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Farming

Cultivating votes: F arming and the election

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Farmers can have an influence on election: A close eye on political developments.

Farmers can have an influence on election: A close eye on political developments.

THE ELECTION on May 7 is widely touted as being one of the closest of recent times. Away from the photo opportunities and soundbites, farmers around the UK are keeping a close eye on political developments.

Both the FUW and the NFU have made no bones that they are looking towards central government to support farming and the wider agricultural industry. With votes precious, the question is how far political parties are prepared to bend their policies to meet farmers’ expectations. While votes in the shires of England tend to aggregate towards the Conservatives, the picture in Wales is rather more complex.

For a start, there are more small independent farms per head of population than there are in England and income from agriculture and food production make up a larger part of Wales’ own domestic product.

When one focuses on the commitments of the larger parties in Wales, there is little meat in any of the manifestos, which focus on large picture macro-economic concerns rather than practical proposals to improve the lot of farmers and agricultural workers and farming communities in the short to medium term.

The Conservative manifesto has promised a lot for the longer term:

  • 25 year growth plan for food industry
  • Commitment to 25 year TB strategy (including culling)
  • 5 year tax averaging
  • Single farm inspection taskforce to co-ordinate visits, including Red Tractor
  • Treble food, farming and Agri-tech apprenticeships
  • Great British Food Unit to promote British exports
  • Push for Country of Origin Labelling for dairy in Europe

The long term is all very well, but at a time when farming incomes for family farms are being squeezed tighter than ever, most farmers will be most interested in the here and now. Farmers need certainty about their income and about the support they can expect from government now and tomorrow and not in the sweet bye and bye.

The Conservatives have promised to deliver in 2017 a referendum on whether Britain should stay in or stay out of the European Union. What they have not said is what they will do to help farmers replace European funding payments, upon which many farmers rely, if, in 2017, the British people choose to leave the EU. In addition, the Conservatives have not said how British farmers will be able to continue to access European markets for their produce if tariffs on imports to the EU from the UK follow, as they surely would.

The Labour Party has a significant problem with rural and farming affairs. From being an industry that commanded a seat at the centre of Cabinet discussions, farming was side-lined during the last Labour Government and there is no dedicated minister for agriculture and rural affairs in the Cabinet on the Bay.

Lingering resentment exists in some parts of the Welsh countryside over the ban on hunting with dogs, particularly on upland farms where predation by foxes is a particular problem. There also remains considerable disquiet at the way the Welsh Labour government caved in to those protesting against badger culls. In both cases, it seemed to most farmers that Labour was more interested in appeasing voters who had perhaps a more rosy view of Reynard the Fox and Brock the Badger than most farmers experience in their daily lives.

So, where Labour has a policy at all on agriculture, it is more concerned with issues at the end of the food-delivery process than those issues at source level. Labour’s manifesto commitments on agriculture (in the broader sense) are:

  • End the badger cull pilots
  • Expand the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator
  • Ban zero-hours contracts – workers have right to permanent contract after 12 weeks
  • Long-term food strategy
  • Maximum-permitted levels of sugar, salt and fat in food marketed to children
  • Broadband rollout

In times past, the old Liberal Party was the last redoubt of Welsh farmers. Broadly put, large landowners backed the Tories, farmers and rural communities tended to back the Liberals. The splintering of old ties is, however, likely to see the Liberal Democrat vote across large parts of Wales shrink significantly: while Mark Williams seems likely to hold Ceredigion, Brecon and Radnor is on a knife’s edge. With the Liberal Democrats looking to be coalition partners with any new government, its ability deliver manifesto commitments is necessarily limited, but it is likely that promises to review policies rather than put forward specific measures of their own would make them relatively easy to slot back in to either of the main party’s farming commitments.

Plaid Cymru’s pitch is, perhaps, predictably to wish a plague on both the houses of the Conservative and Labour parties, with Carmarthen East & Dinefwr candidate Jonathan Edwards claiming that: “Plaid Cymru is the champion of rural Wales. We are the only party that has a strong record of standing up for farmers and rural businesses, and opposing the establishment parties’ threats to the EU funding that the sector depends on.”

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Farming

NFU wants increased use of wool in buildings

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Wool insulation: Could be used as part of insulation grant schemes going forward in Wales

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.”

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Devolution must be respected

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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.

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Farming

Farming Connect’s face-to-face training back on

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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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