NFU CYMRU has urged Welsh Government to consider a ‘workable alternative’ to reducing nitrates from agriculture to prevent further extension of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) in Wales.
The Union has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths AM, to reiterate earlier commitments to provide the resources required to support the development of such a solution as an alternative to NVZ proposals that could see the percentage of NVZs in Wales rise from 2.4% to 8% – or even a leap to an all territory approach covering the whole of Wales.
The Cabinet Secretary is expected to make an announcement on the NVZ designations before the end of 2017.
The new option put forward by NFU Cymru has been designed by farmers and builds on an off-set scheme that has been operating successfully by a group of First Milk dairy farmers in the Cleddau Catchment in Pembrokeshire. The approach requires farmers to select mitigating measures appropriate to their system. The scheme is recorded, audited by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and meets the strict requirements of the Environmental Permitting and Habitats Regulations – on average each participating farm is saving a tonne of nutrient annually.
This model has significant potential to be developed and could deliver measurable reductions in nitrates, well above those modelled for the NVZ Action Programme, as well as broader environmental benefits.
Speaking ahead of the Welsh Dairy Show in Carmarthen, NFU Cymru President Stephen James said: “We are clear that any new designations will have a significant impact upon the businesses of farmers and, severely hit the rural economy of these areas. The costs associated with implementation vastly outweigh the benefits to water quality. Farmers do, however, recognise their role in improving water quality and have developed a workable solution that has the potential to deliver far more than can be achieved through the NVZ Action Programme.
“The measures suggested with this approach address diffuse pollution issues and also provide habitat improvement. Developed in partnership, we believe they are likely to engender the confidence and ‘buy-in’ of the farming community – our own survey work shows significant willing from Welsh farmers to address the issue of nitrate pollution and improve water quality.
“This proposal is a workable alternative to the options currently on the table and delivers farmer-led solutions that bring environmental benefits – something that all parties share a vested interest in achieving; also aligning with Wales’ new legislative framework which presents opportunities and the flexibility to move forward and make progress on water quality issues on a different basis than previously.
“An alternative approach, rather than an unwieldly EU directive, will enable us to develop, grow and realise NFU Cymru’s vision of a productive, progressive and profitable industry that will deliver jobs, growth and investment for Wales and we have extended an offer to the Cabinet Secretary to join us on a visit to farms in West Wales to see the benefits of this approach for herself.”
WHAT IS AN NVZ?
An NVZ designation places a series of restrictions on farmers’ ability to use certain types of fertiliser on their land at prescribed times of the year. The aim is to reduce the effect that run off from agricultural land has on the environment.
The effects of nitrate pollution on the aquatic environment can be significant. High nitrate concentrations can cause a deterioration in water quality and disturb the ecosystems of rivers and other watercourses. Over enrichment of water can lead to a depletion of oxygen levels leading to a loss of marine life and causes increased toxic and non-toxic algal blooms, which make the situation worse by reducing water transparency. Nitrate pollution can reduce not only the diversity of plant life but also damage fish and shellfish stocks, as the algae consume the available oxygen suffocating other life.
In the worst case scenario, anaerobic (oxygen-starved) conditions cause toxic bacteria to thrive and can create ‘dead zones’.
In order to tackle the threat posed by nitrate pollution, in 1991 the European Union adopted rules governing nitrate pollution and sought to regulate the extent of nitrate pollution entering the environment.
WG APPROACH LACKS EVIDENCE
FUW Senior Policy Officer Dr Hazel Wright, who has been representing the Union in the review process, said: ‘‘The FUW has been involved in the NVZ review and has made successful representations on several designations, which resulted in their removal from the discrete areas option of the consultation.
“However, the number of proposed new designations remain a concern and the FUW continues to reiterate the operational and financial impacts those designations would have upon farms that reside within an NVZ area. Given such costs, there must be full justification for any proposed increases in designation.”
