THE LATEST data on farm incomes, updated by Defra last week, shows overall farm incomes fell for the third consecutive year in 2015/16.
The strengthening pound (ahead of the Brexit vote) and falling prices compounded losses for some sectors.
However, within this there were some success stories. The figures – which give figures for the year to March 2016 – show that while cereal production, horticulture and general cropping performed better than expected, all other farm types performed poorly. Incomes from general cropping rose by over 20% on the year, to £62,900 and horticulture incomes rose by 11% to £35,100; cereal growers fared worse, with incomes falling to £35,600 (though this figure was better than expected).
All livestock sectors fared worse than expected, but pig producers took the biggest hit, with incomes more than halved, down to £22,000 due to increased input costs and oversupply. Dairy incomes were almost halved, too, down to £42,300, though some costs were also reduced, including purchased feed and forage.
Commenting on the figures, NFU President Meurig Raymond said they highlight the importance of the NFU’s lobbying ambitions in light of the Brexit vote.
The union president said: “The NFU is continuing to work with government to ensure they provide the right support for our members – from pushing for burdensome regulation to be removed that remains a major block to growing competitiveness for most farm businesses and policy decisions based on sound science.”
Discussing the prospects for environmental regulation post-Brexit at a meeting of the House of Lords’ Environment Sub-Committee on Friday (Oct 28), witnesses from conservation organisations noted that the UK Government’s own research aimed at identifying ‘red-tape’ (useless and constraining regulations) or ‘gold-plated’ regulation that went above the EU’s minimum standards had been hard pressed to identify any whatsoever. Lords who served on these red tape committees when the Coalition government came to power agreed with the witnesses and admitted that they had difficulty finding any such legislation.
Both groups’ observations rather invite the comment, ‘Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?’ and, in the case of conservation groups such as the RSPB and National Trust ignores their efforts to derail (successfully) those EU regulations which they felt were not in their own interests.
Nevertheless, on Friday, Mr Raymond continued: “These latest farm business income figures underline the need to ensure that British agriculture is dealt with fairly when Government starts its negotiations for a post-Brexit Britain. The most immediate issues confronting the farming sector are trade and access to labour – these must be at the heart of any discussions for the country’s future farm policy so that our industry is able to achieve its true potential.”
Commenting on some of the Union’s work to improve conditions for farmers in their supply chain, Mr Raymond added: “In recent weeks, we have focused on urging dairy processors to be open and honest in a bid to build better, fairer supply chain relationships and to ensure contracts that are fit for purpose. We regularly meet with retailers with recent successes on those signing our Fruit and Veg Pledge that will provide security for suppliers, fair terms and price certainty. We meet with banking leaders to ask for their continued support for the industry in these challenging times.”
FUW criticise Assembly Committee
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.”
Lynx trial decision near
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.
Brexit trade agreement attacked by US
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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