THE BODY charged with keeping global trade in plants and plant products safe has adopted several new phytosanitary standards aimed at preventing destructive agricultural and environmental pests from jumping borders and spreading internationally.
The standardized norms developed by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) cover a range of strategies and techniques used to prevent the introduction and spread of plant diseases and pests to new environments, thereby avoiding their often-devastating impacts on biodiversity, food security and trade.
“This is challenging work with high stakes: each year an estimated 10-16 percent of our global harvest is lost to plant pests. A loss estimated at $220 billion,” FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo said at the opening of this year’s IPPC annual meeting in Rome.
Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year, with food accounting for over 80 percent of that total, according to FAO data.
New measures adopted this week by the IPPC’s governing body, the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures(CPM), include:
Standard on the use of various temperature treatments against agricultural pests. The standard aims at ensuring that such treatments are consistently and effectively used in different operational contexts.
The norm covers cold treatment techniques that freeze and kill pests as well as those that raise temperatures past their survival threshold. This can be achieved by submerging them in extremely hot water or exposing them to super-heated steam (for commodities vulnerable to drying out, such as fruits, vegetables or flower bulbs) or dry heat (ideal for low moisture-content items such as seeds or grain).
Revised standard for sanitation of wood packing materials. An existing standard, known as ISPM-15, was updated to include the use of sulphuryl fluoride — a gas insecticide — and new-generation heating technologies that employ microwave and radio frequency waves to generate pest-killing temperatures deep inside wood products.
An expanded standard on the use of heat vapour to kill Oriental Fruit Flies. The highly destructive, fruit-attacking Bactrocera dorsalis originated in Asia but has now spread to at least 65 countries. Its presence in Africa, where it first appeared in 2003, costs the continent an estimated $2 billion in annual losses due to fruit export bans. The control technique outlined under the new measure kills 99.98% of the bug’s eggs and larvae when used correctly.
The IPPC Commission also approved revisions that streamline existing standards targeting fruit flies to make it easier for countries to comply with them and improve their effectiveness, as well as revisions to a standard that establishes best-practice benchmarks for the operation of national pest surveillance programs.
And it endorsed new diagnostic protocols for sudden oak death, a fungi-like organism of unknown origin that attacks a wide range of trees and shrubs in nurseries, introduced into western North America and western Europe through the ornamental plants trade. And it approved new diagnostic protocol for tospoviruses, which affect 1,000 plant species and are causing devastating losses, especially to tomato, potato and squash and cucumber yields.
BENEFITS AND RISKS OF GLOBAL TRADE
The dangerous hitchhikers carried by global trade — plant pests and diseases — once introduced into new environments can quickly take root and spread, impacting food production and causing billions in economic damages and control cost. One recent study in East Africa, for instance, found that just five invasive alien species could be causing as much as $1.1 billion in economic losses annually to smallholder farmers in the region.
Not only can fruits, crops and seeds become infected, but the containers and boxes they travel in, as well. Packaging for overseas shipments is commonly constructed from wood, which is relatively inexpensive, and easily manufactured — but also easily infested with a variety of bark and wood pests, and so act as a vector. Timber and wood-made products like furniture can harbour stowaways, also.
This means that not only are food crops at risk, but forests and trees as well. Recent studies shared during this week’s meeting have shown that the loss of tree cover due to invasive pests may result in an increase in stress related-diseases and possibly elevated human mortality rates.
In another example, the Republic of Korea was recently forced to cut down some 3.5 million trees as a result of the pinewood nematode, and over the past three decades has spent nearly a half a billion dollars on control programs to fight this deadly pest. Additional sums have been spent in Canada and the United States in attempts to stop the thus far unstoppable Emerald Ash Borer.
The need to contain threats such as these are why the IPPC was established in 1952. Since then, it has promulgated some 100 standards covering a broad range of phytosanitary issues. It also runs a number of programs that work to share information on best-practices and build the capacity of developing countries to manage plant diseases and pests, both at home and in trade flows.
