THE CRISIS facing beef producers and the lack of opportunities for young farmers seeking to enter the industry were the major issues discussed by an influential panel at the recent FUW Carmarthenshire county annual general meeting.
The panel comprised FUW Ceredigion county chairman and Fferm Ffactor judge Aled Rees, former Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP Adam Price, Ffermio presenter Meinir Jones and FUW younger voice for farming committee chairman Darren Williams. During a lively question and answer session FUW life member Evan R Thomas asked the panel if enough is being done to support young entrants into the farming community. Miss Jones said young entrants are integral to the sustainability of the industry. But with land prices and the cost of purchasing stock and equipment very high it is almost impossible for youngsters to step onto the farming ladder. Grants are very limited and do not take into account the interest on loans required to initiate a venture. She compared the situation with France where interest-free loans are available for machinery and believed whatever help is provided initially should be continued for a number of years. Mr Williams believed there was very little opportunity for those wishing to enter farming to do so. He would welcome greater tax incentives for retiring farmers to enable them to rent out their farms to new entrants. Mr Price said devolution has played a significant part in assisting young entrants into farming but believes more could be done. He stated that interest in farming courses has increased and this should prove there is genuine interest in pursuing a career in this demanding industry. With greater demand for sustainability and for food products increasing he sees a good future for the industry. Mr Rees said the Welsh Government’s Young Entrants Support Scheme was good but felt the available funds should be used to buy stock. He stated there were still opportunities for farming entrepreneurs as money was relatively cheaper to borrow compared to years ago and he believed there should be incentives for farmers to retire to provide land for new entrants. Carmarthenshire delegate on the union’s agricultural education and training committee Lyn Thomas asked: “Having regained confidence in the beef industry following the horsemeat scandal, have supermarkets turned away from British meat by importing from other countries?” Miss Jones said it appears they are now turning to other areas for meat imports which is crippling the industry. In Ireland a foods and agricultural minister endeavours to ensure Irish market is competitive for Irish producers. The Irish market appears to be producing more than they need and is competing with the Polish market for the British market. Mr Williams believed the strong pound against the euro is working against the beef price. Some supermarkets were still supporting British beef but traceability of food products is still debatable. Mr Rees felt the Irish market should not just be feared for beef but, with deregulation of milk, this may have an adverse effect on milk production. He considered one of the biggest factors in beef and sales of beef products was due to the fact that most abattoirs are owned by Irish businesses who can obviously chose who they get their meat from. He believed this should be reviewed. With CAP reform and modulation reducing the Welsh producer’s income by 15 per cent, against zero per cent in Ireland, this will lead to potentially an unfair market. Mr Price called for more proactive leadership to make people listen. The Welsh Government needs to ensure that Welsh Beef, not its competitors, is supported. In public procurement in Ireland 88 per cent is won by Irish companies but he did not consider this is the case in Wales. He believes the public should be supporting local produce and efforts should be made to ensure this continues.
FUW welcomes new minister
THE FARMERS’ UNION OF WALES has welcomed the announcement in continuity in the Welsh Government, following the Cabinet reshuffle (Nov 3), which saw Lesley Griffiths continuing in her role as Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, with the addition of a deputy, Hannah Blythyn as Minister for Environment.
Responding to the news, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “We welcome the continuity of keeping Lesley Griffiths as our Cabinet Secretary. Our working relationship has been a positive one and we look forward to continue working with her.
“With issues such as climate change and water management dominating agendas such as those listed in the Well-being of Future Generations Act, we are pleased to see Mrs Griffiths will be able to continue to fight for the interests of our rural communities – communities for which agriculture is a cornerstone.
“We are also pleased to see that Hannah Blythyn has joined the Cabinet. The addition of a new Minister recognises the complexity of the portfolio and we look forward to working with Hannah in the context of her remit.
“We met with Lesley Griffiths last week and will now seek a meeting with Hannah Blythyn at the earliest opportunity, to discuss those issues which are of concern to farmers and have an impact on all aspects of her portfolio.”
Commitment on funding welcomed
NFU CYMRU has welcomed the Welsh Government reaffirming its commitment to ring-fence funding for Welsh farming post-Brexit.
Last week NFU Cymru met with Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths AM, and in a wide ranging discussion covering a range of topics, Brexit topped the agenda.
