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Former farming minister calls for Brexit

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Farmers’ futures: Owen Paterson says better out than in

Farmers’ futures: Owen Paterson says better out than in

ADDRESSING farmers at the Oxford Farming Conference last week former DEFRA minister Owen Paterson described the upcoming vote on whether Britain stays or leaves the EU as the biggest historic decision since the Reformation.
But he suggested some farmers were suffering from Stockholm Syndrome – where hostages have positive feelings towards their captors – and would rather remain prisoners of the EU than exert British power and influence on the world stage.
The former Secretary of State, now a leading campaigner on the Conservative benches to get Britain out of the EU, rubbished the idea that farm subsidies would be radically cut by the Treasury if Britain left the Union.
He said: “Outside the EU it will be essential to continue a significant level of support from the UK Exchequer and to reassure farmers that payments would be made by the UK Government in the same way that non-EU members like Switzerland, Norway and Iceland currently do.
“In fact the payments made by these countries are actually more generous than those paid by the EU to member states.”
And questioned after his speech on what guarantees there would be that farm subsidies would be a priority for the Treasury, when measured against other budgets for services like health and education, he was dismissive of concerns because it suited his agenda to be so.
He pointed out that farming, food and drink was the biggest manufacturing industry in the UK, contributing £85 billion to the economy, and that every MP in the country would have businesses in their constituencies clamouring for support. He pointed out the EU currently spends £2.9 billion a year in farm subsidy for British farmers and the UK would be saving £9.8 billion in payment to the EU. He suggested there would be the potential to give even greater support to the rural economy in the event of Brexit.
And he said that as the fifth biggest economy in the world, Britain, going it alone, would get a seat at the table in global discussions on trade deals – rather than being represented by the EU as just one 28th of the European Union.
Mr Paterson told CLA President Ross Murray, who posed a question from the floor, that he was “very pleased” Prime Minister David Cameron had allowed Cabinet Ministers to campaign for Britain to leave. “This is not an internal Tory party row,” he said. “We have got support all across the country.” He said the polls and public opinion indicated the likelihood of a vote to leave was growing and a responsible UK government needed to prepare for that eventuality.
And he told NFU president Meurig Raymond that the British public trusted its government to spend money on defence, health, education and other services and it should trust them to keep up support for farming and the rural economy too, given its importance to the economy, the environment and the landscape.
Some commentators have pointed out that Mr Paterson’s record on predicting the future is a little less than stellar. While in charge of DEFRA, he piloted massive cuts to the UK Government’s flood prevention plans: the sort of policy success that led to his removal from the Cabinet in April 2014.
Mr Paterson’s confidence about the ability of Britain’s rural economy to thrive outside the EU was challenged by EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan who warned Britain, with a population of 60 million, was too small to win a place at the world negotiating table settling key issues on global trade.
And he asked farmers, on the second full day of the conference – now in its 70th year and a key talking shop for the agricultural industry – if they could be confident of getting the support they needed from their own government, when Defra’s budget had been cut by 24% since 2010 while the EU’s had fallen by just 3%.
Mr Hogan said he was actively working to get some of the changes Britain wanted to the Common Agricultural Policy – like an end to onerous ‘greening’ rules and the three crop rule. And he said Britain already got its way 75% of the time on EU issues. Mr Hogan also suggested it was sometimes the British government’s own fault that it failed to get a better deal when it came to amending policy.
He said: “The NFU was correct recently when it pointed out that national “gold-plating” of EU legislation imposes an extra burden on British farmers and that, in the words of Deputy Director General Martin Haworth, “some of the most difficult regulations are national regulations.”
Mr Hogan said it was not his job to tell British farmers – or the public at large – how to vote in the in-out referendum when it is held, probably later this year.
But he concluded: “How would Britain with a population of 60 million fare in negotiating with countries like China, with a population 1.3 billion? In the EU it punches at a weight of 500 million, almost twice the size of the US. It could take the UK years to negotiate deals with Korea, Canada and so on – deals the EU has already successfully negotiated.”
Mr Hogan told the conference: “I remain adamant that the stability brought by the Common Agricultural Policy has provided, and is providing, the foundation for economic growth and jobs in rural areas and all along the food chain.”

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Farming faces zero carbon challenge

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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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Farming

HSE fees up 20%

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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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Farming

Red meat gives ‘Taste of Wales’

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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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