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Farming

Hard Brexit threat to west Wales’ farmers

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John Davies, NFU Cymru: Priority must be tariff-free trade with EU27

BREXIT threatens major upheaval for Welsh agriculture, with small upland farms particularly threatened.

A report from the Public Policy Institute for Wales (PPIW) suggests that there is a massive risk to west and north Wales.

LIVESTOCK FARMING THREATENED

Its analysis suggests that the most likely changes in trading conditions would tend to disadvantage the competitive position of Welsh agriculture in its main current markets and trading competitors (particularly in sheep and beef).

The report also anticipates generally reduced levels and scope of public funding by comparison with those the sector has enjoyed in recent years.

However, within these challenging probable change scenarios, there are opportunities if farm businesses are enabled to respond adaptively.

Some farms and sectors face much greater challenges than others, which implies uneven structural change across significant areas:

  • a decline in the economic viability of sheep production is likely, with these farm businesses especially vulnerable to changes in both market access arrangements and public funding support – this could increase pressure on rural services;
  • accordingly, north and west Wales are likely to face stronger negative impacts than the south and east, where more potentially positive and diverse impacts can be expected among dairy, horticultural, mixed and other farm types.

MARKET RESPONSE UNCERTAIN

How key food and forestry processors and retailers respond to the Brexit process, and their willingness to invest in Wales and Welsh products, will be an important factor. Their patterns of operation may change in response to shifting economic and market conditions.

Managing the challenges faced is key, to prevent undesirable impacts on natural capital, landscape quality and community identity.

Three policy directions are recommended:

  • Fostering resilience in farm and other land management businesses; supporting successful adaptation, enhanced efficiency, diversification, adding value and intergenerational transfer, as well as some moves from farming into other sectors;
  • Investing in longer-term partnerships between government, food retailers, rural service providers, and commercial lenders to promote stronger business networks and SME infrastructure across Wales;
  • Designing a future funding framework to support natural resource management and rural vitality in Wales.

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

Report author Prof Janet Dwyer, from the University of Gloucester, argued that while farming only employs a relatively small proportion of people directly, its success has a ripple effect across rural communities.

“People need to be more willing to think outside the box, to think about working together, think about understanding the way in which one person‘s business affects what other people do because farming affects the landscape, which affects tourism, which is an important sector in Wales, so a lot of these things are connected,” she said.

The CCRI Director and Professor of Rural Policy makes a number of recommendations to overcome these potential challenges. These include investing in better business planning and adjustment; careful succession planning for farms and small rural businesses; and policies to strengthen health and social services for those in the most remote areas.

“Conducting the work made me more aware of the importance of thinking ahead and planning for continued uncertainty, whatever the eventual political and economic outcomes of Brexit” said Professor Dwyer.

REPORT WELCOMED

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said it welcomed the report, saying it highlighted the possible impact of Brexit not just on trade and markets but on people‘s lives.

“However, Brexit also presents the opportunity to put in place new Welsh policy frameworks to help them adjust and thrive,” she said.

“We recognise that many of these changes will impact businesses in different ways and agree the best approach will be on an individual business level.”

She said they have already begun work to develop “sector readiness” programmes to support businesses to prepare for the change.

“We continue to press the UK government on the need for a multi-year transition period to enable all businesses to prepare and for clarity on the level of funding that Wales will receive after Brexit.”

Responding to the report’s findings, Paul Davies AM, Welsh Conservative Shadow Secretary for Rural Affairs, said: “We note with interest the recommendations of the report.

“Following our departure from the EU, more powers over agriculture will be transferred to the Assembly. “The Welsh Government now needs to focus on ensuring that they listen to rural communities and that they actually devolve power to people living in the countryside.”

Mr Davies view of ‘more powers’ being transferred to Wales does not appear to reflect the views of many Conservative Brexit enthusiasts within the UK Parliament, including David TC Davies, who chairs the Welsh Affairs Select Committee and David Jones, the former Secretary of State for Wales, whose appearance in Cardiff this week as a member of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee was noticeable for his equivocal approach to the transfer of powers in areas of existing competence back to the Assembly after Brexit.

HARD BREXIT’S SEVERE IMPACT

The report’s publication coincided with the release of the Welsh Government’s own Brexit trade paper, supported by an economic impact analysis from Cardiff Business School, argues the Welsh economy is best protected by retaining full access to the European Single Market and membership of a customs union.

