THE MINISTER for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, last week confirmed what the Welsh Government calls ‘Sustainable Farming’ will remain at the heart of future Welsh agriculture support.
The Welsh Government published its response to last year’s Sustainable Farming and our Land consultation on Wednesday, July 8.
The consultation proposed future funding should support and reward farmers who operate sustainable farming systems and protect and enhance the environment.
Responses to the consultation broadly backed the Welsh Government’s aims but with important caveats to the support expressed.
A significant proportion of the responses came from outside Wales. Those responses came particularly from individuals pursuing an anti-farming agenda, or as part of coordinated campaigns from groups lobbying the Welsh Government.
Over half the respondents (1,900 out of 3,300) came from members of the RSPB.
PLANS LACK SUBSTANCE
Responses from individual farmers cited within the Consultation Report reflect widely-held concerns that the Welsh Government’s plans are thin on detail. Those responses also highlight worries that Welsh farmers will be driven into an uncompetitive position due to new and burdensome regulation.
Despite those concerns, Lesley Griffiths confirmed a future agricultural support scheme will continue to be developed around the Sustainable Land Management framework.
During an update to the Senedd, the Minister also set out the next stages in the development of future support, including:
• Undertaking a range of economic analysis to understand the impact of moving from an entitlement based income support scheme to a voluntary scheme which rewards the production of outcomes. This will be published next summer and no decision on a future scheme will be made without consideration of this analysis;
• A transition period to enable farmers to adjust their existing business model to accommodate any changes required by the proposed scheme; and
• Publishing a White Paper before the end of this Senedd term, which will pave the way for the introduction of an Agriculture (Wales) Bill during the sixth Senedd term.
The Minister said: “Our proposals in Sustainable Farming and our Land provide an important income stream for farmers, recognising the important work they do in delivering environmental outcomes and rewarding them for it.
“We are also looking to reinforce the long term competitiveness of the sector through enhanced business advice and support, helping support farmers in the new economic realities following the UK’s departure from the EU.”
WG PRESSES AHEAD REGARDLESS
Lesley Griffiths continued: “Following consideration of the responses to the consultation, we will continue to develop a future system of agricultural support around the Sustainable Land Management approach.
“This approach will allow us to respond to the climate emergency, will help to reverse biodiversity decline, will ensure high standards of animal health and welfare, and protect our natural resources. Food produced using this approach will be sustainable, ensuring a food supply for future generations.
“Over the coming months, we will continue to engage with the sector and industry representatives on the ongoing development of these proposals for the White Paper, paving the way for an Agriculture Bill. This Bill will set out a support framework which can accommodate the development of agriculture and forestry within Wales for the next fifteen to twenty years. The Bill will enable farmers to be financially supported and ensure a coherent and fair system of regulation can be applied to the agricultural sector.”
A FURTHER CONSULTATION
To ensure farmers are supported following the UK exit from the EU, the Minister also confirmed plans to launch a FURTHER consultation this summer seeking views on the retention and simplification of rules around agricultural support for farmers and the rural economy. This support would bridge the gap between the current EU funding and any new scheme based on sustainable land management.
The Minister added: “It has been a difficult few months globally and Welsh farmers have not been exempt from recent circumstances. I am proud of the resilience they have shown in responding to those difficulties.
“Farmers, foresters and other land managers play a vital part in the economic, environmental, and social well-being of Wales. We will continue to support them to adapt to economic changes as well as the impact of climate change.”
GOVERNMENT FAILING RURAL COMMUNITIES
The Welsh Conservatives’ Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, Andrew RT Davies responded: “It’s all very well for Lesley Griffiths to stand up and make promises of support to our vitally important farming sector. However, those promises will only materialise if they are driven by a minister who has a finger on the pulse during this COVID-19 pandemic. That has not been the case.
“Time and time again, the Welsh Government has failed our rural communities. Just last week, the Wales Audit Office published a damning report into this government’s handling of the Rural Development Grants Scheme.
“What rural communities desperately need the Welsh Government to do is set out clearly what any support it offers aims to achieve. That should include incentives for food security and for unleashing Wales’ environmental and food-producing revolution.”
CUT BUREAUCRACY SAYS FUW
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “The proposal to adopt the United Nations’ Sustainable Land Management (SLM) principle as the objective and framework for a future policy fails to encompass wider Welsh goals and objectives, including those defined in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2015, and therefore falls short of being a holistic policy.
“While we welcome some of the conclusions reached in the Welsh Government’s response to the consultation, we remain convinced that families, jobs and communities should be at the heart of planning a new policy – alongside sustainable food production and the SLM principles.”
Mr Roberts said that a scheme which focuses only on the provision of Public Goods and environmental outcomes would fail to take proper account of prosperity, jobs, culture and other issues inherent to the Wellbeing Goals and other Welsh objectives, risking severe adverse impacts.
