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.”
Alpaca settle in on Welsh hills
A HERD of alpaca at Aberystwyth University’s upland research centre welcomed two new arrivals during the Covid-19 lockdown.
One male and one female baby alpaca, known as cria, were born at the Pwllpeiran Upland Research Platform and are settling down to life in the Cambrian Mountains.
They are the first cria to be born on the University’s land and to be registered under the centre’s new stud prefix ‘Peiran’.
Peiran Champagne and Peiran Cosmopolitan join a small herd of alpacas who arrived at Pwllpeiran in October 2019 as part of a new research project.
Scientists want to see whether the South American alpaca is suited to life in the Welsh hills and could provide new opportunities for uplands farming.
These long-necked animals, similar to the llama, are renowned for the quality of their fibre (wool) and are happy to feed on low quality grasses which are often snubbed by sheep.
The research project is being led by Dr Mariecia Fraser at the Pwllpeiran Upland Research Centre, which is part of the University’s Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).
“These are changing times for Welsh upland farming, with the next round of support payments expected to push for a shift away from primary agricultural production towards nature conservation and carbon reduction. In setting up a research herd of alpacas at Pwllpeiran, we want to test whether the alpaca could offer hill farmers a viable alternative to sheep.
“As well as producing high quality fibre, camelids like alpacas have evolved adaptations to enable them to live off poor quality tussock grasses in the Andes, and are happy to tuck into invasive grasses such as Molinia. These forages grow in abundance on the Welsh uplands but tend to be shunned by native sheep. We’ll be looking at the impact of their grazing and how well they could fit in to traditional patterns of farming here,” said Dr Fraser.
The establishment of the initial research herd is being funded by the Joy Welch Educational Charitable Trust, which was set up by the Aberystwyth alumna in 1988.
Beef calf registrations increase
NEW figures released by the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) suggests that the number of beef calves registered in Wales in the first five months of 2020 is the highest it’s been for several years.
Across Britain there has been an overall rise of 1.2% in calves – both dairy and beef – registered between January and May 2020, compared to the same period last year. In Wales the figure is higher, with an increase of 3.1%.
According to analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) the statistics reflect a range of factors, including a trend of producing more cross-bred calves from the dairy herd.
Some of the beef breeds and cross breeds showing the biggest increases in terms of calf registrations in Wales include the Aberdeen Angus (up 11.7%) and Hereford (up 4.8%), whilst both Charolais and British Blue registrations are up just over 4%.
The 2020 figures are a contrast to the last five years, where BCMS calf registration data has indicated a flat picture in the Welsh beef registrations.
HCC market analyst Glesni Phillips said, “These figures could show a positive sign for the future of the beef industry in Wales, and reflect broader trends in both the beef and dairy sectors.
“This comes despite the beef sector being hit by uncertainty in recent times. A combination of market conditions led to low farm-gate prices last year, and demand fluctuated widely in the early stages of the Coronavirus lockdown as pubs and restaurants closed their doors.
“However, we’ve seen encouraging consumption figures throughout Britain in the second half of the spring, with great support from consumers for home-produced beef, with its high standards of welfare and environmental sustainability.”
One high-profile new entrant into the beef sector is international rugby referee Nigel Owens MBE, who has recently started his own ‘Mairwen’ herd of Hereford cattle in Carmarthenshire.
“Having worked at Wern Farm Drefach when I was younger it had always been a dream of mine to keep my own herd,” said Nigel, who has built up to around 30 cattle so far on a 116-acre holding, “and if anything the lockdown has given the chance to get things up and running more quickly, as we’ve been able to get on with fencing, hedge-laying and developing our soil and pasture.”
Nigel added, “Each breed has its supporters, but from an early age I recall visiting my uncle and aunt’s farm, Pentwyn in Llannon, who had a Hereford bull running with the dairy herd. My cousin Helen and Gwyndaf near Aberaeron who run the Creuddyn Hereford herd have also been a valuable source of advice. For me, the cattle have a calm nature and calve easily. They’ll also produce good-quality meat which is important as we develop the business in future.”
New edition of Welsh meat ‘Bible’ launched
HYBU Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has launched the latest edition of its ‘Little Book of Meat Facts’, the annual digest of facts, figures and trends for the nation’s lamb, beef and pork industries.
Among the key figures in this year’s edition were that Welsh red meat production was worth an estimated £690 million in 2018, compared with £677 million the previous year.
In 2019, total throughput of cattle and calves in Welsh abattoirs stood at 147,600 head, with total beef production totalling 42,900 tonnes (up from 40,000 tonnes the previous year). Throughput of sheep and lambs stood at 3.3 million head, with total sheep meat production totalling 63,400 tonnes, compared with 60,800 in 2018.
France remained the largest destination for lamb exports, but with important growth in trade with Germany which is now in a clear second place. Beef and lamb exports were mostly to Europe, although with significant trade to other markets in the Middle East, East Asia and Canada.
The Little Book also contains information on what kinds of meat British consumers are buying and from which retailers, as well as data on key industry measures such as carcase classification.
HCC Data Analyst Glesni Phillips said; “We usually launch the Little Book of Meat Facts at the Royal Welsh Show, so that farmers and other stakeholders can browse the latest statistics.
“Of course, this year that’s not possible, so we’re launching it virtually and making it available on our website.
“What all the statistics show is that, despite uncertainty surrounding Brexit and now of course the disruption of COVID-19, the red meat sector is hugely important to the Welsh economy. It’s the backbone of rural communities, and also employs large numbers in auction markets, processing and the supply chain, as well as supporting brands which are symbols of our nation’s high-quality food across the world.”
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