NFU Cymru President John Davies provides his New Year message, looking back over an unprecedented 12 months and assessing what lies ahead in 2021.
“2020 was a year the likes of which we’ve never seen. The Coronavirus pandemic has challenged all of society. My condolences go out to all of those who’ve lost loved ones to this disease. My thoughts are with all whose livelihoods have been affected by the knock-on effects that the pandemic has had on businesses and our general way of life. I’d like to place on record my heartfelt thanks to our NHS workers and those supporting them on the front line for their courage in tackling this global health emergency. So often the term ‘hero’ is attached to those in films or on the sporting stage, but if this year has taught us anything it’s that, in fact, the real heroes are those people in our communities who have gone to work – putting themselves at risk – to care for the sick and keep the rest of us safe. Diolch yn fawr iawn pawb.
“The initial impact of the Covid-19 outbreak and the overnight closure of the hospitality sector had severe consequences for the food supply chain. The resilience of those systems was stretched to the limit as the supply chain frantically sought to redirect produce that would usually be destined for the out-of-home market to the retail sector, where panic-buying had resulted in empty shelves in many stores. I thank all our farmers who have worked throughout the chaos of the Covid-19 fallout to keep the nation fed. I know that for many businesses and sectors this hasn’t always been easy and some experienced significant losses as those supply chains struggled to adapt to new demands. However, the role the entire industry has played during such a fraught period will live long in the memory of many, and indeed recent polls suggests farmers’ favourability with the consumer is higher than it has been in a decade.
“I very much hope that lessons can be learned from this tumultuous year and if the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that the safe, reliable supply of high quality affordable food is now of paramount importance to the public. As farmers we are ready and committed to ensuring that the nation remains fed during this difficult time and through future challenges, too. Our farming systems, underpinned by a fantastic, natural asset base, mean we are well equipped to be the providers of the most climate friendly food in the world. NFU Cymru will continue to lobby Welsh Government to see the importance of food production recognised and protected as a cornerstone of future policy.
“Looking ahead and, with significant changes to how Wales and the UK trades with the EU and the rest of the world, one of the biggest challenges for 2021 is going to be making sure that Welsh farmers have the widest possible range of markets freely open to them, on the best possible terms. We are, of course, relieved that that a deal has finally been agreed between the UK and the European Union, providing some much-needed certainty for the farming sector and allowing Wales’ farmers to continue to send products to the EU27 free of both tariffs and quotas. All efforts must be now be focussed on finding ways of minimising the impact of red tape on the movement of our produce to the EU.
“A heartfelt thanks must go to the one million people from all walks of life who backed our food standards campaign. Their support was instrumental in delivering legislation to ensure that food standards will now have a ‘stronger voice in UK trade policy’.
“Of course, away from the pandemic and agricultural policy, there are still major issues that are affecting the nation’s farmers every day. Bovine TB continues to blight so many businesses across Wales – all too many times this year I have again learned of families’ heartbreak and herds, generations in the making, being decimated due to this horrific disease. Please be assured that NFU Cymru will continue to pressure government to act upon the science and take notice of the proven strategies adopted by so many other countries – an approach that seeks to tackle bovine TB across all its vectors.
“NFU Cymru maintains that a heavy-handed and inflexible approach to water quality through the proposed all Wales Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) designation will not deliver the enhancements to water quality that we all want to see. NFU Cymru is committed to helping to deliver these improvements via an effective and proportionate framework that supports farmers to take action to improve water quality where it is needed. I am heartened that our Minister has recognised that these are not regulations to introduce at a time of crisis.
“Climate change remains a major challenge for all of us in society and the farming industry is putting its best foot forward to deliver on its net zero 2040 ambition. With the prestigious COP26 summit rescheduled to be held in Glasgow in 2021, it is clear this topic will, rightly, remain high on the news agenda next year. As a farmer, it’s important to me that farming’s contribution to mitigating the effects of climate change is fairly reflected in this debate. Recent research has pointed to the fact that Welsh livestock production systems are amongst the most sustainable in the world, but we know that there is much more we can and will do.