“We, therefore, welcome the Welsh Government’s commitment to undertake a range of economic analyses to understand the impact of moving from an entitlement based income support scheme to a voluntary scheme which rewards the production of outcomes.
“This work needs to be thorough and look at impacts for individual businesses, sectors and regions of Wales as well as the implications for the tens of thousands of businesses which rely on agriculture and the scheme delivery costs.
“Above all else, it is concerning that the recent food shortages, delays and difficulties in administering our current environmental scheme – Glastir – and hundreds of consultation responses highlighting concerns about the overall direction of travel has not given the Welsh Government more pause for thought.”
TFA Cymru said: “Any new regulatory framework must take into consideration standards which are being used in other parts of the UK and internationally; particularly where goods produced under those differing standards find their way in front of Welsh consumers. That not only undermines domestic production, but it also allows poorer standards to continue in other jurisdictions.
“If it is felt important to introduce a new level of regulation in respect of agricultural production which is not applied elsewhere, the Welsh farming community would legitimately expect protection against products imported to Wales produced to standards which would be illegal at home.”
WG SHOULD ‘PAUSE & REFLECT’
NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “This announcement provides us with some additional clarity on the direction of travel as regards future support. In light of the continuing Coronavirus disruption, as well as ongoing Brexit uncertainty, I would really have liked to have seen Welsh Government taking the opportunity to pause and reflect on this process rather than pressing ahead with new policy development.
“Despite the representations made by NFU Cymru, today’s statement from Welsh Government makes no provision for some sort of stability payment, and that is very disappointing, especially in light of the recent market volatility.
“I was pleased to see the Minister acknowledge the role of agriculture and the food supply chain in keeping the country fed during the Coronavirus outbreak. I am, however, keen to ensure we do not forget the lessons of the pandemic: in particular, how it underscored the value of having a secure domestic primary production base – something which we very much consider ‘a public good’. I also welcome what the Minister said about the simplification of some of the rules around CAP legacy schemes. While that is positive news, it must deliver genuine simplification of complex rules if it is to benefit the sector.”
Hemp: the old new supercrop
HEMP could become a more common feature of the countryside, our diets and everyday life, thanks to a new £1.1m research partnership.
The two-year project between Aberystwyth University and industry aims to make hemp a more valuable crop by increasing the amounts of compounds used to make a variety of food, health and pharmaceutical products.
Hemp is currently used in specialised fire-resistant fabrics, mattresses, building materials, insulation, animal bedding and biofuel.
An environmentally friendly, natural material, it is seen as a crop that can replace petrochemical products.
Hemp fibre has been used extensively throughout history, with production climaxing soon after being introduced to the New World. For centuries, items ranging from rope to fabrics, to industrial materials were made from hemp fibre.
Hemp was also commonly used to make sail canvas. The word “canvas” is derived from the word cannabis.
Pure hemp has a texture like linen.
Because of its versatility for use in a variety of products, today hemp is used in a number of consumer goods, including clothing, shoes, accessories, dog collars, and homewares. For clothing, in some instances, hemp is mixed with lyocell.
The new PHARMHEMP research partnership will develop the crop’s compounds sustainably; making them from parts of the plant that are currently left unused.
The research will also make the crop more valuable and allow use in more industrial and non-industrial sectors – making it more attractive to farmers who are keen to include alternative crops when rotating the use of their land.
Aberystwyth University’s involvement has benefited from the Welsh Government funded SMART Expertise programme.
Alan Gay, Senior Research Scientist at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University commented: “We’re delighted and excited about this new partnership. We will use our long-established expertise here in Aberystwyth to help spread the benefits of this crop to many more people.
“We also hope to contribute to improving awareness of the crop among both consumers and farmers.
“The project is also an economic boost: supporting highly skilled jobs in the west of Wales. As well as the cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical uses, we will also explore industrial applications, which would significantly reduce the need for expensive imports.”
Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University commented: “The Pharmahemp project builds on IBERS expertise in developing new opportunities for Welsh farming. It also represents an exciting opportunity for us to revisit and tailor a highly sustainable and versatile crop for the 21st century.”
The project links a number of the UK’s experienced operators in Hemp with the specialised breeding expertise of IBERS, Aberystwyth University.
The commercial partners are: TTS Pharma, specialists in pharmaceutical and health products; Voase and Son, specialist hemp growers; Elsoms Seeds, who develop and distribute seeds to the farming community; and GrowPura®, experts in controlled growing of plants where high levels of control are required.
Mark Tucker, Chief Executive at TTS Pharma, added: “This project builds on the foundations we laid in 2018 with Aberystwyth University, along with our other research projects.
“The resources and expertise at IBERS in Aberystwyth are particularly well suited to this research. They will help us to develop new cultivars, optimised for the UK climate and the end-use.
“We are delighted to have such strong partners to deliver the project’s objectives. We are confident that this project will contribute significantly to improving existing yields. It will also accelerate the introduction of a domestic supply chain and help eliminate the importation of illegal and non-compliant materials from China, South and North America.”
