NFU CYMRU has welcomed the reintroduction of the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill to Parliament after the previous version was lost in light of December’s General Election.
Commenting on the Bill’s introduction, NFU Cymru President, Mr John Davies said: “I am pleased that a new Agriculture Bill has now been introduced to Parliament, with many of the provisions NFU Cymru has pushed for reflected in this important piece of draft legislation.
“In particular, I am glad to see that the Bill will provide a mechanism to reform the sharing out of the red meat levy across Great Britain. The fact that a significant proportion of Welsh livestock ends up being slaughtered outside of Wales means that there is a significant annual loss of levy funds to Wales’ red meat promotion body, Hybu Cig Cymru.
“The current basis for levy collection is flawed, as it based solely on the location of the abattoir, something which lies completely outside the control of the primary producer. NFU Cymru has been calling for reform in this area for many years now. Once the relevant parties are equipped with the powers they need to address this anomaly, we will look to them to work together to ensure that a mutually agreed, equitable and fit for purpose scheme is up and running as soon as possible
“I also welcome the obligation that the Bill will place on Ministers to report on food security to Parliament. The issue of food security has not been given the prominence it deserves, and hopefully, this new duty that the Bill places on Ministers will go some way towards ensuring that food security is at the forefront of politicians’ minds.
“Fairness and transparency in the supply chain is another issue that NFU Cymru has been pushing hard for many years, so I welcome the fact that the Bill equips Ministers with powers to address supply chain issues. Across many sectors, we have seen inexplicable downward price pressure, including most recently in the beef sector, which dents farmers’ confidence and their ability to invest for the future. Stamping out unfair trading practices and improving the bargaining position of farmers in the supply chain are vital steps we must take to ensure a viable future across different sectors.”
Mr Davies did, however, raise concerns about the omission from the Bill of provision concerning standards: “Although we have had numerous assurances from the UK Government that it will not allow the import of food produced to environmental and animal welfare standards which would be illegal here, I think an opportunity has been missed to legislate around standards in future trade deals.
“For some time now we have been pressing the Government to introduce a standards commission as a matter of priority to oversee and advise on future food trade policy and negotiations – this Bill could have been how this could have been delivered. We will continue to press the Government on this issue, to ensure that Wales’ farmers can compete on a level playing field after Brexit.”
About future Welsh agricultural policy, Mr Davies said: “Agriculture, and the development of future agricultural support policy, is, of course, a devolved matter. When the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill was first introduced in 2018, the Welsh Government took powers in it which would have allowed them to operate new schemes in Wales post-Brexit.
The Welsh Government has confirmed it will not be doing so this time around, opting instead to introduce its own legislation to the National Assembly in Cardiff in due course. NFU Cymru looks forward to working with politicians in Cardiff to deliver policy for Wales which delivers against our three cornerstones of productivity, stability and the environment to realise our ambition of a productive, progressive and profitable Welsh agricultural sector.
“In the nearer term, the UK Government Agriculture Bill will provide Welsh Ministers with the powers they need to continue paying direct payments beyond 2020. I very much welcome commitments made by our own Minister, Lesley Griffiths AM in this respect to continue with the Basic Payment Scheme unchanged for 2020 and 2021, this provides stability to the sector at what is an uncertain time.
“NFU Cymru will continue to scrutinise and examine this Bill in great detail over the coming days and weeks to ensure that it delivers on these vital issues for farmers while providing the environment we all need for a thriving agricultural sector post-Brexit.”
Lesley Griffiths said: “As we prepare to leave the EU and enter the post-Brexit transition period, my message to the UK government is to ensure Wales’ interests are taken into consideration in trade negotiations and during talks about the future relationship with the EU. We also strongly believe there must be no erosion of standards for food, human and animal health and environmental protection.”
In a written statement responding to the Bill, Ms Griffiths said: ‘The powers being taken for Welsh Ministers are intended to be temporary until an Agriculture (Wales) Bill is brought forward to design a ‘Made in Wales’ system which works for Welsh agriculture, rural industries and our communities. Provisions relating to Wales are contained in a separate Schedule.
