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.”
Economic value of red meat sector rises
THE VALUE of the iconic beef, lamb and pork sectors to the Welsh economy rose in 2020, as consumers turned to local, sustainable, quality food during the COVID pandemic, according to analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).New figures from the Welsh Government ‘Aggregate Agricultural Output and Income’ report show that the total value of agricultural output in Wales for 2020 is projected to stand at £1.7billion – a 6.2% (or £99 million) increase on the provisional figure for 2019.
Cattle and sheep account for 44% of this total at £750million; the highest proportion recorded since 2016. The agricultural output value for Wales’s pig sector also increased (by 34.3% or £2 million) to a value of £8 million.
The figures reflect the strength of the livestock sector in Wales and sit in contrast to Total Income From Farming (TIFF) figures for the UK as a whole newly released by Defra. Although the TIFF figures are a different form of measuring farm production, the UK data concurs that the livestock sector has had a strong year, but in other parts of Britain, this was more than offset by poor harvests in the arable sector.
Demand for beef and lamb have been strong in the domestic retail market since the immediate aftermath of the first COVID lockdown in spring 2020. After initial market volatility, marketing campaigns by HCC and other bodies encouraged consumers to recreate restaurant meals at home.
Over the past 12 months, domestic retail sales of lamb and beef have trended consistently higher, with spending on lamb 20% higher than the previous year. Sales at independent high street butchers are also strong.
Research shows many demographic groups, including families with children, buying more beef and lamb than previously, and turning to quality home-grown produce.
HCC Data Analyst Glesni Phillips said, “The strong demand for red meat from the domestic consumer has helped drive market prices for beef and lamb at Welsh livestock markets in the second half of 2020 and into the early months of 2021.
“It’s no surprise, therefore, to see that the overall value of the industry is projected to have grown. We have seen inflation in the costs on farmers, which offset some of the gains from improved market price; however, it’s heartening to see consumers’ support for quality Welsh produce.“Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef remain key drivers of our rural economy, and given their excellent brand reputation, they act as flagship products for the growing Welsh food and drink sector.”Further analysis of the aggregate output and income figures for Welsh farms are available in HCC’s latest monthly market bulletin.
Ian Rickman: 2021 is a critical year for Wales’ farming future
THE INCREASINGLY negative narrative around livestock farming and its portrayed impact on the environment and climate change has led to farmers in Wales standing up to tell their stories and highlight the positive impact livestock farming has.
Through the Farmers’ Union of Wales’ campaign ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’, farmers are addressing misleading claims by various groups about the role livestock farming plays in relation to climate change and the environment. Launching the campaign, FUW Deputy President Ian Rickman said: “The FUW has consistently recognised the threat represented by climate change and the need to take action. This is clear from a cursory look at our manifestos and policy documents published over the past twenty years.
“We know that farming is already responsible for a critical carbon resource in soils, woodland and semi-natural habitats and I’m pleased to launch the FUW’s environment campaign – ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’ from my home farm here in Carmarthenshire today. As farmers are the most trusted link in the supply chain, they are best placed to communicate their stories, helping to address consumer concerns and influencing political agendas. Members can also look forward to a variety of webinars over the coming months, which will focus on the different challenges ahead for the industry and how to overcome them.
“There is no question in our mind that we need to counteract the continuation by the anti-farming lobby of their campaign to vilify and belittle domestic food producers. These attacks are corrosive and grossly misleading, negatively influencing consumer perception of the industry and influencing political agendas on a global scale.”
Mr Rickman added that 2021 is an important year for these types of conversations.
“Knocking on our door are the United Nations Food Systems Summit and COP26. The FUW has been engaging with these conversations at an international level and shares some concerns with other industries across the globe about the wider narrative and ambitions set out in inconspicuous looking documents. Plans, we and the general public don’t support. Telling the positive story of the guardians of our Welsh land is now more important than ever,” he said.
Starting in the first week of June, the campaign introduces four farmers all of whom tell the story of how they are addressing environmental and climate change needs in their unique ways: Carmarthenshire organic sheep farmer Phil Jones, the Roberts family from Meirionnydd, Ceredigion dairy farmers Lyn and Lowri Thomas and FUW President Glyn Roberts who farms with his daughter Beca at Dylasau Uchaf in Snowdonia.
“The campaign will further highlight that Welsh farmers are rising to the challenge of improving soil health and increasing organic matter in soils, improvements which represent further opportunities for sequestering more carbon. These improvements, the campaign will highlight, are achieved through specific livestock grazing patterns and rest periods. The campaign is also clear that the correct options, guidance and rewards are required to encourage more farmers to adopt such systems,” said Mr Rickman.
Soil, the campaign will stress, is a long term investment and at present, around 410 million tonnes of carbon is stored in Welsh soils and 75,700 hectares of Wales’ woodland (25%) is on farmland, representing an important and growing carbon sink.
“As acknowledged in Natural Resources Wales’ State of Natural Resources Report, using land for food production is an essential part of natural resource use and management. Whilst we acknowledge that agricultural intensification has undeniably had negative impacts on some species and ecosystems, there is overwhelming evidence that other factors, including reductions in agricultural activity and afforestation, have also had severe negative impacts,” he added.
Excellent Easter for lamb sales
Lamb proved a popular choice for consumers over Easter with retail sales soaring above the last two years. This demand has been reflected at livestock markets where farmgate prices are still standing strong.
At a time when lamb is always a firm favourite, this year people of all ages were both buying and spending more as a result of a renewed interest in sourcing quality, local produce and cooking at home.
In the 12 weeks to 18 April 2021, the total volume purchased was up 14.8% on the year, and 6.0% higher than in 2019. Consumer spend on lamb reached £190.0 million, which was 18.7% more than in 2020 and 14.6% higher than the same period in 2019.
Lamb leg roasting joints were the most sought-after cuts despite the fact that Covid-19 restrictions on large gatherings remained, followed by chops and mince.
Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) Data Analyst, Glesni Phillips said: “Lamb performed exceptionally well over the Easter period this year. It saw a 10.2% increase in the number of buyers engaging with the product and a rise of 3.3% in the frequency of which lamb was bought.
“The average price of lamb was also higher, but this obviously did not deter new buyers. The figures show that there are new buyers in all age categories, but this is especially true for shoppers aged under 45 years and those with children.
“The pandemic has led to more consumers cooking at home, giving many the opportunity to realise and enjoy the exceptional qualities and versatility of Welsh Lamb, and at the same time, support the local economy.”
Butchers also benefitted from the popularity of lamb in the run-up to Easter with total spend increasing by 16.1% on the year. The volume sold also increased, by 12.6%.
Glesni Phillips added: “As we approach the end of Spring, the consumer demand for lamb is continuing. This can be seen in the liveweight lamb prices which remain strong when compared to historical averages, with the average SQQ in Wales standing at 329.7p/kg in Wales for the week ending 15 May 2021.
“New season lambs are now entering the market – they accounted for over 70% of lambs at auction in Wales during the latest week – but the supply is still relatively tight. HCC is looking forward to working with retailers over the coming months on new activity, which will include in-store marketing, press and targeted digital communication to maintain this growth in sales. Butchers, who demonstrated their key role in the community during the pandemic, will also be offered training on a number of key skills to boost their sales even further.”
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