Two options outlined in the consultation include the continuation of the discrete approach to designation or the designation of the whole of Wales as a NVZ. A continuation of the discrete approach would see an increase in the amount of NVZ designations in Wales rise from 2.4% to 8%. This would mean significant changes to NVZ designation in counties such as Pembrokeshire, Carmarthen and Anglesey.
“The FUW remains resolutely against the option to apply the action programme throughout the whole of Wales as this would require all landowners to comply with the NVZ action programme measures.
“There is a distinct lack of evidence for a whole territory approach and the difficulties and costs associated with regulatory compliance for farms whose land does not drain into nitrate polluted waters, makes this option both unwarranted and unreasonably excessive,” added Dr Wright.
Economic value of red meat sector rises
HE VALUE of the iconic beef, lamb and pork sectors to the Welsh economy rose in 2020, as consumers turned to local, sustainable, quality food during the COVID pandemic, according to analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).New figures from the Welsh Government ‘Aggregate Agricultural Output and Income’ report show that the total value of agricultural output in Wales for 2020 is projected to stand at £1.7billion – a 6.2% (or £99 million) increase on the provisional figure for 2019.
Cattle and sheep account for 44% of this total at £750million; the highest proportion recorded since 2016. The agricultural output value for Wales’s pig sector also increased (by 34.3% or £2 million) to a value of £8 million.
The figures reflect the strength of the livestock sector in Wales and sit in contrast to Total Income From Farming (TIFF) figures for the UK as a whole newly released by Defra. Although the TIFF figures are a different form of measuring farm production, the UK data concurs that the livestock sector has had a strong year, but in other parts of Britain, this was more than offset by poor harvests in the arable sector.
Demand for beef and lamb have been strong in the domestic retail market since the immediate aftermath of the first COVID lockdown in spring 2020. After initial market volatility, marketing campaigns by HCC and other bodies encouraged consumers to recreate restaurant meals at home.
Over the past 12 months, domestic retail sales of lamb and beef have trended consistently higher, with spending on lamb 20% higher than the previous year. Sales at independent high street butchers are also strong.
Research shows many demographic groups, including families with children, buying more beef and lamb than previously, and turning to quality home-grown produce.
HCC Data Analyst Glesni Phillips said, “The strong demand for red meat from the domestic consumer has helped drive market prices for beef and lamb at Welsh livestock markets in the second half of 2020 and into the early months of 2021.
“It’s no surprise, therefore, to see that the overall value of the industry is projected to have grown. We have seen inflation in the costs on farmers, which offset some of the gains from improved market price; however, it’s heartening to see consumers’ support for quality Welsh produce.“Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef remain key drivers of our rural economy, and given their excellent brand reputation, they act as flagship products for the growing Welsh food and drink sector.”Further analysis of the aggregate output and income figures for Welsh farms are available in HCC’s latest monthly market bulletin.
Ian Rickman: 2021 is a critical year for Wales’ farming future
THE INCREASINGLY negative narrative around livestock farming and its portrayed impact on the environment and climate change has led to farmers in Wales standing up to tell their stories and highlight the positive impact livestock farming has.
Through the Farmers’ Union of Wales’ campaign ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’, farmers are addressing misleading claims by various groups about the role livestock farming plays in relation to climate change and the environment. Launching the campaign, FUW Deputy President Ian Rickman said: “The FUW has consistently recognised the threat represented by climate change and the need to take action. This is clear from a cursory look at our manifestos and policy documents published over the past twenty years.
“We know that farming is already responsible for a critical carbon resource in soils, woodland and semi-natural habitats and I’m pleased to launch the FUW’s environment campaign – ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’ from my home farm here in Carmarthenshire today. As farmers are the most trusted link in the supply chain, they are best placed to communicate their stories, helping to address consumer concerns and influencing political agendas. Members can also look forward to a variety of webinars over the coming months, which will focus on the different challenges ahead for the industry and how to overcome them.
“There is no question in our mind that we need to counteract the continuation by the anti-farming lobby of their campaign to vilify and belittle domestic food producers. These attacks are corrosive and grossly misleading, negatively influencing consumer perception of the industry and influencing political agendas on a global scale.”
