THE FUW’s Manifesto for the Welsh Assembly elections could not be clearer.
The contribution of agriculture to the economy of our rural areas and Wales as a whole cannot be underestimated; Welsh Farm Business Survey figures show that, despite low profitability, a typical farm can annually contribute between £100,000 and £250,000 to the wider economy.
Yet such direct contributions are just the tip of the iceberg; our food and drinks industry is worth £5.2 billion to the Welsh economy, and agriculture has been identified as the most significant contributor to an estimated £1.9 billion in ‘wildlife related activity’ – while the contribution of generations of farming families to the unique landscape and culture so important to our tourism industry is clear to all.
Put simply, farming is the bedrock of our rural communities, without which vast direct and indirect contributions to Wales’ economy as a whole would disappear.
And yet farming and rural affairs have often been perceived to be of little interest to a Welsh Labour government, which draws its strength from Wales’ former industrial heartlands around the south Wales valleys.
In a recent debate in Ceredigion County Council, many members expressed agreement with the view advanced by Cllr Paul Hinch, who said: “This last Welsh Government has no about rural life in Wales or anywhere else.
PARTY POLICIES AND PLEDGES
Certainly Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru have both carved out distinctive positions on rural policy which point out a relative policy vacuum on rural affairs in Welsh Labour’s Assembly election manifesto. Not a single one of Labour’s six ‘key pledges’ relates to farming, other than tangentially, and a sweep of Welsh Labour’s website shows not a single announcement in relation to initiatives to help farmers under threat.
By way of contrast, Plaid Cymru has prepared a specific agricultural manifesto. Shadow Minister for Sustainable Communities, Farming and Food, Llyr Gruffydd, launched his party’s Agriculture Manifesto on Tuesday (April 12), vowing that a Plaid Cymru government would be a strong voice for Wales’ rural communities.
The plans included measures to address Labour’s CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) fiasco, scrap the six-day-standstill rule which is hampering farm businesses, introduce a strategy to save council farms from being sold off, and increase the amount of Welsh food purchased by the public sector in Wales.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Llyr Gruffydd, who lives on a family farm said: “If elected in May, a Plaid Cymru government would vow to be a strong voice for Wales’ rural communities.
“For too long, Labour Ministers have undermined our vital agriculture industry by making Wales the most modulated country in Europe – a decision that took £250m out of the pockets of Welsh farmers.
“Plaid Cymru wants to put this right by bringing forward policies that will ensure that the industry prospers in future.
“Our agriculture manifesto includes ambitious but achievable proposals to address Labour’s CAP fiasco and make sure Welsh farmers have a stronger voice in CAP simplification discussions, and scrap the six-daystandstill rule which is hampering farm businesses at the very time we need more flexibility.
“We would also introduce a strategy to save council farms from being sold off, under a wider programme to support new entrants into the industry.
“As part of Plaid Cymru’s wider proposals to raise procurement levels throughout Wales, we would ensure that the agriculture industry benefits from this by increasing the amount of Welsh food purchased by the public sector.”
Meanwhile, the Welsh Conservatives launched their rural manifesto on Friday, April 8.
Pledging to ‘bring rural Wales in from the cold’, Andrew RT Davies and Russell George announced a series of policy promises which they claimed recognised the specific needs of rural communities.
Andrew RT Davies, himself a member of a family farming business, said: “Welsh Conservatives would stand up for the farming industry and the rural communities around it.
“Assessing the impact of government policies shouldn’t be done by the same civil servants who draw it up. That responsibility should lie with the people who know best – rural communities themselves.”
Prospective Welsh Conservative Assembly Member, Russell George, said: “That Welsh Labour have relegated Rural Affairs to a junior cabinet post speaks volumes for Labour’s neglect of agriculture and the countryside.
“A Welsh Conservative Government would end this neglect and stand up for rural Wales.”
ONE POLICY: NO AGREEMENT
The Liberal Democrats’ agricultural manifesto launch, on April 11, was a feisty affair – as detailed by our reporter Matthew Bearne elsewhere in these pages. Noticeably, Kirsty Williams, the Welsh LibDem leader did not fight shy of providing her personal opinion on one of the burning issues affecting West Wales’s farmers: Bovine TB. The view of two of west Wales’s councils and both of Wales’main farming unions is crystalline on the point: in short, culling badgers is a necessary part of a combined approach to the control of Bovine TB. Not the only solution, but part of a holistic approach to the issue.
While the validity of statistical evidence and the science deployed by those on either side of the culling debate is likely to remain subjective and views to remain entrenched, there is a marked divide between most farmers and the west Wales councils on the one hand and the immediately past Welsh Government on the other.
