CONTINUED access to a single market, an integrated rural training and education policy and the risks of reduced financial support for farmers are just some of the critical issues facing Welsh farm businesses.
These are some of the key findings set out in a new report which a group of more than 20 women supported through Farming Connect’s Agrisgôp management development programme, recently presented to Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment and Rural Affairs at a meeting in Cardiff Bay.
A group women working in agriculture in Wales who were supported through Farming Connect’s Agrisgôp management development programme, recently presented their new report, ‘A view on Brexit’ to Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment and Rural Affairs at a meeting in Cardiff Bay.
“As we prepare for a future outside the EU it is vital we hear the views from as many people as possible to ensure Wales’ future agriculture policies benefit everyone within the industry, not just a select few.
“Women are under-represented in senior positions within agriculture and their voice often goes unnoticed. We must do more to raise the profile of women by improving their skills, confidence and ensuring the relevant support systems are in place. This is how we can best achieve our shared vision of a prosperous, resilient agriculture industry promoting Wales’ present and future well-being,” the Cabinet Secretary said.
Working within three regional groups, these dynamic, focused women have over the past year collaborated to produce their report which will now contribute to the conversation which the Welsh Government is already having with other key stakeholders and which will directly influence the development of an Agricultural Policy for Wales post-Brexit.
With each group facilitated by trained Agrisgôp leaders, who work with like-minded individuals to develop ideas and business propositions through action learning, many of the women first got together at one of Farming Connect’s annual ‘women in agriculture’ forums last year, when the Cabinet Secretary invited delegates to set up their own regional forums and to provide their perspective on key issues facing the industry today.
Agrisgôp leader, trained coach and mediator and farmer Alice Lampard, who leads a group which has met regularly in South West Wales since the beginning of this year, emphasised the importance of empowering and encouraging women to ensure their voices and opinions are heard and valued at this important time.
“Women are recognised as having a hugely influential role in many farm businesses. Largely unsung heroes who are expected to manage farm and work commitments alongside family duties, there has never been a more important time for us to get together and speak out.
“Wales now has an opportunity to lead the way in policy development and thinking in terms of the new British Agricultural Policy and resulting Welsh policy which will sit alongside.
“This new report identifies the considerable challenges which inevitably lie ahead while also setting out recommendations on what the industry can do to capitalise on the opportunities which, we hope, are also within reach,” said Ms. Lampard.
The topics of discussion given most attention were summarised in seven specific headings namely trade; education; financial support; animal health and welfare, cross cutting themes including planning policy, broadband and rural support services; marketing and legislation.
Agrisgôp leader and financial expert Sally Herdman led the South East women’s group.
“The rural economy is particularly fragile with a high dependency on public sector jobs. A hard Brexit that leads to a suppressed rural economy, coupled with further austerity measures puts female workers in a vulnerable position.
“Closer working relationships and improved communications between the industry and Welsh Government will be the catalyst to ensuring that Wales is represented at the UK Government’s negotiating table, and I’m delighted that Agrisgôp has been able to support these groups and ensure that the female perspective is taken into account,” said Ms.Herdman.
Ceredigion AM Elin Jones said:
“I was pleased to meet with the women from across Wales to discuss the impact of Brexit on agriculture and rural Wales. As a Rural Affairs Minister for four years I found the vast majority of farming representatives were male, so to have so many women involved in a meeting like this was excellent and a breath of fresh air.
“The decision to leave the European Union won’t just affect men it will be all of us in rural Wales.”
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Mid and West AM Simon Thomas added:
“We had a good discussion on the implications of the leaving the European Union and what it might mean for our food we put on the table, its impact on farmers, the environment and our rural areas. It was useful to have an input from voices traditionally not heard when it comes to agriculture. We talked about the importance of access to the European single market for our producers, the potential cost of food and whether Westminster will start to listen to Wales when it comes to agriculture and the environment. I look forward to working with the forum in the future.”
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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