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Brexit and Covid-19 dominate NFU Cymru Conference

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NFU Cymru President John Davies used his address at the union’s annual conference to warn that it is a ‘pivotal time’ for the industry with changes and challenges on the horizon.

With a little over 50 days until the end of the Brexit transition period and Covid-19 continuing its severe impact on all of society, the virtual NFU Cymru Conference on Thursday. November 5, titled ‘Welsh Food and Farming: Moving Forward’, explored the major issues affecting the industry now and in the future.

The event featured discussions with Welsh Government Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths MS, as well as Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss MP. The conference also hosted panel discussions on future Welsh agriculture policy and Wales in the global marketplace.

Opening the event, NFU Cymru President John Davies stressed that ‘there is much to do and very little time’ if UK Government is to ensure a favourable trade deal with the EU – a market of supreme importance to the Welsh farming industry.

Mr Davies said: “With Covid-19 dominating our thoughts and the media headlines, it could be easy for us to forget that it is just over 50 days to go until the ending of the Brexit transition period. Our negotiators must have total focus on securing a comprehensive deal with the EU that will come into force at the end of the transition period. We cannot afford to face eye-watering tariffs, even for a short time, on the bulk of our agri-food exports.

“Let’s be clear, while the elimination of tariffs is the big-ticket item there remain many other matters that could and will place friction on the movement of goods to the EU, whether that be customs checks, export health certification, third-country listing and organic equivalence, to name a few. There is much to do and very little time for the UK Government to finalise a deal with the EU.”

The NFU Cymru President will also highlight the important role farmers have played and will continue to play, in keeping the nation fed throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Davies will say: “Covid-19 has impacted on all our lives in 2020, the announcements of recent days make it clear that its impact will be with us for some time to come.

“Despite the challenges we faced, it was pleasing to see how the supply chain came together to keep the nation fed. I applaud the work of livestock markets in adapting overnight to the restrictions to keep trade flowing; to our vets in continuing to provide support in caring for our livestock and to our agricultural merchants in keeping us supplied with the key inputs required to keep us farming.

“We have to recognise the challenge of Covid-19 is still very much with us: in Wales, is coming out of a ‘firebreak’ lockdown, England is back in full lockdown. What impact will this have on the marketplace?

“Empty supermarket shelves and ensuring food is provided to the most vulnerable in society has reminded us all of the fundamental importance of access to safe, high quality, affordable food as the most basic right for all people in society.

“It is important that we reflect on these matters and understand that the world has very much changed since last year’s Sustainable Farming and our Land consultation. We need to pause and reflect on all that has taken place, learn the lessons of this past year, the importance of domestic food production and the value that society places on our high standards. NFU Cymru is fully committed to working in partnership with Welsh Government on a future food and farming policy that can secure our food supplies and support Wales’ green economic recovery, whilst sustaining our rural communities and culture.”

Coverage of each of the NFU Cymru Conference sessions is now available on the NFU Cymru website.

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Farming

Hemp: the old new supercrop

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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.

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Farming

NSA Lambing List closes

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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.

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MPs urge level playing field

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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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