The paper sets out the severe impact a hard Brexit would have on Welsh jobs and the economy. If the UK were to move to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, the Welsh economy could shrink by 8% – 10%, which would be the equivalent of between £1,500 and £2,000 per person in Wales.

The trade paper calls on the UK government to provide evidence of how new trade deals would replace the benefits of access to the EU. The Welsh Government also wants decisions on new trading relationships with the EU and the wider world to be taken in partnership with devolved administrations to fully reflect the interests of all parts of the UK.

Launching the document, the First Minister said: “Welsh exports are worth £14.6bn each year, with 61% of Welsh exports and just under half of our imports going to and from the EU. Wales is currently attracting record levels of inward investment, which is largely due to our access to the EU’s 500m customers.

“As our trade paper highlights, moving to WTO rules and the imposition of tariffs could have a catastrophic impact on our lamb sector and on the Welsh shellfish industry, which currently exports around 90% of their produce to the EU.

“These hard facts underline what is at stake if the UK government fails to get the right deal for the UK or we crash out of the EU without one. Leaving the Single Market and the Customs Unions would be hugely damaging for Welsh businesses and jobs, with our agricultural, food producers and automotive sectors being particularly hard hit.

“I urge the UK government to give serious consideration to our proposals and work with us to develop a post-Brexit trade policy which protects Welsh jobs and the economy.”

NFU WELCOMES WG PAPER

Commenting on the document, NFU Cymru President Mr John Davies said: “As the paper rightly acknowledges, the decisions that will be taken about the UK’s future trading relationships with the EU27 and the rest of the world will be significant factors shaping our future prosperity. In my view, nowhere is this more true than in relation to agriculture, with around a third of our lamb crop and around three quarters of Welsh food and drink exports destined for the European market.

“Trade has consistently emerged as a top priority for our members during the Brexit negotiations. As far as I am concerned our future trading relationship must be one which gives us the full and unfettered access to the Single Market that we need, and I welcome the fact that the Welsh Government has made this call once again in today’s policy paper.

“The imposition of tariffs, under a no-deal scenario would impact lamb exports in particular, and under WTO rates chilled lamb carcasses would attract effective tariff rates as high as 46%, effectively shutting us out of European markets.

“Whilst there has been much talk of tariff barriers and the detrimental impact that they can have on trade, I was pleased to see the policy document making extensive references to the negative impact that non-tariff barriers can have on trade, particularly in relation to exports of food. When it comes to food and agricultural produce in particular, non-tariff barriers such as inspections at border posts in order to demonstrate compliance with technical regulations and standards, rule of origin, hygiene, veterinary and phytosanitary controls are all factors which increase costs and hinder trade.

“The paper also rightly acknowledges the damaging impact that the lack of clarity on future trade arrangements with the EU is having for business and nowhere is this truer than in agriculture where production cycles can often span a number of years. That is why we cannot wait much longer for an outline of what our future trading relationship with the EU27 is going to look like, if our members are to start planning for the future.”

Mr Davies concluded: “Although Brexit may well eventually give the UK the freedom to strike its own trade agreements with third countries other than the EU27, speaking as a Welsh farmer, the immediate priority for the UK Government has to be on securing a trade agreement with the EU27 that is free from tariff and non-tariff barriers, and encompasses all sectors including agriculture.”

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Farming

Farming faces zero carbon challenge

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AN AMBITIOUS new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 will lead to significant changes in farming practices over the coming decades, according to a leading agri-environment specialist.

Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, was responding to the publication of ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’ published by the UK Government Committee on Climate Change.

Professor Donnison is an expert on agriculture and land use, which feature in the report in terms of targets for one-fifth of agricultural land to be used for forestry, bioenergy crops and peatland restoration.

According to Professor Donnison, such a reduction is very ambitious but achievable in Wales and the wider UK. “Land use can positively contribute towards achieving the net zero targets, but there are challenges in relation to emissions from agriculture especially associated with red meat and dairy,” said Professor Donnison.

“In IBERS we are already working on how to make livestock agriculture less carbon intensive and developing new diversification options for the farming of carbon. For example, net zero targets could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

Professor Donnison added: “The report gives a clear message regarding the importance of the task and the role that the UK can play to compensate for past emissions and to help play a leadership role in creating a greener future.

“The report says it seeks to be based on current technologies that can be deployed and achievable targets. One-fifth of agricultural land is a very ambitious target but I believe that through the approaches proposed it is achievable (e.g. for bioenergy crops it fits in with published targets for the UK). This is based on the knowledge and technologies we have now regarding how to do this, and because right now in the UK we are developing a new agricultural policy that looks beyond the common agriculture policy (CAP). For example, the 25-year Environment plan published by Defra envisages payment for public goods which could provide a policy mechanism to help ensure that the appropriate approaches are implemented in the appropriate places.