‘The Bill introduced on January 16, provides powers for the Welsh Ministers to continue paying Direct Payments to farmers beyond 2020 and gives our farmers much-needed stability during this period of uncertainty. It also contains certain other powers, including those which are important to ensure the effective operation of the internal market in the UK.
‘Given the passage of time since the original Bill was first introduced in September 2018, I have reflected on the scope of the Welsh schedule, taking into account the helpful reports provided by the Senedd during scrutiny.
‘I have concluded it is no longer appropriate to take powers to allow the Welsh Ministers to operate or transition to new schemes. My intention now is these will be provided for instead by the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. I intend to publish a White Paper towards the end of 2020 which will set out the context for the future of Welsh farming and pave the way for an Agriculture (Wales) Bill’.
The TFA, while welcoming the UK Bill, said it could be further improved.
George Dunn, TFA’s CEO, said: “Whilst the Bill is better than the one that went before, the task now is to ensure that we make it the best Bill it can be.
“For example, the obligation upon the Government to prepare a report on food security should be annual, not just every five years. The strengthened supply chain measures should be regulated by the Groceries Code Adjudicator and not given to the Rural Payments Agency to oversee. The schedule of changes to tenancy legislation also needs to be bolstered with further measures to assist older tenants into retirement, encourage landlords to let for longer periods of time and protect tenants from spurious notices to quit.”
“Rather than supporting non-active landlords,” Mr Dunn said, “it is also essential to ensure that future financial assistance properly supports active farmers – those in occupation of land, taking the entrepreneurial risk for the activities occurring on that land and in day-to-day management control. If the Bill does not spell this out, there will be a significant risk that public funding will be misdirected.”
George Dunn sounded the same note of caution as John Davies and Lesley Griffiths about the risk of watering down food standards: “There’s nothing in the Bill that protects the UK market from imported food and food ingredients produced to standards that would be illegal within the UK.
“To date, the Government has shied away from legally binding commitments. It’s time for the Government to enshrine its strong words on protecting our standards in trade in legislation.”
Roy Noble joins campaign to stop mass tree-planting on agricultural land
ONE of Wales’ best-loved broadcasters has joined countryside campaigners in calling on the Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to stop mass tree-planting on prime agricultural land, while also urging them to curtail ‘outside interests’ and ‘juggernaut companies’ from doing the same.
Roy Noble, who has been a constant feature on Welsh radio and TV for decades, said in a ‘personal plea to high officialdom’ that he had “real empathy” with farming families who “are out-bid” for land purchases by “financial combines”, who use it to offset their carbon emissions elsewhere by planting trees. He accused them of having “no empathy for, or real understanding of farming or the countryside”.
Appealing to the Welsh public, the OBE recipient argued that taking away agricultural land for tree planting risked limiting Wales’ ability to be self-sufficient and threatened food security.
He said: “The tragic and awful events unfolding in Ukraine and the world’s extreme financial strain currently impacting on our country should focus the mind and underline priorities, one being self-sufficiency. It stands at around 60% in Wales at present I believe, but experts agree, from the farming world and beyond that it could be vastly improved with official support. Of course, we cannot produce everything, but a greater percentage is a realistic goal.”
Mr Noble, who worked as a teacher before embarking on a career in broadcast, argued that tree planting has benefits when done in the ‘right place with the right trees’ stating: “Without a doubt, planting trees is regarded and accepted as a way to combat the climate emergency and global warming, but ‘right trees, right place, right effect’ is, I feel, an acceptable mantra in that process. Planting on productive, rich arable land, surely is not, and, if done, the implication and effect will last generations.”
He pointed at rural communities in the Cothi Valley, Carmarthenshire, where his ‘maternal lineage lived for many generations’ saying: “Many of the farming families, in all areas of Wales affected, are rooted in their land, their hallowed ground attached as it is to their soul and their very being. Many likely go back to the very early farmers. That heritage deserves recognition and respect, for all they have contributed and will continue to do, feeding a need, in food production, co-operating in climate crisis initiatives, and working with government and agricultural bodies on sensible paths.”
