I AM late and apologetic and Janet Finch-Saunders, the Conservatives Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, is in a hurry to beat the foul weather and get to Cardiff to attend the Senedd.
I have committed the cardinal sin of booking two interviews close together and the first has run over.
We get through understandably brisk introductions and she explains: “I’m heading to Cardiff for the week’s business. It’s the least we can do as members: actually turn up and try to hold the Welsh Government to account. I think it’s ridiculous that ministers can’t be bothered to turn up in the Chamber to face proper scrutiny.
“Zoom is all very well but it’s no substitute for detailed questioning, face-to-face. Most people turn up at their place of work and are expected to. Yet Welsh ministers, who live nearby, can make it to a TV studio in Cardiff but not get to the Chamber where they should be answering questions in person,” she added sharply.
“Turning up isn’t a gesture. It’s where Senedd members, are supposed to be and it’s disgraceful Welsh Labour ministers aren’t.”
With that chilly blast out of the way, we move rapidly on to policy.
Janet Finch-Saunders took on the rural affairs brief as a result of Paul Davies’ re-shuffle of his frontbench team. She succeeded the combative Andrew RT Davies and she also doesn’t pull her punches about the Welsh Government’s approach to farmers and rural communities.
“They’ve been totally let down by this Welsh Labour Government,” she said, continuing: “Cardiff Bay is not governing for the whole of Wales. Our farmers and rural communities are being ignored and treated as an afterthought. The Welsh Government is set on its own agenda which doesn’t take account of the importance of farming to the lives of rural communities, let alone the livelihoods of the people who live there.
“Eight-four percent of land in Wales is rural. Rural communities are an integral part of Wales and who we are. But after twenty years of devolution they don’t have much to show for how important they are. The Welsh Government has wasted money on its own vanity projects and programmes; taken the maximum cut out of funds that should have gone to farmers and thrown it at projects which delivered no measurable benefit; its policy on Bovine TB is a total mess.
“The Welsh Labour Government has no rural constituency seats and it shows in the way it approaches policy: a few think tanks filled with the usual suspects tell it what it wants to hear and off it goes without any understanding of farming and rural life. And farmers and rural groups who oppose Welsh Labour’s pet-projects are then said to oppose measures to improve the environment! It’s nonsense.”
We asked whether there was a particular policy Janet Finch-Saunders had in mind and she responded in a flash.
“NVZs (Nitrate Vulnerable Zones). That is a policy which the Welsh Labour Government asked its own statutory advisor, Natural Resources Wales, to advise it on how the Welsh Government should deal with nitrate pollution in rivers. NRW gave its advice, which was that there was no need to declare the whole of Wales an NVZ and that enforcement would be impossible within its current budget. But the Welsh Government went ahead and did it anyway. Then, during recess and at one of the busiest parts of the farming year, the Minister (Lesley Griffiths) started a consultation, ignored requests to postpone it because of the coronavirus pandemic, and that is going to be the background to government’s approach.
“This sort of government, by consultation after consultation (when the Welsh Government has already made up it’s mind) and communicating Cabinet statement has to stop. Ministers must make informed decisions which take account of everyone who is involved in what happens on the ground. They have to turn up to the Senedd and answer for them.”
When it came to a specific issue, Janet Finch-Saunders identified the plight of Wales’ wool producers.
“The price of fleeces has fallen through the floor. We have a fantastic product which can be used for so many different things. I am glad the Welsh Government has taken on board the pressure from farming unions and my requests to commit to using Welsh wool. It’s environmentally-friendly insulation and should be used in Welsh Government buildings at every opportunity.
“It’s criminal that wool farmers are having to use fleeces for compost because wool processors are not taking up the allocation they usually would because of COVID. That’s an instance where the Welsh Government can make a big difference by making a relatively small commitment from its budget to support Wales’ wool producers.”
Janet Finch-Saunders’ predecessor was not shy of criticising Lesley Griffiths for avoiding attending the Senedd to answer questions; unsurprisingly, given her earlier words, neither is Janet Finch-Saunders.
“There is no good reason for avoiding being questioned in person, Making announcements when members cannot ask you about them is ridiculous. I’ve written to Lesley Griffiths on behalf of a constituent and waited ages for an answer. The person’s problem needed sorting out. How are Senedd members supposed to help their constituents when a Minister is permanently unavailable?”
