public purse will be more acute than ever before. Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, Mark Williams MP, and I launched the ‘Not a Penny Less’ campaign on farm support at the Royal Welsh – and are already tapping into a rich vein of support. This was boosted by a visit from Federal Liberal Democrat Leader, Tim Farron MP, on the final day of the Show. It is now more important than ever for all farmers to engage in the public debate, so that there is a better understanding of the vital contribution that they make as custodians of the land, both in terms of maintaining biodiversity, but also to the whole tourist sector, such a critical part of the wider rural economy.

However, more important than anything for Welsh farming is securing long -term access to the European Single Market for our quality farm exports – and making that an essential element in the permanent post -Referendum settlement. A Seminar on Welsh Upland Farming hosted at the Show by Aberystwyth University reminded us of the consequences of the withdrawal of public subsidy for farming in New Zealand. It is not the butterflies that have suffered, but rather animal welfare standards, as well as formerly thriving villages and market towns turned to ghost towns. Whilst the positives of a vibrant New Zealand agricultural sector are often cited, the consequences of such huge scale ranch farming would destroy our pattern of community life in Wales, with the Welsh speaking upland areas suffering worst of all.

The farmers with whom I spoke at Llanelwedd agree with the stance of both FUW and NFU Cymru. We urgently need fresh leadership from Welsh Government ahead of any triggering of Article 50 to leave the European Union. Central to that is the reassertion of the vital role for tariff free access to the European Single Market. The industry needs also to engage with the environmental sector – and the wider public – to stress the critical importance of food security, as well as the public benefits in terms of biodiversity and flood risk management that flow from maintaining human scale family farms. Only proportionate farm support systems from the public purse will safeguard this for the future.

Another reason for genuine leadership on these issues from Welsh Government, from the First Minister down, is the danger of agricultural policy being repatriated from Brussels only for vital powers to be retained at Westminster. This concern has been raised by voices as diverse as Penri James of Bangor University, constitutional expert Sir Paul Silk and well known Radnorshire farmer and commentator, David Hardwick. Despite disquiet about Welsh Government agricultural policy over recent years, in terms of RDP/ modulation and the challenges of bovine TB eradication, it would be a strange definition of progress for EU Agricultural Commissioner Phil Hogan to be replaced by Mrs Leadsom. But then, the best outcome for the future of Welsh Agriculture looks rather like Norwegian style EFTA membership, with tariff free trade, free movement of people and a full contribution to the EU budget, just no influence on the rules. Those in Wales who have delivered Brexit for our rural communities really must be careful what they wish for.

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Time given to develop Parc Natur Penglais

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New steps: At Parc Natur Penglais

VOLUNTEERS, including students, have given around 500 hours of their time to develop Parc Natur Penglais.

Along with support from Ceredigion County Council, the Group have built around 100 steps in 5 different places which has made the park a great place to walk, play and enjoy around a number of safe paths.

Councillor Mark Strong said: “Knowing that we have the support of the local community makes such a difference to peoples’ enthusiasm and having the grant from Aberystwyth Town Council, Cambrian News and Tesco made it possible. Volunteers can make a relatively small sum of money go long way.”

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​RSPCA aim for Christmas number one​

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'Stars' by Lucy Ellie​: Help it get to number one

M​USIC fans across Wales can help the RSPCA secure the Christmas number one slot, and provide vital support for animals in need across the country.

The animal welfare charity has thrown its hat into the ring to claim the festive chart accolade – as up-and-coming singer Lucy Ellie covers Simply Red’s hit song ​’​Stars​’​ in aid of the RSPCA.

‘Stars’ is the soundtrack to the charity’s ‘Kindness at Christmas’ video, which has already gone viral with over ​two million views online across a variety of platforms.

The tear-jerking video tells the story of Woody the Christmas toy pup who who is thrown out with the rubbish before being rescued and taken in for care by the RSPCA.

Proceeds from the single are being donated to the RSPCA to help in their work rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming thousands of animals every year.

RSPCA Cymru is again bracing itself for a busy festive period. In December 2016 and January 2017 alone, in Wales, 5,932 incidents were reported to the RSPCA – with 141 of these on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Lucy Ellie Cooper, who works at the charity, said: “This was a lovely opportunity for me to combine my two loves – animals and music.

“Outside of my job at the RSPCA I am a country music singer and songwriter, so when the chance came up to record such a fantastic and well-known song for the charity’s Christmas video, I jumped at it. I really hope people will take Woody’s story into their hearts and support the RSPCA this winter.”

You can help the RSPCA rescue, rehabilitate and re-home animals in desperate need of care, and support the charity’s ‘kindness’ campaign online

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Charity games raise over £2000

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Team Tesco: Raised over £2000 through three football games

NOT all heroes wear capes and Tesco Aberystwyth’s very own Community Champion, Natasha Worrall has proven this raising a staggering £2,096.27 for local and national charities.

Natasha, the brainchild behind the charity football events, came up with the idea first off by challenging Tesco’s neighbours, Marks and Spencer’s, to a football match, she quickly set her powers to work and contacted Aberystwyth Football club who were more than happy to help and allowed use of the pitch.

The Big Day arrived, there was a lot of tension and passion on the pitch that night, it was more than just about winning a match it was the status, the pride and most of all bringing people together to raise money for three great causes; Diabetes UK, British Heart Foundation and Mind. Hundreds of supporters braved the cold October evening to support the players and Tesco stole the show with a 7-1 victory and an amazing £607 was raised.

Natasha now had a taste of success under her cape and wanted to really get this event of the ground and challenged supermarket rivals, Morrisons to a match! The response for Tesco vs Morrisons was just what Natasha wanted and a November date was set.

Tesco now had experience in their boots and both teams had everything to play for. Victory once again went to Tesco who pipped Morrisons at the post and clawed back to a 5-4 victory raising a further £648.15 for Diabetes UK, British Heart Foundation and Clic Sargent.

In true football fashion Natasha wanted a hat trick but could Team Tesco achieve this? Last Sunday (Dec 3) seemed the perfect opportunity and the opponents who were up for the challenge came from Bronglais Hospital and their chosen charity Pila Pala, Llwyn yr Eos. What a match! And what great team to take victory, Hywel Dda 2 – Tesco – 0. A rematch could certainly be on the cards especially as they raised the biggest amount ever of £841.12.

Behind every success there is always great team and working with Natasha and the players a number of local heroes who helped, Ruth’s kitchen provided heroic meals for all the players for a £1 donation, Aberystwyth women’s Team loaned their footballs, the Referees, linesmen, stewards, security, first aiders and ball boys and girls who all donated their time free of charge.

Team Tesco are looking for more opponents to play and raise even more money for local charities, if you are interested please call into Tesco store and see Natasha.

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