I AM pleased that we end 2017 on a positive note, with UK and EU leaders agreeing to move on to Phase 2 of the UK Exit negotiations.
This phase, in which the transition deal and our future trading relationship with the EU is negotiated, is absolutely critical to the future prosperity of the food and farming sector in Wales.
I cannot stress highly enough the importance of maintaining continued free and frictionless access to our largest and most proximate market. We hear both UK and EU negotiators repeatedly use the words ‘clarity’ and ‘certainty’, and as farming businesses that is exactly what we want to see early in 2018 – clarity and certainty over the type of trading environment that we will be operating under come the end of March 2019.
In our view this should mean the UK remaining in the Customs Union until such time as a comprehensive free trade agreement can be agreed between the UK and EU.
I remain optimistic at the opportunity Brexit provides to develop, design and implement new policies that support our vision for a productive, progressive and profitable industry in Wales. This will ensure Welsh farming can continue to contribute to, and enhance, the economic, environmental, social and cultural well-being of Wales.
The speed of change to implement a new agricultural policy should be determined by our future relationship with the EU. Throughout this evolution to a new domestic agricultural policy, and thereafter, governments in Cardiff and Westminster must maintain current levels of investment in farming to ensure that Welsh farmers remain competitive whilst continuing to produce food to the highest standards.
The Nitrates Review and proposals to increase the areas of Wales designated as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) has been very high on our lobbying agenda for over two years now. I am pleased that Lesley Griffiths AM, the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, has recently announced her intention to work with stakeholders to explore further options to safeguarding water quality in Wales. This means that no new NVZ designations will be introduced at this point in time – a huge relief to many farmers across Wales who have been highly concerned about the costs and burden of NVZ regulations.
I am very clear, however, that regulatory pressure still remains and the group charged with taking this task forward (the NRW Wales Land Management Forum Agri-Pollution Sub Group) will, over the coming months, consider the right balance of regulatory measures, voluntary initiatives and investment. As farmers, we recognise the role we have to play in contributing to further and sustained improvements in water quality in the years ahead and NFU Cymru remains fully committed to working with Welsh Government, the Regulator and other partners to deliver workable (non-regulatory) solutions.
The scale of this challenge must not be underestimated and I want to ensure that NFU Cymru has a robust structure in place to drive this forward. It is, therefore, my intention to establish an NFU Cymru Water Quality Task & Finish Group. The group will consist of members from across Wales, across all sectors and the wider supply chain, with the aim of shaping the NFU Cymru contribution to the work of the NRW Agri-Pollution Sub-Group and also working to secure the ‘buy-in’ and commitment of the wider farming community to a non-regulatory approach.
Last June the Cabinet Secretary announced a new TB programme for Wales, a programme that we see as a step forward given the recognition by Welsh Government of the transmission link between cattle and wildlife.
Bovine TB continues to be the subject that causes most frustration amongst our membership. The latest statistics show a year on year increase in herd incidence and herd prevalence in Wales and over 9,700 cattle slaughtered because of TB, so it is clear why cattle keepers believe this to be the biggest immediate threat to their farming businesses.
I am pleased that on these two vitally important issues to the agricultural sector in Wales in 2017 the Cabinet Secretary has made policy decisions based on scientific evidence. We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the Cabinet Secretary and the newly appointed Minister for the Environment, Hannah Blythyn AM.
Our work in 2017 has sought to highlight the unrivalled contribution of farmers and farming to Welsh society. Our campaigns have highlighted how we are ‘Proud to Produce’ across so many areas; food, environment, landscape, heritage, culture, language and to the economy of Wales and our NFU Cymru Community Champion, Wales Woman Farmer, Dairy and Livestock awards have showcased the individuals and farming families behind this good work.
I am immensely proud of our contribution to the well-being of Wales and it is something that we must never lose sight of at what is a pivotal time for Welsh farming.