Warming to her theme, Mrs Finch-Saunders continued: “This is a shambles of a government. I can tell you that a Welsh Conservative Government won’t treat our rural communities and farmers with such contempt. They will be front and centre of our policies.
“The problem, as Paul Davies has said, is not devolution but the way Welsh Labour has mismanaged it. It’s wasted money and wasted opportunities. It’s dithered, delayed, kicked cans down the road, and achieved a fraction of what it could’ve and should’ve for Wales. That gap in achievement is nowhere bigger than when it comes to farming and our communities.
“A Welsh Conservative Government will close that gap. We will make the most of opportunities to deliver locally-focussed schemes which will also benefit Wales as a whole. We will strip out inefficiency and waste and get on with delivering policies which will make a real difference to our farmers, agricultural industries, producers and the rural communities which depend on them.”
And with that, Janet Finch-Saunders really had to go and travel to Cardiff through the pouring rain to make sure she was where Members of the Senedd should be.
Ceredigion farmers left high and dry by lack of UK-NZ trade deal protections
PLAID CYMRU politicians have expressed significant concerns regarding the impact the new trade deal stuck between the UK and New Zealand will have on Ceredigion farmers.
The free trade agreement between New Zealand and the UK Government was signed on 28 February 2022 and is set to open the doors to a significant import of meat produce which could potentially hit the farming sector in Wales harder than in any other part of the UK.
NFU Cymru has recently raised concerns about the deal, stating that the potential negative cumulative impact of this cannot be overstated.
The New Zealand trade deal follows another similar deal with Australia, and while it offers significant upsides for farmers on the other side of the world, it potentially creates significant marketplace changes for Welsh farming.
Figures from the Farmers Union of Wales state the agreement could see the amount of beef that can be imported tariff-free from New Zealand rise immediately to 12,000 then gradually to 38,820 tonnes in ten years’ time. Further rises would occur in the subsequent five years, after which there would be no limit. A similar increase would also be seen in lamb, with the amount that could be imported tariff-free would increase by 35,000 tonnes per annum in years one to four, then by 50,000 tonnes per annum in years five to fifteen, after which there would be no limit.
Plaid Cymru’s Agriculture Spokesperson, Mabon ap Gwynfor MS, has today (2 March, 2022) raised the issue as a matter of urgency with the Welsh Government in the Senedd.
Mabon ap Gwynfor MS said: “While the spin will be about benefits, the truth is that this trade deal is a real cause for concern for Welsh farmers.
“The agreement will provide a 15 year transitional period, and it states that they will only be able to ‘utilise new access to the UK sheep meat market once they have filled 90% of their existing World Trade Organization (WTO) quota’.
“However, this leaves Welsh farmers at the whim of a market whereby they have no control nor input. Should something change in the sheep meat market then New Zealand meat would suddenly end up here or in the EU and undermine Welsh farmers.
“By failing to ensure that there are tariffs on imports here the UK Government have left Welsh farmers completely open to the whims of a market which they have no say and no protection.
Cefin Campbell, Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for Mid & West Wales added: “Let us be clear, this trade deal is a gross betrayal of Ceredigion farmers. The UK Government’s own analysis suggests that the number of people working in agriculture will be negatively impacted by this deal, whilst it also threatens to undermine the entire Welsh agriculture sector – which we know is far more susceptible to harm from a poor trade deal than other farmers in other parts of the UK.
As we face a climate emergency, importing more food from the other side of the world that could be produced sustainably here in Wales, does not make any sense whatsoever.
Clearly, efforts must now be taken at Westminster to ensure that the Welsh farming sector is safeguarded from the potential negative impact of this agreement.”
Total Dispersal of Hidden Gem Welsh Dairy Herd
HARRISON & HETHERINGTON have today announced that they will be the sale managers for the dispersal sale of 700 pedigree Holsteins from the impressive Clywedog herd.
The two-day sale will be held on behalf of Rhys and Huw Jones at Old Llwyn Onn Farm, Wrexham, on Thursday 24th and Friday 25th February.
Day one of the sale will comprise 320 milking animals and 180 heifer calves up to six months of age.