“With a Senedd election scheduled for May 2021 we will be speaking to candidates from across the political spectrum to push home the importance of Welsh food and farming. We are committed to working with the next government to deliver our ambitions for a productive, profitable and progressive farming sector that delivers for the people and communities of Wales.
“It has been a year like no other. With the vaccine rollout now underway I hope we will soon be able to consign the last pandemic-hit year to the history books and return to some form of normality, where we can soon meet at the agricultural shows and events that we all hold dear to our heart. Let us look ahead to 2021 and what we hope will be a bright, healthy and safe future.
“Blwyddyn Newydd dda.”
Hemp: the old new supercrop
HEMP could become a more common feature of the countryside, our diets and everyday life, thanks to a new £1.1m research partnership.
The two-year project between Aberystwyth University and industry aims to make hemp a more valuable crop by increasing the amounts of compounds used to make a variety of food, health and pharmaceutical products.
Hemp is currently used in specialised fire-resistant fabrics, mattresses, building materials, insulation, animal bedding and biofuel.
An environmentally friendly, natural material, it is seen as a crop that can replace petrochemical products.
Hemp fibre has been used extensively throughout history, with production climaxing soon after being introduced to the New World. For centuries, items ranging from rope to fabrics, to industrial materials were made from hemp fibre.
Hemp was also commonly used to make sail canvas. The word “canvas” is derived from the word cannabis.
Pure hemp has a texture like linen.
Because of its versatility for use in a variety of products, today hemp is used in a number of consumer goods, including clothing, shoes, accessories, dog collars, and homewares. For clothing, in some instances, hemp is mixed with lyocell.
The new PHARMHEMP research partnership will develop the crop’s compounds sustainably; making them from parts of the plant that are currently left unused.
The research will also make the crop more valuable and allow use in more industrial and non-industrial sectors – making it more attractive to farmers who are keen to include alternative crops when rotating the use of their land.
Aberystwyth University’s involvement has benefited from the Welsh Government funded SMART Expertise programme.
Alan Gay, Senior Research Scientist at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University commented: “We’re delighted and excited about this new partnership. We will use our long-established expertise here in Aberystwyth to help spread the benefits of this crop to many more people.
“We also hope to contribute to improving awareness of the crop among both consumers and farmers.
“The project is also an economic boost: supporting highly skilled jobs in the west of Wales. As well as the cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical uses, we will also explore industrial applications, which would significantly reduce the need for expensive imports.”
Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University commented: “The Pharmahemp project builds on IBERS expertise in developing new opportunities for Welsh farming. It also represents an exciting opportunity for us to revisit and tailor a highly sustainable and versatile crop for the 21st century.”
The project links a number of the UK’s experienced operators in Hemp with the specialised breeding expertise of IBERS, Aberystwyth University.
The commercial partners are: TTS Pharma, specialists in pharmaceutical and health products; Voase and Son, specialist hemp growers; Elsoms Seeds, who develop and distribute seeds to the farming community; and GrowPura®, experts in controlled growing of plants where high levels of control are required.
Mark Tucker, Chief Executive at TTS Pharma, added: “This project builds on the foundations we laid in 2018 with Aberystwyth University, along with our other research projects.
“The resources and expertise at IBERS in Aberystwyth are particularly well suited to this research. They will help us to develop new cultivars, optimised for the UK climate and the end-use.
“We are delighted to have such strong partners to deliver the project’s objectives. We are confident that this project will contribute significantly to improving existing yields. It will also accelerate the introduction of a domestic supply chain and help eliminate the importation of illegal and non-compliant materials from China, South and North America.”
David Coop, Director of Elsoms Seeds Ltd, commented: “Elsoms Seeds is the UK’s leading independent seed specialist and plant breeder. We breed, supply, and treat high quality vegetable and agricultural seed throughout the UK, using the latest in plant breeding research and seed technology.
“We are looking forward to working with IBERS and our partners on this project, and one day providing UK farmers with high quality seed of the new and innovative varieties which will result from it.”
Nick Bateman of Growpura added: “In the pharmaceutical industry, the all-year-round production of materials under well-controlled conditions is important.
“With this project, we are keen to see how this plant can be adapted to growing in our high throughput sterile growing conditions, so that high quality products can be produced right throughout the year.”