Devolution must be respected
IN RESPONSE to a UK Government white paper on internal markets, the Farmers’ Union of Wales has stressed the importance of protecting Welsh farmers against unfair competition from other parts of the UK and countries across the globe, and that Welsh devolution must be respected.
In his introduction to the UK Internal Market White Paper, Alok Sharma MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, highlights how increasing differences between rules and standards applied by different Governments in the UK’s four nations after Brexit could cause market distortion, discrimination and unfair competition for businesses in a way not seen for hundreds of years.
The White Paper, therefore, proposes measures to prevent such impacts based on the principles of ‘non-discrimination’ and ‘mutual recognition’
FUW Head of Policy, Dr Nick Fenwick said: “We are glad the UK Government has woken up to the need to take this issue seriously as it has previously been kicked into the long grass because it is so politically contentious.”
Dr Fenwick said that the FUW had been highlighting the need to address this issue since the EU Referendum in 2016, and in July 2018 the FUW had published a detailed paper considering the matter entitled ‘Filling the Void – Steps towards a post-Brexit UK policy framework’.
“While we welcome the UK Government’s recognition of this issue, we are extremely concerned at the suggestion that rules could simply be dictated by London, rather than there being a means by which to reach agreement between UK Governments.”
Dr Fenwick said such a move could undermine devolution and work to the disadvantage of Welsh farmers.
“The consideration of such matters in a White Paper within months of the end of the Withdrawal Agreement period gives us very little time to hold proper detailed discussions and introduce the type of structures and bodies we truly need to make recommendations, enforce regulations, arbitrate on matters etc. in a way that is fair.”
“It also gives us very little time to sort out what are huge constitutional issues which also happen to be crucial to the running of Welsh businesses,” he added.
In response to the White Paper, the Union further stressed that while the UK Government is right to recognise the dangers of direct and indirect discrimination, unfair competition, market distortion and other issues that could arise within the GB/UK internal market, it should also recognise that the same issue exists across international borders.
“Given the current trade negotiations with the EU and USA, for example, the UK Government should also recognise the likelihood of such adverse impacts occurring as a result of inappropriate or ill-considered trade deals which expose us to different standards or unfair competition,” said Dr Fenwick.
“This is a particular concern with regard to agricultural produce produced to environmental, health and welfare, social and other standards that do not meet those required of UK producers, and subsidy and support regimes that differ significantly to those introduced in future in the UK’s four nations.”
At present, while significant differences between the UK and the EU is allowed under Single Market, Common Agricultural Policy and related rules, these are within strict boundaries aimed at minimising market distortion and unfair competition while recognising regional and national needs.
If a trade deal with the EU is reached, there is potential for market distortion and unfair competition for UK producers as a result of the fact that the EU will continue to pay farmers direct support, but Wales and England want to move over to environmental ‘public goods’ style payments – with many lobbying for farm payments to be cut altogether.
“The EU’s reaffirmed commitment to maintaining direct support for active farmers through CAP payments, coupled with a move in Wales and other parts of the UK to get rid of direct farm support in favour of environmental payments, would clearly introduce the kind of unfair competition the UK Government refers to in this paper.
“This danger is no different in principle to the dangers recognised in the Internal Markets White Paper, so also should be recognised by our Governments – not only in the context of unfair competition from the EU, our most important trading partner in terms of food, but also countries like the USA if we are to strike a deal with them.
“We need a trade deal with the EU to avoid massive damage to farms and other businesses, but we also need our governments to recognise the self inflicted damage that could be done by radically changing our own farm support systems while our main competitors twenty or thirty miles away over the sea continue with direct farm support,” he added.
Wales can lead on net-zero farming
NFU CYMRU hosted a farm visit for the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma MP, to demonstrate that Welsh farmers are well-placed to deliver on the industry’s net zero ambitions.
The event saw NFU Cymru launch its new document, which sets out that Welsh farmers are part of the solution to climate change.
