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Union meets new Agri-Commissioner



NFU CYMRU President Stephen James used the opportunity to brief Phil Hogan on the importance of food and farming to the economy of Wales. They also discussed the EU agriculture policies that have most impact on farming businesses in Wales at this time, namely CAP implementation, dairy support and sheep EID rules.

On CAP Stephen James said: “All sectors of agriculture in Wales have suffered at different times over the past 12 months from significant price volatility; this has once again highlighted the importance of direct payments to secure the production of adequate supplies of food produced to the highest food quality and animal welfare standards. However the current reform has added additional complexity to what was already an overly bureaucratic system. We are pleased that the Commissioner told us he has CAP simplification as one of his key priorities. We discussed a number of areas where we felt change was needed; this included a light touch to Greening in 2015, given that the Commission was so late in providing the detailed guidance on how these new rules are to be implemented. We discussed mapping issues asking for a pragmatic approach to dealing with deductions for trees and other features in land parcels where agricultural production takes place.”

On Rural Development NFU Cymru highlighted to Mr Hogan that the Welsh Government was unique in having decided to make use of the maximum allowable 15% pillar transfer from 2014. Mr James said: “Our priority is to ensure that farmers have the opportunity to recover this funding lost from direct payments through the new Wales RDP. At present this is being delayed while the Welsh Government await approval of the Wales RDP from the Commission. We asked the Commissioner to do all he could to expedite this process to ensure that the new RDP could be used at the earliest opportunity to support farmers and the rural economy of Wales.”

NFU Cymru used the meeting to raise with the Commissioner the need for increased support from the Commission to support the dairy industry through the current milk price crisis.

Stephen James said: “We pressed Mr Hogan to urgently review the current EU ‘safety net’ mechanisms that are meant to support farmers in the face of extreme price cuts. The current intervention price is set so low as to be irrelevant even at this time. With the majority of Welsh milk processed into cheese and other commodity products our farmers are extremely exposed to global markets, intervention should be used at this time to bring some much needed stability to the sector.”

Sheep EID and individual recording was also a matter that NFU Cymru brought to the attention of the Commissioner with John Davies, NFU Cymru Deputy President, stressing the need for a level of tolerance in the inspection regime. John Davies said: “We are five years on from the introduction of this unpopular regulation, but despite the best efforts of farmers, livestock markets and abattoirs it has not proved possible to ensure 100% read rates 100% of the time. We asked the Commissioner to look once again at the issue of tolerances and for the Commission to come forward with proportionate guidance that takes account of the fact that technology can never be expected to work with the accuracy required by the regulation.”

Concluding Mr James said: “This was a wonderful opportunity to highlight to the man responsible for driving the agricultural agenda across Europe the challenges and opportunities that Welsh agriculture faces at this time. I found the meeting positive and constructive and we will follow up with many of the issues discussed today with further meetings with Mr Hogan and his officials in the near future through our team in Brussels.”

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Farming faces zero carbon challenge



AN AMBITIOUS new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 will lead to significant changes in farming practices over the coming decades, according to a leading agri-environment specialist.

Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, was responding to the publication of ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’ published by the UK Government Committee on Climate Change.

Professor Donnison is an expert on agriculture and land use, which feature in the report in terms of targets for one-fifth of agricultural land to be used for forestry, bioenergy crops and peatland restoration.

According to Professor Donnison, such a reduction is very ambitious but achievable in Wales and the wider UK. “Land use can positively contribute towards achieving the net zero targets, but there are challenges in relation to emissions from agriculture especially associated with red meat and dairy,” said Professor Donnison.

“In IBERS we are already working on how to make livestock agriculture less carbon intensive and developing new diversification options for the farming of carbon. For example, net zero targets could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

Professor Donnison added: “The report gives a clear message regarding the importance of the task and the role that the UK can play to compensate for past emissions and to help play a leadership role in creating a greener future.

“The report says it seeks to be based on current technologies that can be deployed and achievable targets. One-fifth of agricultural land is a very ambitious target but I believe that through the approaches proposed it is achievable (e.g. for bioenergy crops it fits in with published targets for the UK). This is based on the knowledge and technologies we have now regarding how to do this, and because right now in the UK we are developing a new agricultural policy that looks beyond the common agriculture policy (CAP). For example, the 25-year Environment plan published by Defra envisages payment for public goods which could provide a policy mechanism to help ensure that the appropriate approaches are implemented in the appropriate places.

