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Farming

Call to watch the birdies

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Citizen Science: Bird count shows engagement with conservation

FARMERS, land managers and gamekeepers are being urged to circle Friday, February 9 to Sunday,​ ​February 18, in their diary for the count, which is run by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).

The BFBC is an opportunity to tell the wider world about the birds on farm.

It takes just 30 minutes to take part in the count, and founder Jim Egan is hoping for a big turnout.

“A great number of farmers and keepers are doing tremendous work to boost farmland birds and other wildlife. As well as planting seed mixes to provide winter feed, they also leave weedy stubbles over-winter, manage hedgerows so as to leave berries for food, and supplement this by putting out mixed seeds and grain on tracks and field margins,” he said.

“However, not everyone appreciates the extent to which farmers and keepers are managing existing habitats and creating new ones specifically to help our farmland birds. Now is the time to change all that.”

Jim is head of training and development at the GWCT’s renowned Allerton Project, where research has identified how to bring bird numbers back on productive farmland. The number of birds present there has been doubled by adapting a management system originally developed for gamebirds.

Each farmer has their own approach to wildlife conservation, but across the country the hard work being undertaken makes us optimistic for the future.

Mike Green, environmental and stewardship manager at BASF, the main sponsor of the BFBC, said: “The Big Farmland Bird Count is a wonderful opportunity for citizen science being carried out by farmers to demonstrate the range of species that depend and live on British farmland during the winter months.

“BASF is really excited about the continued involvement in this important initiative and is keen to help farmers show the quality of environmental work they can deliver.”

Guy Smith, vice president of NFU, said: “Farmers manage 70% of our iconic landscape and are committed to the environment. 10,000 football pitches worth of flower habitat have been planted, creating homes for wildlife, while more than 30,000km of hedgerows have been planted and restored.

“This year’s Big Farmland Bird Count provides farmers with another great opportunity to show that we are fully engaged with conservation. I would encourage as many farmers as possible to get the binoculars out, dust off the notepad, sharpen the pencil and get recording as you go out and about on the farm.”

Last year, 970 farmers and keepers took part and recorded 112 species across 900,000 acres.

They recorded 22 Red List species including fieldfare, tree sparrow, starling, yellowhammer and song thrush. There were wood pigeon, woodpecker, pheasant and grey partridge recorded. The count aims to help farmers and keepers build a record of birds on their farm so they can, where necessary, target their conservation work.

CLA vice president Mark Tufnell said: “Anyone who works on and cares for the land is vital in helping to ensure the future survival of many of the country’s most cherished farmland bird species, so the more people we have participating the better.”

At the end of the count, the results will be analysed by the Trust. All participants will receive a report on the national results once they have been collated.

The BFBC is sponsored by BASF and delivered in partnership with FWAG Association and LEAF with support from the NFU, CLA and Kings.

How to take part in three simple steps

  1. Download your count sheet at www.gwct.org.uk/bfbc
  2. Count your birds! On a day between 9 and 18 February, spend about 30 minutes recording the species and number of birds seen on one particular area of the farm.
  3. Once you’ve completed your count, simply submit your results at www.gwct.org.uk/bfbc

Farming

Levy Bodies Announce £2 million Programme

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Gwyn Howells: Interim arrangement will help Welsh levy payers

THE RED meat levy bodies in England, Scotland and Wales have announced a major programme of joint activities to be paid for by a ring-fenced fund of £2 million of AHDB red meat levies.

An agreement by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), Hybu Cig Cymru, (HCC) and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) will see a range of activity delivered in a three-way collaboration starting in 2018.

This has been developed as an interim arrangement while a long-term solution is sought on the issue of levies being collected at point of slaughter in England for animals which have been reared in Scotland or Wales.

The three organisations share an immediate joint commitment to collaborating to ensure levy payers across Great Britain benefit from the activities delivered using the £2 million ring-fenced fund.

The agreement announced today (06 February 2018) follows 12 months of talks between the three bodies after the parameters of the fund were set out by Ministers early in 2017.

This established that AHDB would set aside a ring-fenced sum of £2 million to support a programme of activities benefitting cattle, sheep and pig levy payers in Scotland, Wales and England.