Following the meeting, NFU Cymru President Stephen James said: “I am pleased that in our meeting with the Cabinet Secretary, Lesley Griffiths AM, she reaffirmed the commitment from the First Minister that funding for Welsh agriculture from the UK Government to the Welsh Government will be ring-fenced for Welsh farmers post-Brexit.”
The Cabinet Secretary’s commitment follows on from a response that the First Minister gave to Plenary on October 24 and reaffirms the commitment in the Welsh Government / Plaid Cymru Securing Wales’ Future document which stated that it is ‘essential that equivalent or greater resources to those Wales would have received from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are provided from the UK to support Welsh farming’.
Stephen James continued: “NFU Cymru’s message on future funding arrangements has been clear and unequivocal. Governments in Cardiff and Westminster must maintain current levels of investment for farming in Wales, to ensure Welsh farmers remain competitive and can continue to produce food to the highest standards whilst maintaining and enhancing our environment and meeting our climate change obligations.
“At Plenary, the First Minister mentioned that he would consider looking at alternate ways of working and we would absolutely agree with that. This is an opportunity for us in Wales to work collectively to create a new agricultural policy framework that helps to achieve our vision of a productive, progressive and profitable farming industry that delivers jobs, growth and investment for Wales.
“We see the development of a new policy framework as an evolution over a period of time, with the timeframe for change very much determined by our future trading relationship with the EU.
“With the UK Government having committed to the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament, the next step is for the UK Government to clarify how these funds will be allocated amongst the home nations. This allocation should be based on the current formula for distributing CAP funds within the UK.
“Farming is a long term business and we need clarity and certainty on a range of issues including funding, trade and future agricultural policy. Developing agricultural policy and budgetary frameworks should be developed in partnership between the governments of the UK, so that a common policy framework can be agreed. A common policy, but a policy which allows flexibility for each country to take account of the pattern and practice of farming within their country.”
Family farms on the brink
FEWER than one in five family farms are making a profit from their farming activity, according to research undertaken by the Andersons Centre on behalf of The Prince’s Countryside Fund.
Analysis of data from 172 participants in the first year of The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme has shown that the average farm made more than £20,000 loss from farming activities, and instead is reliant on other income streams to make a profit.
The shortfall was made up by income from non-farming activity, such as tourism enterprises, renewables, direct selling of products to the consumer, or income from working off farm as well as farm payments.
According to the report, broadly speaking, farmers face two business choices in order to cope with declining economic fortunes: either to focus on a farming solution or to redeploy resources away from agricultural production. In reality, it may be a combination of the two or farmers may vacillate between the two courses of action with periods of off-farm work generating income interspersed with a focus on the farm.
There are, of course, two further options open to farmers. First, they may cease farming, either entirely through selling up the farm or by letting their land. Or secondly, they might tighten the belt and continue business as usual.
Worryingly, many operators of small farms, believe the near future will see them retiring or otherwise leaving agriculture altogether.
Lord Curry of Kirkharle, chairman of The Prince’s Countryside Fund said: “Although the initial figure is startling, the research from the Andersons Centre shows that farmers are increasingly looking at their farms as a business, and are proactively looking for how they can generate an income from diversified sources to remain profitable.
“This is more crucial now than ever. Farmers must develop their skills and improve their business confidence to survive. If they do not, the risk of extinction for the family farm is very real; farmers must act now to both strengthen their core farming business and to spread the risk.
“The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme is vital, because it equips farmers with the tools they need to remain financially stable. Maintaining diversity of farm size is essential to protect the British countryside and our rural communities.”
The Andersons Centre developed a bespoke and easy to use Business Health Check Tool for The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme, allowing farmers on the programme to benchmark their performance, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and make informed business decisions as a result. Data from this tool was analysed to identify trends and performance in the farm businesses involved in the initiative.
The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme aims to help 300 family farms, across 15 locations, each year. It brings together like minded family farm enterprises in local networks, to review their current activity and identify improvements and opportunities that can be made on-farm to build resilience, effectively helping farmers to take control of their businesses. Farmers who took part in the first year have confirmed they have higher levels of confidence in their business, better business management, and stronger communication within their family.
The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme directly addresses some of the issues raised in a report commissioned by the Fund from the University of Exeter, ‘Is there a future for the small family farm in the UK?’
The report detailed how the loss of small family farms would have devastating effects for the British countryside, leading to loss of employment, breakdown of rural communities, and potential negative environmental consequences. The report concluded that it was essential to maintain a diverse range of farm sizes, but that this was in significant jeopardy.
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