Industrial Hemp Grower Nick Voase said: “We have been growing and processing industrial hemp since 2002 but have seen little development of the crop in the UK.
“We are happy to be involved in this project which will adapt the crop to new uses and is specifically aimed at optimising yields from UK grown crops.”
Despite a common misunderstanding, the industrial hemp strains grown in the UK are all varieties with negligible levels of the psychoactive substance THC and are selected from an ‘Approved List’ and only grown under Home Office licences.
NSA Lambing List closes
AS A much-valued service to its members, the National Sheep Association’s (NSA) Lambing List provides farmers with a place to advertise for much-needed lambing assistance from students and others seeking work experience each year.
The list annually provides an annual matchmaking service for around 400 farmers and veterinary and agriculture students. And despite a second lambing season under the constraints of Covid-19 restrictions the list has once again successfully helped farmers across the UK at this busy time of year.
The list has now closed and will reopen for advertisements for the 2021/2022 lambing season in the Autumn.
NSA Communications Officer Katie James says: “The popularity of the NSA Lambing List grows each year.
“The guidance it provides to farmers using it and the links it offers students means it is incredibly valued by all parties involved. For most, the past two lambing seasons have taken place during Covid-19 restrictions meaning potential shortages of staff due to travel constraints or illness from the virus itself and additional measures to consider such as separate accommodation for temporary staff and social distancing.
“All at NSA are therefore pleased that the list has been able to help remove some of these concerns and provide a trusted method of securing extra help for its sheep farming members.”
In a previous survey of NSA members using the list, more than 90% of respondents said they valued the list and would use it again to try and source additional lambing help from veterinary and agriculture students.
Students who will be looking for work experience to assist their application to university or as part of ongoing veterinary studies are encouraged to consult the list from November 2021 when it becomes available once again to aid the student/farmer matchmaking.
NSA members will be able to add details of their available placements for their next lambing season from October.
MPs urge level playing field
IN its new report—Seafood and Meat Exports to the EU—the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee expresses urgent concerns for exporters of highly time-sensitive fresh and live seafood and meat shipments to the EU, particularly small and medium-sized businesses.
Despite overcoming initial “teething problems” the new barriers small seafood and meat export businesses face could render them unviable, and factories and jobs may relocate to the EU.
The Committee’s report, therefore, calls on the Government to ease burdens, including:
• as a matter of priority, seeking agreement with the EU on digitising the certification of paperwork such as Export Health Certificates
• taking a flexible approach to the compensation fund for seafood exporters—including reconsidering the cap of £100,000 on individual payments, and providing similar support to meat exporters
• providing the same help to small meat and seafood businesses with the costs of extra red tape for exports to the EU as they can receive for moving goods to Northern Ireland
• establishing a ring-fenced fund to help create new distribution hubs, which allow smaller consignments to be grouped into a single lorry load, so reducing transport costs.
The Committee criticises the fact that controls on EU seafood and meat imports will not commence until 1 October 2021, with checks at the border only commencing from 1 January 2022.
This has placed British businesses at a competitive disadvantage and reduced the incentive on the European Commission to negotiate measures that would lessen the burdens facing British producers.
The report finds that adhering to the revised timetable will be ‘crucial’, to ensure food safety and to create a regulatory level playing field.
Neil Parish MP, Chair of the EFRA Select Committee, said: “British businesses have acted with incredible agility and perseverance to adapt to the new processes for exporting meat and seafood to the EU.
“With the many checks causing delays and costs, this hasn’t been easy. We are concerned that in the absence of equivalent checks for imports from the EU to Great Britain, there will be serious long-term repercussions for our producers.
“As it stands, the playing field is not even, and the Government must ensure that the new timetable to introduce import checks is adhered to.
“Even as “teething problems” are sorted, serious barriers remain for British exporters, and it is now imperative that the Government take steps to reduce these.
“It must be pragmatic in seeking an agreement with the EU to reduce the red tape that harms both sides, and in the meantime, crack on with giving practical support to small British businesses to sell their produce abroad.
“By the end of the year, the Government must have developed a digital system for certifying EHCs for imports from the EU, enabling it to then negotiate a reciprocal arrangement.”
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