The broadcaster’s intervention comes as a petition, launched by Countryside Alliance Wales and now in its third week, continues to collect hundreds of signatures by the day. The petition, which is online, calls on the Welsh Government and NRW to ‘stop purchasing productive farmland to plant trees which threatens our fragile rural communities, heritage, culture and the Welsh language’.
It further adds: ‘We are deeply concerned about the number of companies purchasing productive farmland for tree planting to offset their carbon emissions and feel that the Welsh Government should further protect our communities from this practice’.
The petition was launched after a Countryside Alliance Freedom of Information request revealed the Welsh Government has spent a staggering £6million buying land with taxpayers’ money.
In February, the Welsh Government announced that new memorial woodlands would be created at three separate sites, including a section of farmland at Brownhill in Carmarthenshire’s Tywi Valley. The plans involve planting at least 60,000 trees, sparking fears that valuable agricultural land will be lost.
In the Carmarthenshire village of Cwrt-y-Cadno, Frongoch Farm was sold earlier last year to Foresight Group – a multi-billion pound private equity firm based in The Shard. It plans to plant thousands of trees across the valley, prompting locals to launch a fightback, arguing that the afforestation will be largely made up of conifers that could damage soil and have a negative impact on the landscape.
There are also multiple reports of farmers being targeted through cold-calls made by agents working for investors wanting to buy farmland to plant trees.
Rachel Evans, Director of Countryside Alliance Wales said: “It is truly a great honour to receive the support of Roy Noble in what is an incredibly important campaign. We cannot stand by and watch productive agricultural land get swallowed up for tree planting initiatives that while well intentioned, have long term, negative, irreversible consequences for farming families in Wales and threaten our ability to produce our own food. Every signature represents a voice and alongside Roy Noble, we urge the Welsh public to ensure their voices are heard by signing our petition today.”
The online petition can be found here: Take action: Save our Welsh farmland (ac-page.com)
Building on European funding successes vital to future of rural Wales
BUILDING on the benefits significant European funding has brought to projects in rural Wales and the commitment of communities who have delivered them will be crucial as we look to the future.
This is the message from Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths ahead of a 200-plus guest event beginning today at the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells to celebrate the work of rural Wales.
For decades Wales has benefitted from support through the European Union’s Rural Development Programme (RDP). With the UK’s exit from the EU, this support is coming to an end, and the Welsh Government is now developing a truly Welsh approach to supporting the rural economy.
Activity through the RDP has been extensive, diverse and successful. This event, which includes a number of speakers and exhibitions, provides an opportunity to recognise and praise people’s work.
RDP funding has supported a project at Caswell Bay on the Gower Peninsula to help make the beach more accessible, inclusive and accommodating for those with physical and learning disabilities.
The support has helped create new facilities consist of a self-contained unit, complete with hoist, shower and changing bed and it is the first Changing Places facility on Gower.
The project has made a difference to thousands of residents and visitors with severe disabilities, who now have access and can enjoy the waters at Caswell Bay and have a dignified experience when changing and washing in a facility which is fit for purpose and meets their complex needs and requirements.
In Wrexham, the RDP supported the North Wales Wildlife Trust to initiate the ‘Biodiversity means business’ project. Through a collaborative approach involving businesses, landowners, farmers and community groups, the scheme has helped protect and improve ecosystems, habitats and species.
Adrian Lloyd Jones, North Wales Wildlife Trust Living Landscapes Manager said: “I am delighted to watch the unique partnership between the industrial and ecological aspects of this area strengthen day by day. While a business needs a sound foundation to grow, so does an ecosystem.
“This project, with business and conservation working together, has given back to nature and allowed all forms of life,be they human, flora or fauna, to benefit and thrive, making life better for future generations.”
At the beginning of the RDP programme, the Welsh Government set out to boost the productivity of the farming, forestry and food sectors. To date, this has helped create nearly 2,400 new jobs and protect more than 2,150.