Day two will see 200 youngstock selling with in-calf, bulling and heifer calves down to six months of age. Notably, a large percentage of the herd and most of the in-calf heifers carry pregnancies by female sexed sires.
In the last two years Harrison & Hetherington have expanded their on-farm dispersal sales service across the UK and Ireland and Glyn Lucas, Senior Pedigree Dairy Auctioneer, is delighted that they have been invited to manage this special sale: “The Clywedog Pedigree Holstein herd is one of the UK’s best kept secrets. This complete dispersal sale offers the modern kind of cow that the modern milk producer appreciates.
“The cows are powerful and exhibit outstanding width of rump and chest, and are in excellent body condition. The production records on two times a day milking is impressive and the potential these cows have to increase on a three times a day or robotic management system is exciting. In addition, all of the animals going under the hammer have been tested for export.”
At the most recent milk recording in mid-January the herd averaged 41kgs at 4.42% butterfat and 3.31% protein with somatic cell count of 63. The herd has exceptional fertility with the current calving interval running at 378 days and the current days in milk is 134 days.
The latest classification saw 17 new Excellent cows, 39 new Very Good cows, 14 new Very Good milking heifers and 24 new Good Plus heifers. The sale will have a total of 41 Excellent, 141 Very Good and 138 Good Plus animals in the sale.
Herd health status is exemplary with IBR, BVD and Lepto protocols all managed in conjunction with farm vet, Rob George from Nantwich Farm Vets. Additionally, the herd has never had a case of TB and all animals are tested for export.
Giving further background, owner and breeder Rhys Jones said: “We established our pedigree herd in 1990 and have worked hard over the years to create high yielding, long-lasting herd of beautiful cows. Our mission has been to produce high type cows, and to that end we have selected the best genetics from Cogent and Semex. The stock is in excellent condition, they have been looked after with loving care and I know that the animals will go on to do very well.
“However, the time has come for Huw and I to ease off; I will soon be 64 and it’s time to hang up my hat. We would all like to thank everyone who has supported us over the years. We have taken great pride in producing a herd with long lasting cows and heifers and we will both get a lot of satisfaction in watching our breeding develop in herd around the UK.”
Harrison & Hetherington are renowned auctioneers, selling all classes of pedigree and commercial livestock and is one of the UK’s foremost auctioneers for Dairy Cattle. Being located in one of the largest milk producing areas in the UK, its weekly sales at Borderway, Carlisle, attract top quality dairy cattle and buyers.
Harrison & Hetherington are also the principal official society auctioneers to many breed societies and area clubs, and regularly hold dispersal or collective sales on site and on farms across mainland UK and Ireland.
Local MP backs Parliamentary inquiry into rural productivity
BEN LAKE will join MPs from across the political divide to identify opportunities to grow the rural economy
The All Party Parliamentary Group for the Rural Powerhouse is undertaking a comprehensive investigation into the health of the rural economy.
The inquiry started in May this year, taking evidence from rural businesses and representative bodies, as well as academics, government ministers and other experts. Oral evidence sessions have covered farming and land use, the planning system, access to skills, mobile and electrical connectivity as well as exploring how the tax regime could be used to encourage diversification and entrepreneurship in rural areas.
Ceredigion MP Ben Lake took part in the final evidence session today – which investigated the role of government structures and procedures, asking whether they hinder or help in delivering rural objectives.
Ben Lake MP told The Ceredigion Herald: “There are over 500,000 rural businesses across Wales and England – they are the backbone of the rural economy. Closing the productivity gap between rural and urban communities is essential to ‘levelling up’. If we want to see thriving rural communities, we must ensure everyone has the opportunity for a good job and a good home. This inquiry will help identify changes in government policy necessary to deliver that goal.”
Mark Tufnell, President of the Country Land and Business Association which represents 28,000 rural businesses in England and Wales, said: “Closing the rural productivity gap would add £43bn of gross value added (GVA) to the economy – creating hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs in communities everywhere. This would be on top of the £261bn the rural economy already contributes to the national economy.
“The reasons for the countryside’s lower productivity are complex but, thanks to this inquiry, we have gathered evidence that will be critical in determining what improvements should be made to ensure that levelling up the countryside really is at the heart of the government’s agenda.”
The APPG inquiry will publish its findings early in the new year.
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