David Coop, Director of Elsoms Seeds Ltd, commented: “Elsoms Seeds is the UK’s leading independent seed specialist and plant breeder. We breed, supply, and treat high quality vegetable and agricultural seed throughout the UK, using the latest in plant breeding research and seed technology.
“We are looking forward to working with IBERS and our partners on this project, and one day providing UK farmers with high quality seed of the new and innovative varieties which will result from it.”
Nick Bateman of Growpura added: “In the pharmaceutical industry, the all-year-round production of materials under well-controlled conditions is important.
“With this project, we are keen to see how this plant can be adapted to growing in our high throughput sterile growing conditions, so that high quality products can be produced right throughout the year.”
Industrial Hemp Grower Nick Voase said: “We have been growing and processing industrial hemp since 2002 but have seen little development of the crop in the UK.
“We are happy to be involved in this project which will adapt the crop to new uses and is specifically aimed at optimising yields from UK grown crops.”
Despite a common misunderstanding, the industrial hemp strains grown in the UK are all varieties with negligible levels of the psychoactive substance THC and are selected from an ‘Approved List’ and only grown under Home Office licences.
NSA Lambing List closes
AS A much-valued service to its members, the National Sheep Association’s (NSA) Lambing List provides farmers with a place to advertise for much-needed lambing assistance from students and others seeking work experience each year.
The list annually provides an annual matchmaking service for around 400 farmers and veterinary and agriculture students. And despite a second lambing season under the constraints of Covid-19 restrictions the list has once again successfully helped farmers across the UK at this busy time of year.
The list has now closed and will reopen for advertisements for the 2021/2022 lambing season in the Autumn.
NSA Communications Officer Katie James says: “The popularity of the NSA Lambing List grows each year.
“The guidance it provides to farmers using it and the links it offers students means it is incredibly valued by all parties involved. For most, the past two lambing seasons have taken place during Covid-19 restrictions meaning potential shortages of staff due to travel constraints or illness from the virus itself and additional measures to consider such as separate accommodation for temporary staff and social distancing.
“All at NSA are therefore pleased that the list has been able to help remove some of these concerns and provide a trusted method of securing extra help for its sheep farming members.”
In a previous survey of NSA members using the list, more than 90% of respondents said they valued the list and would use it again to try and source additional lambing help from veterinary and agriculture students.
Students who will be looking for work experience to assist their application to university or as part of ongoing veterinary studies are encouraged to consult the list from November 2021 when it becomes available once again to aid the student/farmer matchmaking.
NSA members will be able to add details of their available placements for their next lambing season from October.
MPs urge level playing field
IN its new report—Seafood and Meat Exports to the EU—the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee expresses urgent concerns for exporters of highly time-sensitive fresh and live seafood and meat shipments to the EU, particularly small and medium-sized businesses.
Despite overcoming initial “teething problems” the new barriers small seafood and meat export businesses face could render them unviable, and factories and jobs may relocate to the EU.
The Committee’s report, therefore, calls on the Government to ease burdens, including:
• as a matter of priority, seeking agreement with the EU on digitising the certification of paperwork such as Export Health Certificates
• taking a flexible approach to the compensation fund for seafood exporters—including reconsidering the cap of £100,000 on individual payments, and providing similar support to meat exporters
• providing the same help to small meat and seafood businesses with the costs of extra red tape for exports to the EU as they can receive for moving goods to Northern Ireland
• establishing a ring-fenced fund to help create new distribution hubs, which allow smaller consignments to be grouped into a single lorry load, so reducing transport costs.
The Committee criticises the fact that controls on EU seafood and meat imports will not commence until 1 October 2021, with checks at the border only commencing from 1 January 2022.
This has placed British businesses at a competitive disadvantage and reduced the incentive on the European Commission to negotiate measures that would lessen the burdens facing British producers.
The report finds that adhering to the revised timetable will be ‘crucial’, to ensure food safety and to create a regulatory level playing field.
Neil Parish MP, Chair of the EFRA Select Committee, said: “British businesses have acted with incredible agility and perseverance to adapt to the new processes for exporting meat and seafood to the EU.
“With the many checks causing delays and costs, this hasn’t been easy. We are concerned that in the absence of equivalent checks for imports from the EU to Great Britain, there will be serious long-term repercussions for our producers.
“As it stands, the playing field is not even, and the Government must ensure that the new timetable to introduce import checks is adhered to.
“Even as “teething problems” are sorted, serious barriers remain for British exporters, and it is now imperative that the Government take steps to reduce these.
“It must be pragmatic in seeking an agreement with the EU to reduce the red tape that harms both sides, and in the meantime, crack on with giving practical support to small British businesses to sell their produce abroad.
“By the end of the year, the Government must have developed a digital system for certifying EHCs for imports from the EU, enabling it to then negotiate a reciprocal arrangement.”
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