But it is a mistake to conflate the debate about the future of Welsh agriculture with a single topic, no matter how passionately argued. A CONNECTED WALES Access to rural broadband is a live issue. A recent public meeting held in Whitland highlighted the gulf between public desire and expectation and the willingness of BT to provide a solution to every household and every business. As more and more of the paperwork that accompanies farming is planned to be completed online, fast and reliable broadband is essential for all farmers and all rural communities.
In addition, as Richard Walker of the FUW recently said: “The revolution in renewable energy, brought about by recognition of the need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, has resulted in the development of new commercially viable sources of renewable energy, such as solar panels, as well as improvements in the efficiency of wind and water power.”
Despite Wales’ being perfectly suited for some forms of renewable energy generation, the percentage of electricity generated in Wales from renewable stands at just 10% – 5% lower than the UK average, and the lowest of all the UK devolved regions.
NFU Cymru’s ambition is for every farm to be able to become a net energy exporter, and in doing so helping contribute towards the Welsh Government’s greenhouse gas reduction targets.
The FUW has gone a step further and called on the next Welsh Government to seek ‘alternative and innovative ways’ in which funding can be provided in order to develop on-farm energy production and identify those barriers to on-farm energy production which fall within the remit of Welsh Government.
Next week, The Herald will be reporting on one such on-farm project and establishing just how viable it is for farms not only to power the rural economy, but also to provide power to Welsh homes and businesses.
Payment commitment sought from minister
NFU CYMRU has asked the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to make an early commitment to maintaining the Basic Payment Scheme in Wales for 2021.
In a meeting this week NFU Cymru President John Davies asked the Minister, Lesley Griffiths AM, to commit to maintaining the Basic Payment Scheme unchanged for 2021.
Speaking after the meeting, John Davies said: “The events in Westminster these last few days mean that our future relationship with the EU remains as uncertain as it has ever been, with the prospect of a general election in the not too distant future, this means further political upheaval, and by extension more uncertainty. The fact that the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill was not carried forward when parliament was prorogued means that the intended legal basis for setting Welsh agricultural policy has now also disappeared, and we are now essentially back to square one.
“At the end of last year, Welsh Government announced that the Basic Payment Scheme would remain unchanged in 2020; we welcomed that announcement as it offered Welsh farming some stability at a critical time. The uncertainty in the intervening period has only intensified, NFU Cymru considers the possibility of a disorderly Brexit to be a very live possibility, either after a failure to reach an agreement at the end of any extended Article 50 period, or alternatively if the UK fails to agree on a future trading relationship with the EU27 during the transition period.
“There are many factors completely outside of our control which considered individually or collectively would have a very detrimental impact on Welsh agriculture. NFU Cymru is very much of the view that this calls for a cautious and restrained approach from the Welsh Government when it comes to developing future agricultural policy. We would urge Welsh Government to take its time and not to hasten to move away from the present arrangements until we have a far clearer picture of the sort of future trading relationship we will have with the EU27.
“We fully respect that the timing and nature of Brexit, the general election and the fate of the Agriculture Bill are all outside the hands of Welsh Government, but what we do ask for is the support of Welsh Government on the areas that sit within its remit. In our meeting with the Minister, we have asked if she will make an early commitment to the continuation of the BPS unchanged for 2021.
“We have also asked the Minister to ensure that the additional £5.2 million per year for the next two years made as part of the UK Government’s response to the Lord Bew review last month is used as a top-up to the BPS. This funding has been allocated to Wales because average Pillar 1 payments have historically been lower in Wales than in some other parts of the UK. We therefore firmly believe that as the Lord Bew review was about correcting this matter then the additional money should be made as a top-up to the BPS and not spent elsewhere.”
Public want food standards maintained post-Brexit
THE GOVERNMENT should ensure that all imported food meets the same high animal welfare and environmental standards in place on British farms.
That’s the overwhelming view of the public according to new research carried out by ComRes on behalf of the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists (BGAJ).
ComRes surveyed the public in September and found 84% support the view that imports should match British standards as Brexit threatens to open the door to imports from low cost producing, de-regulated markets across the globe.
The study found that just 16% would buy food they know is produced to lower animal welfare standards if it was cheaper than food produced to a high standard.
BGAJ President Baroness Rosie Boycott said: “The results of this study are a stark reminder to the government that the public values the high standards of British farming.
“There will always be countries able to produce cheaper food than Britain but it always comes at a cost. It could be the safety of the food, the farmer, an animal or the environment.
“With Brexit on the horizon, we’re on the brink of potentially seeing lower quality food imports flooding into the country.
“The survey resoundingly shows there’s no appetite for it and it’s the responsibility of government and the entire supply chain to put the safeguards in place to protect both British farmers and the consumer, whose heads may still be turned by attractive price deals in tough economic conditions, despite how they have responded.”
The results of the study come at a critical time for British agriculture – a sector which stands to lose more than most if the protection provided by the European Union’s single market is not replicated post-Brexit.
British standards of food and farming are among the best in the world thanks to decades of progress in the areas of production that matter most to consumers.