A vision for Welsh upland farming
The NFU Cymru Vision for Welsh Upland Farming report, which was underpinned by a survey of over 750 farmers, was launched at the Vision for Welsh Upland Farming virtual conference on Tuesday, November 24.
The document reveals that 96% of farmers surveyed believed their role as food producers was very important or fairly important, with 95% saying that food production and sales were very important or fairly important to the viability of their business.
The biggest worry for Welsh upland farmers to surface from the research was farm business profitability, with 85% of those questioned stating this was a ‘significant threat’ to the sector. The vast majority of those questioned (92%) said it was vital that future Welsh farming policy included measures that ensured farmers could make a reasonable living.
With the Brexit transition period coming to an end, 84% of farmers surveyed said that future trade deals were a significant threat to upland farming, while 80% stated that future policy was a significant threat.
NFU Cymru said the findings of this research work provide ‘another compelling argument’ as to why future Welsh agricultural policy should include a stability measure to help ensure the safe supply of food and as an economic foundation in rural communities, alongside the other multiple benefits provided by Welsh farming, amid changing trade and climate conditions.
The new NFU Cymru study also shined a light on Welsh upland farmers’ attitudes towards the environment.
The survey data further emphasises farmers’ role as drivers of the rural economy. 30% of farmers surveyed said their business supports or buys from 21 to 50 different businesses, with a further 10% stating that their business trades with or buys from more than 51 other businesses.
The important contribution of Welsh upland farming to rural communities and Welsh culture was also revealed.
Diversification remains an important income stream for many Welsh farms; 43% of farmers responding to the survey stated that they had a non-farming element to their business. The most popular diversification enterprises were renewable energy (43%) and accommodation (42%).
Discussing the importance of NFU Cymru Vision for Welsh Upland Farming project, NFU Cymru LFA Board Chair Kath Whitrow said: “In recent years, despite their extent and significance, we have seen upland farming policy de-emphasised. As our relationship with the EU changes, the economic rationale for upland livestock production is threatened. Global environmental challenges, such as climate change and biodiversity decline, are viewed by some as drivers for land-use change without any consideration of the wider impacts.
“At this pivotal time for Welsh farming as we transition out of the CAP and into a new ‘made in Wales’ agricultural policy, the NFU Cymru LFA Board wants to ensure that the voice of Welsh upland farming is clearly heard in this debate. This is a message that has resonated strongly with Welsh upland farmers and, despite the limitations placed on us as a result of Covid-19, the voice of farmers across Wales has been clearly heard with our survey attracting a fantastic number of responses.”
NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “The Vision for Welsh Upland Farming report launched at today’s conference is one of the most comprehensive pieces of research work undertaken by NFU Cymru. Its findings are of strategic importance not just to the people living and working in the Welsh uplands, but to the whole of Wales.
“This research provides another compelling argument that future Welsh agricultural policy should include a stability measure to support farmers by protecting them against the increased volatility that affects businesses, trade and production. Such backing would ensure our farmers can continue providing safe, affordable food, as well as boosting the economy, enhancing the environment, caring for our cherished landscapes communities and being champions of Welsh language, culture and rural communities.
“I urge our policymakers in Cardiff Bay to carefully consider the report’s key recommendations and work with us to ensure that the people and communities of the Welsh uplands can continue to deliver for the whole of Wales.”
Potato production up despite tough year
THE TOTAL harvest of British potatoes this year will be 5.3m tonnes according to provisional estimates – up two point eight per cent (2.8%) on last year’s figure but just below the five-year average of 5.4m tonnes.
This estimate by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) has been released during a time when growers have battled an exceptionally wet harvest period for the second year running.
They have fared better than last year, as on 10 November it was estimated that two per cent of the planted area was yet to be lifted. This compares with 11 per cent of the crop that was estimated to be unlifted on 12 November 2019.
This production figure follows an AHDB estimate that the planted area this year is the third-lowest on record.
