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.
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.”
Local farmer sentenced for animal welfare offences
On 6 January 2021, at Aberystwyth Justice Centre the Magistrates passed sentence on Mr. Toby Holland of Maesgwyn, Blaenporth after he was found guilty in his absence of 10 charges relating to Animal Welfare and Animal By-Products offences.
Following the trial on 3 February 2020, a court warrant was issued for Mr. Toby Holland’ arrest in connection with these offences, and he was arrested by Police in December 2020.
The District Judge, in the trial held on 3 February 2020 heard that Animal Welfare Officers of the Public Protection team visited the farm on the 29 January 2019 and found a number of animal welfare issues. A sheep was found to be lying on its back unable to move and it was evident that it had been there for some time. Despite requesting that Mr. Holland seek veterinary assistance for the animal, a visit the following day had found that he failed to seek treatment for the animal and left it to die. He was found guilty for the unnecessary suffering of this sheep.
The Animal Welfare Officers found a barn containing 19 pigs. On seeing the officers the pigs were shrieking for food. The pigs were very thin and kept in an accumulation of muck with no dry lying area available. Within the pen were two dead pigs to which the live pigs had access. A post-mortem of one of the dead pigs found that the animal had likely died of starvation after finding no fat reserves remaining in the carcass.
The Veterinarian from the Animal and Plant Health Agency who attended the farm concluded that both the dead and live pigs had been suffering unnecessarily, and Mr. Holland was found guilty of these offences. He was also found guilty of failing to meet the needs of the animals, by failing to provide a dry lying area for the pigs.
The visit on 29 January 2019 also found a number of sheep carcasses strewn across the fields. It was clear that that they had been there for some time, and the live sheep had access to the same field. The District Judge found Mr. Holland guilty of failing to dispose of the carcasses in accordance with the requirements of a notice served under The Animal By-Products (Enforcement) (Wales) Regulations 2014.
A follow up visit on 30 May 2019 found the pigs were kept in a field where they had access to plastic bags, metal sheeting with sharp edges, and animal bones and skulls. These items could cause harm to pigs, and he was found guilty under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 of not providing a suitable environment for the pigs. Tthere were sheep carcasses in the fields, that Mr. Holland failed to collect and dispose in accordance with legal requirements. He was found guilty of a further offence under the Animal By-Products Regulations.
He was sentenced to 18 weeks imprisonment in total for the offences, and he was issued a disqualification order for 2 years from keeping any animals. The Local Authority were awarded £750 costs.
Following sentencing, Cllr Gareth Lloyd, Cabinet member for Public Protection Services, said: “The majority of farmers in Ceredigion have excellent farming practices, that ensures the highest standards of animal welfare. Unfortunately we must deal with a minority who for whatever reason fail to meet basic legal standards. I wish to thank the partner agencies who assisted the authority in the investigation, and the officers for their hard work in handling a difficult case.”
First week of life is key
IMPROVED new-born lamb and calf survival rates not only result in increased income, but also improve welfare, reduce disease, and reduce environmental footprint, according to the results of major GB-wide research.
The Neonatal Survival Project, funded by AHDB, Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC) and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) in the sheep and beef sector, was established to study the key factors which could drive further improvements in farm efficiency and maximise animal welfare.
Key findings show that the majority of lamb and calf losses occur in the first seven days after birth, with over 98 per cent of lamb and 90 per cent of calf losses occurring in this period.
The findings – and the recommendations for new practices to be adopted on farms – will be discussed at two major webinars. The first will be held on 5 January for vets followed by an event on 21 January for farmers. To register visit ahdb.org.uk/events.
A spokesperson on behalf of the three levy boards said: “A survey and interviews were used to understand motivations and barriers for change. While many farmers were aware of good practice industry advice on new-born survival, it was not consistently followed. This was particularly true with respect to colostrum management and genetic selection.
“Farmers were confident in their abilities to improve survival rates, but tended to underestimate new-born losses on their farm relative to national averages. A cultural stigma around losses limits farmers in discussing their experiences with peers, and in some cases, even with their vet.
“The research also discovered that losses can be highly variable between years; the importance of accurate record keeping also became apparent. While most suckler farmers have access to reliable records, a significant number of sheep farmers do not consistently record their data.”
With global pressures to reduce antibiotic use, this study found that a significant proportion of beef and sheep farmers were able to manage infectious diseases without purchasing critically important antibiotics. Preventive antibiotic use was reduced or withdrawn successfully on some farms, while oral antibiotic treatment at birth made no difference to lamb outcomes in an experimental study within this project.
The study also demonstrated that good long-term protein status in late pregnancy results in reduced lamb losses between scanning and 24 hours old.
Twin born lambs with a low serum antibody (IgG) concentration were more likely to have poorer growth rates. As shown by previous studies, poor energy balance in late pregnancy results in a low lamb IgG. This indicates that lambs born to ewes in negative energy balance are at increased risk of absorbing insufficient colostrum antibodies from the ewe.
The project is now complete, although work is ongoing to enable the implementation of a sustainable youngstock survival plan across Great Britain.
Consumers ‘sleepwalking’ away from meat
A LACK of inspiration, rather than a conscious reaction to trends such as veganism, was at the heart of the pre-Covid-19 reduction in meat, fish and poultry consumption, new AHDB research has suggested.
Before the pandemic struck, some 7.8 million (35%) households in Great Britain had unwittingly purchased less meat, fish and poultry products, according to AHDB analysis of Kantar data [52 w/e 26 January]. This figure accounted for 99% of the 1.3% volume drop in retail sales.
However, the twenty per cent of households which had at least one ‘conscious meat reducer’ accounted for just 1% of the losses, with the majority citing other reasons for reducing consumption.
The unconscious reducers were said by the report to mostly be of retirement age and living with fewer people. They were found to be much less likely to experiment with cooking or refer to themselves as a ‘foodie’, preferring more traditional dishes. They were also found to be unsatisfied with shopping for meat, with just 29% of the unconscious reducer group saying they enjoyed browsing meat aisles and only 31% find them to be inspiring.
The report urged the meat industry to focus its efforts on winning this group back as they offered a better route to boosting meat consumption than conscious reducers.
“How unconscious reducers think and feel about meat isn’t any different to those people who are actually increasing their meat consumption – they’re not turning away on purpose so there is a chance to re-engage them with the category,” explained one of the report’s authors, AHDB senior retail insight manager Kim Malley.
“The biggest opportunity is at the point of purchase. The key thing the report highlights is those people are wanting a better in-store experience. There could be simple messaging in-store to remind people why they enjoy meat, give them a bit of inspiration and remind them it’s versatile and convenient.”
Malley added the meat-free category is “excelling” in innovation and convenience through ready-meal and marinated NPD – products which the report said the meat industry had invested less heavily in.
She also praised the packaging of meat alternatives, which tended to be “very colourful and brought recipes and flavours to life” for shoppers, and urged the meat industry to do its own innovation in these areas in a bid to win back “distracted” consumers.
According to the report, distractions included negative media coverage of the meat industry and the prominence of plant-based ranges in stores.
But in positive news for the sector, it found the coronavirus pandemic had seen sales volumes of meat, fish and poultry rise 8% year-on-year in the 52 weeks to 6 September. Unconscious reducers were discovered to have accounted for 35% of this uplift.
Malley said meat “benefited massively” from the rise in in-home occasions this year and consumers thinking more about their food choices. “It has highlighted that it’s quite easy to re-engage people,” she said.
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