Many countries which can produce food cheaper than Britain often use production methods which are illegal here and across Europe; chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef being two well-reported examples.
Professor of Food Policy at the University of London, Tim Lang, said: “An overwhelming 84% want imported food to be of the same standard as home-produced food. Gung-ho supporters of yoking the UK to the USA post-Brexit should note this
“The survey suggests the UK public almost certainly recognises the need for the UK farming to tick lots of boxes. It’s got the message that farming is multi-functional. But have the politicians?”
84% of GB adults agree the government should ensure all imported food meets the same environmental and animal welfare standards as food produced in the UK. Only 2% disagree
A majority (53%) of GB adults would not buy food that is produced to lower animal welfare standards if it’s cheaper than food produced to a high standard of animal welfare. Only around one in six (16%) agree
Younger people are less likely to disagree with the statement than older people – it seems attitude to the trade-off between animal welfare and price swings towards animal welfare the older we get (45% disagree 18-34; 52% 35-54; 61% 55+)
62% of the public agree that UK farmers should receive financial support from the taxpayer to ensure a continued supply of food produced by British farmers post-Brexit, compared to just one in ten (10%) who disagree. 68 per cent of rural and 61 per cent of urban respondents agreed
Two in five (39%) GB adults agree that a UK farmer’s primary purpose should be to produce food rather than carry out environmental work, although just under a third (29%) disagree. 33% were not clear (26% neither, 7% don’t know)
CLIMATE CHANGE AND TECHNOLOGY
62% of the public agree farmers have an important role to play in generating renewable electricity from technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels, while around one in twelve (8%) disagree
Just under half (48%) of GB adults agree that a climate change levy should be charged on food with a higher carbon footprint, with the proceeds spent on encouraging carbon-friendly farming methods, compared to fewer than one in five (17%) who disagree
34% agree new plant-breeding technologies, such as genetically modified and gene-edited crops, should be used to grow food in the UK, compared to more than a quarter (27%) who disagree. Young people aged 18-24 are more likely to agree (46%) with the statement than any other age group
Retail and UK marketplace
Only 24% agree UK farmers receive a fair share of the profits made by retailers on the food that they produce, compared to more than a third (36%) who disagree. Rural respondents were more likely to disagree than urban respondents (43% rural vs 35% urban)
ACCESS TO THE COUNTRYSIDE
Almost two thirds (62%) of GB adults agree the public has adequate access to the UK countryside in terms of rights of way and footpaths, compared to just one in 10 (11%) who disagree. Londoners and those in the West Midlands were the least likely to agree with the statement (54% and 55% respectively), whereas those in Wales and the North East were the most likely to agree (both 70%)
Four in five (79%) adults are proud of the British countryside and the rural communities which sustain it, compared to just 3% who disagree. While urban respondents still have a high level of agreement with the statement (77%), almost nine in ten (88%) of rural respondents agree
NFU plans for New Horizons
NFU CYMRU’s annual conference takes place on Thursday, November 7, at 10 am with another stellar line-up of speakers.
To be held at the Metropole Hotel, Llandrindod Wells, the conference, titled, Welsh Farming: New Horizons, will focus on future opportunities for Welsh agriculture.
NFU Cymru President, John Davies said: “We are, once again, looking forward to welcoming hundreds of members to our annual conference. With so much uncertainty within the industry at the moment, this conference will be an opportunity for members to look beyond the horizon line towards future opportunities for the industry.
“Our annual conference has continued to grow and become the must-attend event of its kind in Wales, consistently attracting world-class speakers – and this year is no exception.
“At NFU Cymru we are both passionate and ambitious about the future of Welsh food and farming. We believe that given the right support from the government, we can continue to develop a profitable, productive and progressive agricultural industry. I hope that our expert line-up of speakers will help inspire members and allow them to head home with some thoughts and ideas on how to take their own farming businesses forward.
“We will also use the conference to present the first-ever NFU Cymru Sustainable Agriculture Award, kindly sponsored by Wynnstay. This award seeks to recognise the unparalleled contribution Welsh farming enterprises make to the economic, environmental, social and cultural well-being of Wales, and I’m very much looking forward to presenting this award to the very worthy winner.”
Speakers on the day include:
Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Welsh Government
Heather Hancock DL LVO, Chair, Food Standards Agency
Professor Robert Pickard, Food and Nutrition Expert
Professor Michael Lee, Sustainable Agriculture Expert
Dmitry Grozoubinski, Founder and Lead Trainer, ExplainTrade.com
Breffni Carpenter, Agriculture Counsellor, Permanent Representation of Ireland to the European Union
Sam Watson Jones, Co-Founder, Small Robot Company
Dr Andrea Graham, Head of Policy Services, NFU and ‘The Future of Food 2040’ Author
Campbell Mauchan, Head of UK Operations, AgriWebb
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