NFU Cymru President John Davies presented the report to the Secretary of State, who also holds the role of nominated President for COP26, as part of the on farm meeting.
The visit was hosted by NFU Cymru Next Generation Group member Llŷr Jones, whose 1,600-acre sheep, beef and egg farm near Corwen also produces renewable energy to satisfy the farm’s energy needs, exporting the surplus power to the grid.
As part of his visit to Derwydd Farm, Mr Sharma was also able to learn about the scale of work carried out on the farm as part of Welsh Government’s Glastir agri-environment scheme, including creating habitats for wildlife, tree planting, protecting some 30 acres of peatland, hedgerow management and soil and grassland management.
During his visit, the BEIS Secretary planted an apple tree as an example of the environmental work the agricultural sector carries out to sequester carbon, while also providing food and aiding biodiversity.
Speaking after the visit, NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “By focussing on improving farming’s productive efficiency; improving land management and enhancing land use to capture more carbon; and boosting renewable energy and the wider bio-economy, Wales’ farmers will be able to play their part in addressing the issues brought about by climate change. By reducing carbon emissions in these ways farmers are in a strong position to achieve the industry’s goal of achieving net zero by 2040.
“I am thrilled that we were able to welcome the BEIS Secretary, Alok Sharma MP, on farm today to see Llŷr Jones’ exciting and impressive farming enterprise, which has carbon capture and renewable energy at its heart. Llŷr’s farm is just one of a wide network of farms across Wales who are harnessing innovation to reduce emissions and produce climate friendly food. These businesses are net zero leaders not just in the respect of farming, but in a wider business context.”
Alok Sharma, COP26 President and Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “I was very pleased to visit Llŷr Jones’ farm and see first-hand the actions being taken to mitigate climate change and support nature on their land.
“I welcome the NFU’s ambitious commitment to reach net zero by 2040, and I look forward to working across governments, business and civil society in the run up to COP26 to raise global commitments to reduce carbon emissions.”
NFU Cymru Next Generation Group member Llŷr Jones added: “I take great pride in the work we do to maintain and enhance the environment, encourage biodiversity and support the local community alongside my core role as a food producer.
“I was pleased to be able welcome the Secretary of State on farm today to show him how we’re always striving to positively influence the carbon impact of our business. I hope Mr Sharma enjoyed his visit to my north Wales hill farm and that what he has seen shows him that our industry has a vital role to play in the climate change challenge now and in the future.”
Broadband must reach rural communities
THE FUW has responded positively to news that there are plans to bring full fibre broadband to an additional three million homes and businesses in some of the UK’s most isolated rural communities, but stresses it must really reach them.
The connection to 3.2 million UK premises, which was given the go-ahead after an Ofcom consultation, is reported to be part of a £12bn investment by Openreach to build full fibre infrastructure to 20 million premises throughout the UK by the end of this decade.
Places set to benefit include Aberystwyth in west Wales, Millom in Cumbria, Thurso in north-east Scotland, and Ballycastle in County Antrim. Openreach is due to publish the full list of the 251 locations, referred to as Area 3, where it will build the new network. Ofcom has estimated there are 9.6 million homes and businesses situated in this final third of the UK.
Responding to the announcement, FUW Ceredigion county chairman Morys Ioan said: “The last few months have served as a stark example of how vital connectivity is. Our own Union staff, many of whom live in rural areas, have been working from home and we have continued to assist members with digital paperwork for their farm businesses. Without an internet connection this would not have been possible.
“It is really good news that this extra funding is being directed at rural communities but we must make sure that it really does go to those premises who currently are not benefitting from full fibre broadband.
“Our rural towns and villages have been left behind in the race for better and faster connectivity and it is critical for the competitiveness and viability of rural businesses, and the economy, that tangible improvements are made now.
“The FUW has stressed on many occasions that those without a connection cannot diversify their businesses, that they cannot support their children’s education and that they cannot connect readily with Government programmes for advice and support payments as they are mandated to do.”
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