“The scale of the change, however, should not be underestimated, although agriculture is a sector that has previously successfully responded to challenges such as for increased food production. The additional challenge will be to ensure that we deliver all the benefits we wish to see from land: food, carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) management and wider environmental benefits, whilst managing the challenge of the impacts of climate change.

“The link is made between healthy diets with less red meat consumption and future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. This reflects that agriculture will likely go through significant change over the coming decades as a result of changes in consumer diets.

“Net Zero targets, however, could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

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HSE fees up 20%



A FEE imposed on farm businesses found to be in breach of health and safety legislation has gone up nearly 20% to £154/hr.

Since October 2012 the Health and Safety Executive has operated a cost recovery regime, which means that businesses are charged for the costs of an investigation from the point a material breach has been identified through to the point when a decision is made on enforcement action.

If you are found to be in material breach of health and safety law, you will have to pay for the time it takes the HSE to identify the breach and help you put things right. This includes investigating and taking enforcement action. This charging scheme is known as a Fee for Intervention (FFI).

Robert Gazely, farm consultant and health and safety specialist for Strutt & Parker said: “A material breach is something which an inspector considers serious enough that they need to formally write to the business requiring action to be taken. Once an inspector gives a farmer this written notification of contravention (NoC), the farmer will be expected to pay a fee.

“From 6 April 2019, the hourly charge has been increased from £129 to £154. The final bill will be based on the total amount of time it takes the HSE inspector to identify the breach and their work to help put things right.

“Of course, the primary reason for farms to be proactive in their approach to health and safety should be to protect themselves, their families and any employees.

“The number of people who are killed and injured each year on farms remains stubbornly high and the human cost of these incidents can be incalculable to those affected.

“But taking a safety-first approach should also help farm businesses to avoid a financial hit, as the HSE fees can mount up in the event of an investigation.”

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Red meat gives ‘Taste of Wales’



WELSH Lamb and Welsh Beef were among the finest of Welsh foods at Wales’ largest and most prestigious food and drink trade event, Taste Wales last month.

The remarkable display of products, all under one roof, brought together a large contingent of UK and overseas buyers, including importers with a specific interest in Welsh red meat. These included a major foodservice and retail importer and distributor from Scandinavia that imports 6,000 million tonnes of meat annually from all over the world. The company is recognised for bringing tasty food experiences to Nordic dining tables.

They were invited to the event by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) who also arranged site visits to some of Wales’ major red meat processing plants. The main aim was to impress the importers with the industry’s high ethical and environmental standards.

The visit, led by HCC’s market representatives in Scandinavia, was a platform for many productive and promising discussions.

One representative, Anette Stenebrandt said at Taste Wales: “We have a company from Sweden and Finland with us, trying to do some new business in the Nordic-speaking countries. This is really a fantastic fair and we have enjoyed it a lot.”

Her colleague Jakob True added: “This is our first time here at this amazing event, it’s a great opportunity to meet a lot of Welsh producers, particularly Welsh Lamb which is world-class, we know. We’ll go back to Scandinavia with a lot of good new leads and hopefully bring a lot of business to Wales.”

HCC’s Market Development Manager, Rhys Llywelyn said: “Many of the buyers we met at Taste Wales, including the Scandinavians, showed a significant interest in Welsh Lamb and were impressed by the whole package – from the story of producing Welsh Lamb to the processing techniques, the taste and texture.

“Others also expressed a keen interest in forging deals with the industry, including a Japanese department store, a major buyer from Hong Kong and a representative from Qatar. This bodes well for the future, especially as Brexit uncertainty is set to continue in light of the extension on Article 50.”

In recent months, HCC has undertaken a strategic GB marketing drive to encourage growth and recognition of our quality produce on British soil.

HCC’s UK Market Development Executive, Emily Davies said: “Our presence at Taste Wales also included concentrating our efforts on promoting Welsh Lamb in the domestic market. We met a number of foodservice companies, retailers and executive chefs and discussed Welsh red meat opportunities with meal-kit companies and online retailers. We also launched a new tool-kit for retailers which highlights the ways in which we can work with them to promote Welsh Lamb and Beef.”

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