The aim was also to create 34,000 training places to foster innovation, knowledge transfer, co-operation, more sustainable farming practices and stronger rural businesses. This has almost tripled, with in excess of 90,000 people trained through Farming Connect, food centres and support for the timber sector.
Ahead of the Celebration of Rural Wales event, Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths said: “Our rural communities play a vital role in Welsh life and we have a lot to be proud of.
“European Union funding has helped us protect and restore thousands of hectares of our habitats and we are also seeing biodiversity in our grasslands starting to stabilise and, in some areas, improve.
“All of this and more could not have been done without the commitment and determination of Welsh farmers, landowners, and the rural workforce.
“We face a number of challenges as the impacts of the decision to leave the European Union, the subsequent free trade agreements, the Covid-19 pandemic and now the conflict in Ukraine are being felt across the board.
“We are grateful to the European Union for their support, and we must build on our achievements through the Rural Development Programme as we develop a bespoke Welsh approach to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead of us.
“In April, I announced an initial £227m over the next three years to support our rural economy. This is only the start and we know more needs to be done, and further support will be provided as we transition to Sustainable Farming Scheme and build a new, green economy responding to the nature and climate emergencies
“Working together has always been a real strength across our rural communities and sectors. This will only become increasingly more important as we deliver towards the challenges and opportunities ahead of us.”
Carmarthenshire farmer admits causing slurry pollution
A CARMARTHENSHIRE farmer has admitted failing to comply with an order to improve his slurry storage and causing slurry pollution in two nearby rivers during a hearing at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court.
Noel Richards, a farmer responsible for the running of Coedmoelon and Rhydolau farms, pleaded guilty to all three offences at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court on Friday, April 22.
He was ordered to pay £2,153 in fines, a further £2,344 in court costs and a victim surcharge of £190.
Matthew Lowe, Environment Team Leader, of Natural Resource Wales, said: “Mr Richards self-reported one of the slurry incidents to NRW, which was the most appropriate and responsible thing to do to minimise the impact of the pollution on our land and waterways.
“However I must stress that both incidents could have been prevented had Mr Richards taken the required steps to adhere to regulations around the safe storage of slurry.
“We work closely and positively with farmers to help them comply with regulations and minimise the risks of causing agricultural pollution. Where farmers ignore our requests and put people, nature and our natural resources at risk, we will prosecute.”
In February 2018 Mr Richards was issued with a notice to carry out required compliance works to a slurry lagoon at Coed Moelon Farm to ensure it adheres to the required standards of the Water Resources (Control of Pollution) (Silage and Slurry) (Wales) Regulations 2010.
The notice has not been complied with to date.
On 22 September 2020, NRW received a report of slurry pollution in the stream running into the Afon Dulais.
An Environment Officer attended the site and witnessed the stream discoloured along with an agricultural odour. The officer traced the pollution back to a dirty water tank at Rhydolau Farm.
Mr Richards was cooperative and the pollution was contained as soon as the source was identified.
On 3 December 2020, NRW received a call from Mr Richards self-reporting a pollution incident where slurry had entered a tributary of the Afon Gwendraeth Fawr.
Mr Richards explained that they had spread slurry the week before, but the recent rainfall had washed the slurry into the watercourse. An Environment Officer attended the site and found the stream discoloured with large amounts of foam.
The officer traced the pollution back to a field belonging to Coed Moelon Farm that had been spread with slurry.
Matthew Lowe added: “I urge farmers and contractors to be vigilant to help prevent polluting our waterways. Carry out regular checks on slurry levels and storage infrastructure. Only spread slurry when conditions are right, for example, not spreading at times when rain is forecast over the next 24 hours, when the ground is saturated or when the ground is frozen hard.
“We recognise that sometimes things do go wrong, but we urge farmers or contractors who know they have caused pollution, to report it to NRW immediately by calling 0300 065 3000. The sooner we know about it, the sooner we can work with them to try and reduce the impact on the environment.”
To report a pollution incident call NRW’s 24-hour incident hotline on 0300 065 3000.
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