AS WE close the book on what has been an eventful year, I’d like to survey the events of 2019 and look ahead to see what is on the horizon in 2020.
We’ve just emerged from the third UK General Election in four years, following what has been a period of extraordinary political instability. The result of December’s election gives the Prime Minister the majority he has been seeking to take forward his Brexit plans. Although in legal terms we cease to be an EU Member State at the end of January, there is much work ahead to secure the access we need to our nearest and most valuable export market.
Although uncertainty persists, I am ambitious for our sector. Wales’ farmers have the skills, natural resource base and ambition from which to rise to future challenges and opportunities which lie ahead. These opportunities include increasing our self-sufficiency by producing more high-quality food, securing new export markers and becoming producers of the most climate-friendly food in the world by becoming zero net emitters of greenhouse gases by 2040.
Leaving the EU at the end of January based on the current withdrawal agreement means that we enter a transition period, during which time we continue to enjoy access to the EU’s single market. We must ensure that when that transition ends, we can access that market on the most favourable terms possible, with tariff and non-tariff barriers eliminated wherever possible. The UK’s government must also avoid a situation whereby the transition period elapses without having reached an agreement on a future trading relationship with the EU, culminating in us trading with the EU on WTO terms.
Trade talks with third countries will begin soon and one point I have been making consistently, and for some time now, is that we must not allow our own high environmental and animal welfare standards to be undermined in any future trade agreements that the UK may enter into. I, therefore, want 2020 to be the year in which the new government moves ahead with the creating of a Trade and Standards Commission, which will be tasked with ensuring our high standards are upheld and respected in any future trade agreements with third countries.
2019 also saw the second stage of the Welsh Government’s consultation on the future of agricultural policy in Wales. The ‘Sustainable Farming and our Land’ consultation followed its 2018 predecessor, ‘Brexit and our Land’, and we were pleased to see these revised proposals including future support around the principle of sustainability. The union remains concerned, however, that the proposals suggest the continued supply of vital economic, social and cultural benefits provided by Welsh farming currently can be secured through what is, essentially, an agri-environment scheme. I’d like to once again thank all farmers and those living in our rural communities who responded to the consultation. We now wait for the Welsh Government to analyse the responses and bring forward the next stage of the process in 2020.
Sadly, as we welcome in the New Year, around 650 cattle farmers in Wales are affected by bovine TB restrictions and this, of course, has a significant knock-on effect on their business and family. NFU Cymru continues to lobby the Welsh Government to review its bovine TB eradication strategy and deliver a more holistic policy that tackles this disease across all its vectors. A peer-reviewed scientific report examining the effectiveness of badger culling in reducing outbreaks of TB in cattle has shown positive results in Gloucestershire and Somerset and we now look to Welsh Government to listen to the science and use all of the tools at its disposal to control the reservoir of disease in wildlife – not just through cattle controls. We also need the Welsh Government to look at the support for chronic herds in Wales and the massive impact long term breakdowns are having on these businesses.
On the dairy side, we look forward to a long-awaited consultation on statutory milk contracts. There are examples of good practice out there but what other industry would allow six weeks of payments in arrears and for processors to adjust prices at a whim? Of course, we want processors to have successful profitable businesses, but we need the same for our milk producers. After all, these are the people taking the price risk when product prices fall. This has to change as evidenced by the latest Welsh Government farm statistics when dairy farm income fell by a massive 43% in the year ending March 2019 compared to the previous 12 months. Statutory contracts will help bring back some stability which the sector needs right now.
Against the backdrop of Brexit uncertainty and low market returns, the threat of regulation continues to weigh heavily on farmers’ minds. Back in November 2018, the Welsh Government announced regulatory measures covering the whole of Wales to protect water quality from agricultural pollution coming into force in January 2020. From information provided by the Welsh Government in early 2019, it is clear the proposed new regulations are whole territory Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) with the NVZ Action Programme requirements applied across the whole of Wales.
The Minister, in December 2019, confirmed that she will be considering advice from officials in January on the introduction of agricultural regulations following further engagement. NFU Cymru categorically rejects any proposals which include the introduction of the Nitrates Directive and Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) across the whole of Wales. This is based on the evidence which shows an all-Wales approach simply cannot be justified; that the existing NVZs in Wales have had limited effectiveness. The great harm an all-Wales NVZ will do to farm businesses and our rural communities, which greatly outweigh any benefits to water quality, cannot be justified. We are clear, an all-Wales NVZ approach is not evidence-based, proportionate or targeted and we continue to work tirelessly to emphasise to Welsh Government the devastating impacts that an all-Wales NVZ approach will have. We urge the Minister to recognise that poor regulation serves no one – not government, not society, not the farming industry or the environment – and work with us to develop the framework to support farmers to take action to improve water quality where this is needed.