Alice Bailey, Senior Analyst at AHDB said: “This overall net yield sits in line with the five-year national average (2015-2019). Anecdotal reports suggest that yields have been somewhat variable from farm to farm, even field to field. Yet overall, crops are within farm expectations so it is not surprising that the national yield is in line with recent years.
“We saw planted area drop by two-point three per cent this year, yet we are estimating a two-point eight per cent rise in production. This is based on both a slight increase in yields year-on-year and the fact that a large area was left unharvested last year. The unlifted area in 2019 was estimated at six per cent, whereas in 2018 less than one per cent was estimated to be left in the ground and we would anticipate similar this year.”
It was also noted that the estimate could be amended in the coming weeks, with 2.1Kha still to harvest in the East of England, and some members of the 450 strong AHDB Grower Panel still to return their survey information.
WINTER MARKETING CAMPAIGN
Meanwhile, Potatoes Strategy Director Rob Clayton announced that AHDB would be launching another promotional campaign in reaction to the market conditions caused by the coronavirus. This follows on from a similar campaign in the summer that reached 5 million shoppers via catch-up TV, social media and display advertising.
“Since the pandemic hit we have increased the amount of data we analyse from supermarkets and other areas of the marketplace. While potato sales at retail are up eight to nine per cent overall – analysis from Kantar Worldpannel shows baking potatoes lagging behind at a rise of three per cent.
“Jacket potatoes are a fantastic healthy and cost-effective option for families, so we will be launching a winter campaign to inspire shoppers to take advantage of all the great things they can do with bakers,” said Doctor Clayton.
Farmers should prepare for IHT changes
There are less than six months before the Spring Statement, and changes to the IHT format – based on recommendations originally outlined by the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) in July 2019 – are likely. “The recommendations were primarily geared towards streamlining IHT administration but may have the secondary effect of reducing some of the favourable reliefs available to farmers,” explains Catherine Vickery, associate director at Old Mill.
“Current IHT legislation can be very beneficial for farmers, giving confidence that they can pass down agricultural business and property assets to the next generation tax free on death,” she adds. “Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has left the Government with a very large debt, so there’s potential that it will implement any OTS recommendations to increase tax revenue.”
So, with the Spring Statement anticipated for March, what can farmers do to mitigate any potential changes?
“Under the existing rules, agricultural land and property qualify for Agricultural Property Relief (APR) from IHT at up to 100%,” explains Mrs Vickery. Other land and property assets, like diversified enterprises, can qualify for up to 100% Business Property Relief (BPR) as part of an overall farming business which is at least 50% trading. “These reliefs can apply on lifetime transfers as well as on death where the conditions are met.”
Transfers on death currently also qualify for Capital Gains Tax (CGT) free uplift so that gains are effectively washed out. Lifetime transfers of agricultural land, property, and businesses which are at least 80% trading qualify for gift holdover relief, meaning gains can be deferred until a later disposal.
However, a key OTS recommendation is to remove the CGT free uplift on death when IHT relief is also available. This would mean that the next generation would inherit the farm at an historically low base cost, leading to higher CGT on any future sale.
“The most tax efficient option has often been for farmers to continue to actively farm and hold onto assets until they die,” says Mrs Vickery. “Now, given speculation about potential changes, the best course of action is to get a succession plan in place as soon as possible and start implementing it.
“Plans need to be arranged based on what is right for you, your family and the farm right now, rather than how things might stand at a later date.”
This means establishing who is taking on the assets and if they have the skills needed to drive the business forward. “Pass over this responsibility while you still can and while you can be on hand to guide and support your successor,” advises Mrs Vickery.
It’s also important to review partnership or shareholder agreements, and consider the handing on of other assets. Additionally, farmers should collate any trust and gift deeds, so that paperwork is on hand to be reviewed.
“Though we suspect the new IHT rules won’t be favourable, farmers need to make use of the rules we have now as these are a current certainty,” says Mrs Vickery. “Succession planning is so easy to put off but it’s a vital tool in safeguarding the future of farming businesses.”
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