BORIS JOHNSON’s controversial Cabinet reshuffle, which appeared to reward loyalty over competence in several instances, resulted in the appointment of a new Secretary of State at DEFRA.
George Eustice, previously a Minister of State at the department before resigning in February 2019, joined the Cabinet.
He replaced Theresa Villiers in the role.
Mr Eustice comes from a farming background. His family runs a fruit farm, restaurant and shop in Cornwall, where they have a herd of South Devon cattle and British Lop pigs.
Mr Eustice made the headlines in 2016 through being of two Conservative DEFRA ministers who were accused by environmental campaigners of having a conflict of interest over receiving subsidies on their family businesses while being involved in developing the plans for the replacement system to the EU farming support.
The replacement of CAP and tackling the pressures tariffs planned by the Government will affect the UK’s farming industry will be high on Mr Eustice’s ministerial in-tray.
If the UK Government makes good on its promise to significantly diverge from the existing tariff-free arrangements with EU, something which both Westminster and Brussels accept is increasingly likely, farmers are in for a bumpy ride.
Although the UK Government says it wants trade to be ‘as frictionless as possible’, it now accepts that there will be winners and losers. While large English arable farms are likely to be (comparatively) little worse off, Welsh livestock farmers stand as those most likely to be hit hard by tariff changes and any lowering of animal welfare, hygiene, and health standards when the UK strikes trade deals with large markets overseas. America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and Argentina will want market access on their terms as part of any cross-sector trade agreement. The interim tariffs the Government plans to introduce will, all Wales’ farming unions agree, slash Welsh red meat exports to their biggest market.
After his resignation from Theresa May’s government, Mr Eustice, a vociferous Brexiteer, wrote an article for the Guardian in which he set out his concerns about the UK’s trading relationship with other countries after Brexit.
Mr Eustice wrote: ” I believe in open markets and want us to have an independent trade policy. There is a negotiation to be had about allowing tariff-free quotas on some products as part of a future UK-US trade deal. However, if Americans want to be granted privileged access to the UK market, they will have to learn to abide by British law and British standards or kiss goodbye to any trade deal and join the back of the queue.”
Mr Eustice is now, at least superficially. in a much stronger position to put his words into action.
As the responsibility for sorting out a new support mechanism was handed over by the Welsh Government to the Westminster, the short to medium term future of Welsh farming rests in George Eustice’s hands. Meanwhile, the Cardiff Bay government’s plans, which contained more pie in the sky than an explosion at Peter’s Pies’ factory, are stalled while it waits to see how much it can carve out of farm subsidies to fund its dream of reducing the amount of Wales’ sustainable farmland.
Responding to George Eustice’s appointment, CLA President Mark Bridgeman drew attention to the new Secretary of State’s record at DEFRA.
“We warmly welcome Mr George Eustice to his role at this pivotal time for British agriculture,” Mr Bridgeman said.
“As a long-standing Farming Minister, he will know the scale of the challenge ahead. We will work closely with him to help achieve the full potential of the rural economy.”
NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker also drew attention to Mr Eustice’s ministerial experience, saying “We hope to continue our strong working relationship with him as agricultural policy evolves in the future as we enter into new farming support schemes and trade arrangements.”
TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn was enthusiastic about the appointment
Mr Dunn said: “It’s great to have a Secretary of State at DEFRA who really wanted the role. George Eustice has the depth of experience, enthusiasm, passion and ideas to really make a difference in this role at such a crucial time for the farming industry as we move into a brand-new policy era.
“George has been particularly mindful of the needs of the tenanted sector of agriculture and we look forward to working with him in his promoted role.”
While NFU-Cymru President John Davies congratulated Mr Eustice about his promotion, he also sounded a note of caution.
Mr Davies said: “The new Secretary of State will have a vital role to play in ensuring the industry can capitalise on the new opportunities afforded to us now the UK has left the European Union. As we embark on this new era, we urge the new Secretary of State to work with his colleagues in the new UK Government Cabinet to ensure that the standards which form the solid foundation of the UK food and farming industry are not compromised in forthcoming negotiations over future trade deals. Mr Eustice’s predecessors have vowed to protect and uphold these standards and we would welcome his commitment to reinforce this pledge at the earliest opportunity.”
John Davies continued: “NFU Cymru is keen to meet with Mr Eustice in the coming weeks to outline our vision for a productive, progressive and profitable food and farming industry in Wales and the role that the UK Government can play in helping us to realise our vision.
“The union’s officeholder team and staff have met with Mr Eustice on several occasions in his previous capacity as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We look forward to continuing that good working relationship.”
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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