2019 has also been a year when the glare of the media on Welsh and British farming has not been as balanced as we would expect. I have long said that, as an industry, we are not immune from critique and we relish the opportunity to stand up and promote our values and leading standards. What we do not and will not accept, however, is unbalanced reporting and false news pedalled by those with an agenda against farming. This year NFU Cymru has shown we tackle such behaviour through robust complaints and other means. Please be assured that we are prepared to escalate our actions accordingly if required.
There will no doubt be huge challenges facing our industry in 2020 and beyond. As an industry, we should all be very proud of the role we play and we must remain steadfast in our ambitions to continue to deliver for the people and communities of Wales. As an organisation, NFU Cymru is ambitious for Welsh food and farming. Politicians in both Cardiff and Westminster must commit to working with us to deliver our ambition for a productive, progressive and profitable farming sector that delivers for the whole of Wales
NFU wants increased use of wool in buildings
NFU CYMRU has written to Welsh Government calling for the introduction of new measures to increase the use of British wool in homes and public buildings.
In a letter to the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James MS, NFU Cymru Livestock Board Chair Wyn Evans has called on Welsh Government to support Welsh farmers by specifying wool rich carpets and other interior fabrics in all government and local authority buildings. The letter also advocates for wool insulation to be used as part of insulation grant schemes going forward in Wales on existing properties and new builds.
The letter follows a summer in which sheep farmers have seen the price they receive for their wool clip collapse as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the worldwide market for wool. The situation has sparked a petition, which NFU Cymru is supporting, which calls on the UK Government and each of the devolved governments to make the use of wool mandatory in new home insulations schemes and for insulation and carpeting in public buildings in each of their respective nations.
In his letter, Mr Evans said: “You may be aware of the current crisis the British Wool Marketing Board is facing because of the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. This is severely affecting wool prices, demand and the ability to trade this totally natural, environmentally friendly product. Wales has approaching five million breeding sheep, for animal welfare purposes sheep must be shorn annually. The crisis in wool markets means the price that farmers receive for their wool is only a fraction of their shearing costs, the crisis is therefore impacting right down to primary producers of wool and the rural economy.
“We believe there are opportunities to increase demand through the domestic market here in Wales. Welsh Government could play a significant role in doing just this whilst meeting commitments to protect and enhance the environment for future generations.
“Wool is a versatile, sustainable product and a fantastic, natural insulator that can help drive improvements in the energy efficiency of new and existing homes. We believe its use could be stimulated through grant aid on its environmental benefits. In our view this would be an be an economic and environmental win.”
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.
Farming Connect’s face-to-face training back on
DUE to the restrictions of Covid 19, although it’s not ‘training as usual’ as yet for Farming Connect, face-to-face training courses held exclusively outdoors can now resume immediately. This means that provided the Welsh Government’s current Covid 19 regulations are met and every individual involved stays two metres apart, face-to-face training is available.
Training can also be carried out in large, open sheds, barns or outbuildings, where the two metre distance rule and other Covid 19 regulations can be adhered to. Welsh Government has warned that its guidance is subject to change should there be a resurgence of the pandemic. It is hoped that a full resumption of Farming Connect’s indoor classroom-based training will be possible in the autumn.
Kevin Thomas, director of Lantra Wales, which together with Menter a Busnes delivers Farming Connect on behalf of the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, welcomed the announcement.
“With all Farming Connect face to face training either fully funded or subsidised by up to 80%, it is very good news for the industry that so many face-to-face courses are now available again.
“Personal, business and technical development is critical as farmers and foresters prepare for a future outside the EU and with over 80 subjects to choose from, this could be the ideal time to learn something new or expand your knowledge on a specific subject.
“New skills will also be especially beneficial for those who have had to adapt their business model due to the changed market conditions caused by the pandemic,” said Mr. Thomas, who added that all Farming Connect training completed will be added to each trainee’s online ‘Storfa Sgiliau’ professional development records.
Registered individuals who received an approval for face-to-face training but whose courses were postponed due to the pandemic lockdown, should contact their selected training provider as soon as possible to discuss their options. Those who have not already applied for funded training can do so within the next skills application window which will be open from 09:00 on Monday 7 September until 17:00 on Friday 30 October 2020.
Farming Connect’s range of subsidised digital or ‘remote’ training has steadily increased since the pandemic first surfaced, and is now available for a number of Farming Connect courses including food safety; business-related training, poultry related training and animal health and welfare topics.
Training options within Farming Connect’s fully funded ICT and animal health training programmes can all be provided remotely, either one-to-one or via for example, a ‘virtual’ group animal health workshop. In addition, Farming Connect’s range of fully funded e-learning interactive modules has recently been refreshed and expanded to deliver more topics.
For further information about Farming Connect’s skills and lifelong learning programme, either contact your local development officer or your selected training provider. Visit www.gov.wales/farmingconnect for further information, a list of all training providers and the courses currently available.
Farming Connect, which is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra, has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.
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