Jane King, Chief Executive of AHDB, says: “The three GB levy bodies share many challenges and the simple fact is we can more effectively address them through working together.

“Though we already work closely with our colleagues in HCC and QMS on various projects, this new arrangement will take our collaboration to a whole new level with all three organisations deciding jointly how we will invest this fund to make the biggest impact for the red meat sectors.”

Gwyn Howells, Chief Executive of HCC, said: “Addressing the issue of the loss of levy income to the Welsh red meat industry has been long awaited. While a permanent solution will require legislation, this interim arrangement will allow greater value for money and accountability for Welsh levy-payers.”

“We look forward to working together with our colleagues in Scotland and England on important programmes of joint activity in areas such as overseas market access, research, and communicating the health benefits of red meat within a balanced diet.”

Alan Clarke, Chief Executive of QMS, said: “It is encouraging that progress has been made and that recognition has been given to the movement of livestock around GB and the impact this has on each of the levy bodies.

“The priority now is to ensure we maximise the benefit to levy payers of the activities delivered from the ring-fenced fund. This collaboration gives us the opportunity to take a joined-up approach to issues that affect the industry, regardless of geography.”

The levy bodies have agreed that effective from the financial year 2018/19 the new joint fund will focus on five priority areas:

  • International shows and export events
  • Market access
  • Brexit preparation
  • Meat and health, animal health and environment
  • Research

The ring-fenced fund will boost the international presence and access for meat from Britain in key overseas markets with particular focus on preparing the red meat sector for the potential challenges and opportunities that are likely to follow Brexit.

In the meat and health, animal health and environment category the three organisations will concentrate on collaborating on positive messaging to counteract negative messages, while work on antimicrobial resistance is expected to dominate the research investment.

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Farming

Hard Brexit threat to west Wales’ farmers

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John Davies, NFU Cymru: Priority must be tariff-free trade with EU27

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.

REPORT WELCOMED

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.”

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Farming

TFA call for tax reform

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George Dunn: TFA chief calls for changes

THE TENANT Farmers Association (TFA) is encouraging the Government to couple fiscal and legislative reform in its forthcoming plans for changes to agricultural tenancies.

TFA Chief Executive George Dunn said “We are pleased that the Government has signalled its intention to bring forward much needed reform to the legal and policy frameworks surrounding agricultural tenancies, but it must not miss the opportunity to reform the taxation environment within which agricultural tenancies operate. Tax is a major driver in the land market and for the decisions land owners make about land occupation. Significant, positive change can be achieved with a small number of sensible tax reforms”.

The top three tax changes the TFA would like to see are:

  • Restricting Agricultural Property Relief from Inheritance Tax on let land only to land let for 10 years or more.
  • Abolishing Capital Gains Tax rollover relief for new land purchases but extending relief to investments in fixed equipment on let land.
  • Abolishing Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) on agricultural tenancies.

“Whilst some are calling for the abolition of Inheritance Tax Relief on farm land, this would be a mistake. History shows this simply leads to unnecessary estate fragmentation and negative restructuring. Instead, we should promote best practice by restricting the relief to land let on the most secure tenancies – those of 10 years or more. There are too many short term farm tenancies which stifle investment, good soil and environmental management and farm business resilience. Promoting longer term tenancies will benefit us all,” said Mr Dunn.

“A major driver of inflation in the land market in recent years has been the availability of Capital Gains Tax rollover relief. Individuals who have made sizeable capital gains elsewhere in the economy have been drawn into the land market as a safe, tax efficient investment driving up its price to unsustainable levels. This has got to stop,” said Mr Dunn.

“The TFA would like to see the abolition of Capital Gains Tax rollover relief for land purchases, with exceptions for those who have lost land through compulsory purchase. Instead, there should be a new relief for investments into fixed equipment on to let land which will assist its productivity, resilience and sustainability,” said Mr Dunn.

“In the farming context SDLT makes no sense at all. This tax penalises longer tenancies but these are exactly what we need in farming. SDLT might make sense in the commercial sector where large corporations seek to avoid tax by using long leases with developers but it has no place in the farming world and should be abolished,” said Mr Dunn.

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