Mr Rickman added that 2021 is an important year for these types of conversations.
“Knocking on our door are the United Nations Food Systems Summit and COP26. The FUW has been engaging with these conversations at an international level and shares some concerns with other industries across the globe about the wider narrative and ambitions set out in inconspicuous looking documents. Plans, we and the general public don’t support. Telling the positive story of the guardians of our Welsh land is now more important than ever,” he said.
Starting in the first week of June, the campaign introduces four farmers all of whom tell the story of how they are addressing environmental and climate change needs in their unique ways: Carmarthenshire organic sheep farmer Phil Jones, the Roberts family from Meirionnydd, Ceredigion dairy farmers Lyn and Lowri Thomas and FUW President Glyn Roberts who farms with his daughter Beca at Dylasau Uchaf in Snowdonia.
“The campaign will further highlight that Welsh farmers are rising to the challenge of improving soil health and increasing organic matter in soils, improvements which represent further opportunities for sequestering more carbon. These improvements, the campaign will highlight, are achieved through specific livestock grazing patterns and rest periods. The campaign is also clear that the correct options, guidance and rewards are required to encourage more farmers to adopt such systems,” said Mr Rickman.
Soil, the campaign will stress, is a long term investment and at present, around 410 million tonnes of carbon is stored in Welsh soils and 75,700 hectares of Wales’ woodland (25%) is on farmland, representing an important and growing carbon sink.
“As acknowledged in Natural Resources Wales’ State of Natural Resources Report, using land for food production is an essential part of natural resource use and management. Whilst we acknowledge that agricultural intensification has undeniably had negative impacts on some species and ecosystems, there is overwhelming evidence that other factors, including reductions in agricultural activity and afforestation, have also had severe negative impacts,” he added.
Excellent Easter for lamb sales
Lamb proved a popular choice for consumers over Easter with retail sales soaring above the last two years. This demand has been reflected at livestock markets where farmgate prices are still standing strong.
At a time when lamb is always a firm favourite, this year people of all ages were both buying and spending more as a result of a renewed interest in sourcing quality, local produce and cooking at home.
In the 12 weeks to 18 April 2021, the total volume purchased was up 14.8% on the year, and 6.0% higher than in 2019. Consumer spend on lamb reached £190.0 million, which was 18.7% more than in 2020 and 14.6% higher than the same period in 2019.
Lamb leg roasting joints were the most sought-after cuts despite the fact that Covid-19 restrictions on large gatherings remained, followed by chops and mince.
Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) Data Analyst, Glesni Phillips said: “Lamb performed exceptionally well over the Easter period this year. It saw a 10.2% increase in the number of buyers engaging with the product and a rise of 3.3% in the frequency of which lamb was bought.
“The average price of lamb was also higher, but this obviously did not deter new buyers. The figures show that there are new buyers in all age categories, but this is especially true for shoppers aged under 45 years and those with children.
“The pandemic has led to more consumers cooking at home, giving many the opportunity to realise and enjoy the exceptional qualities and versatility of Welsh Lamb, and at the same time, support the local economy.”
Butchers also benefitted from the popularity of lamb in the run-up to Easter with total spend increasing by 16.1% on the year. The volume sold also increased, by 12.6%.
Glesni Phillips added: “As we approach the end of Spring, the consumer demand for lamb is continuing. This can be seen in the liveweight lamb prices which remain strong when compared to historical averages, with the average SQQ in Wales standing at 329.7p/kg in Wales for the week ending 15 May 2021.
“New season lambs are now entering the market – they accounted for over 70% of lambs at auction in Wales during the latest week – but the supply is still relatively tight. HCC is looking forward to working with retailers over the coming months on new activity, which will include in-store marketing, press and targeted digital communication to maintain this growth in sales. Butchers, who demonstrated their key role in the community during the pandemic, will also be offered training on a number of key skills to boost their sales even further.”
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