“The scale of the change, however, should not be underestimated, although agriculture is a sector that has previously successfully responded to challenges such as for increased food production. The additional challenge will be to ensure that we deliver all the benefits we wish to see from land: food, carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) management and wider environmental benefits, whilst managing the challenge of the impacts of climate change.

“The link is made between healthy diets with less red meat consumption and future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. This reflects that agriculture will likely go through significant change over the coming decades as a result of changes in consumer diets.

“Net Zero targets, however, could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

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Farming

HSE fees up 20%

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A FEE imposed on farm businesses found to be in breach of health and safety legislation has gone up nearly 20% to £154/hr.

Since October 2012 the Health and Safety Executive has operated a cost recovery regime, which means that businesses are charged for the costs of an investigation from the point a material breach has been identified through to the point when a decision is made on enforcement action.

If you are found to be in material breach of health and safety law, you will have to pay for the time it takes the HSE to identify the breach and help you put things right. This includes investigating and taking enforcement action. This charging scheme is known as a Fee for Intervention (FFI).

Robert Gazely, farm consultant and health and safety specialist for Strutt & Parker said: “A material breach is something which an inspector considers serious enough that they need to formally write to the business requiring action to be taken. Once an inspector gives a farmer this written notification of contravention (NoC), the farmer will be expected to pay a fee. 

“From 6 April 2019, the hourly charge has been increased from £129 to £154. The final bill will be based on the total amount of time it takes the HSE inspector to identify the breach and their work to help put things right.

“Of course, the primary reason for farms to be proactive in their approach to health and safety should be to protect themselves, their families and any employees.

“The number of people who are killed and injured each year on farms remains stubbornly high and the human cost of these incidents can be incalculable to those affected.

“But taking a safety-first approach should also help farm businesses to avoid a financial hit, as the HSE fees can mount up in the event of an investigation.”

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Farming

Big Farmland Bird Count returns

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JIM EGAN has sent out a rallying cry for people to pick up their binoculars and go bird-spotting for the Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC) which returns on Friday, February 8.

The passionate organiser of the count, organised by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), is urging farmers, land managers, gamekeepers and all wildlife enthusiasts to spend 30 minutes recording what species they see on their patch of land from February 8th to the 17th.

Your support will help identify the farmland birds that are flourishing due to good conservation methods and ones in need of most support.

“It would be fantastic to see even more farmers to take part in the count this year,” said Jim.

“Counting birds on farms is a great way to recognise what species are there as well as being an opportunity to take time out and see the benefits of work such as wild seed mix and supplementary feeding.

“Taking part and submitting results enables us at GWCT to shout about the important conservation work many farmers are doing.

“We want landowners to be proud of their efforts. We will make sure that the public and policymakers hear about what can be achieved on Britain’s farms. The BFBC is a very positive way to showcase what can be achieved.”

Backing this vital citizen-science project, running for the sixth successive year, is the NFU, which is this year’s sponsor.

President Minette Batters is vowing her support to the count by going bird-watching on her farm in Downton, Wiltshire.

She will be joined on day one with GWCT biodiversity advisor Pete Thompson, an advocate of the count, both of whom will be ready with their binoculars, notepads and sharpened pencils, recording what they see.

“I am delighted to be taking part in this year’s GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count which the NFU is pleased to be sponsoring for the very first time,” she said.

“It’s becoming an important national event where thousands of farmers and growers around the country are able to take stock of and importantly, take pride in what they find on their land.

“The NFU supports initiatives like the Big Farmland Bird Count as without sound management of the environment, enhancement of habitats, protection of wildlife and support for pollinators and soils, we do not have farming businesses.

“So, I would encourage all farmers to take part, and also remember to submit your records to the GWCT, so we can pull together a vital national snapshot of the state of the nation when it comes to farmland birds.”

A record-breaking 1,000 people took part in last year’s count, recording 121 species across 950,000 acres.

A total of 25 red-listed species were recorded, with five appearing in the 25 most commonly seen species list. These include fieldfares, starlings, house sparrows, song thrushes and yellowhammers. The most plentiful of these were fieldfares and starlings, which were seen on nearly 40% of the farms taking part.

At the end of the count, the results will be analysed by the Trust. All participants will receive a report on the national results once they have been collated.

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