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Agri Academy applications open

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A hugely valuable stepping stone: Agri Academy

FARMING Connect’s prestigious personal development programme, the Agri Academy 2018, was launched at the Farmers’ Union of Wales annual farmhouse breakfast at the Pierhead Building, Cardiff Bay (details elsewhere in this section).

The Agri Academy, now approaching its sixth year and with 165 alumni, brings together some of the most promising people making their way in the agricultural industry​.​

Regularly quoted by past candidates as ‘life changing’​,​ this unique programme which takes place over three short, action-packed study periods and overseas visits, gives individuals selected the inspiration, confidence, skills and networks they need to become future rural leaders, professional business people and entrepreneurs. The application window for this year’s programme, will be open ​until March 30.

Comprising three distinct elements, the Agri Academy’s Rural Leadership programme, a collaboration with the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society, aims to develop and nurture a new generation of leaders and individuals keen to influence the rural agenda at a local, regional and European level. The programme provides an opportunity to meet and lobby Welsh Government and EU figureheads in Wales and Brussels and to learn the skills of effective public speaking and media interviews.

The Business and Innovation programme offers personal and business development which can help candidates meet the challenges of farming in the future, as they network and learn from top industry experts and business leaders at home and during an overseas study visit.

The Junior Academy, which is run in partnership with Wales YFC, is targeted at young people aged 16-19 considering a career in the food and farming industries. For many it provides focus and guidance at a time when many are uncertain about their future career pathways and a prestigious, relevant notch on their CV.

Speaking at the launch, the Cabinet Secretary said “The Agri Academy’s format of three short but intensive study periods has a proven track record of paving the way to business success for so many of its alumni.

“Farming Connect’s unique personal development programme of training, mentoring, support and guidance gives both young entrants with ambitious aspirations and more experienced individuals a fantastic opportunity to share ideas and learn from each other in a success-driven, supportive environment.

“There are no barriers for eligible individuals wanting to apply for the Agri Academy and there are no limits to what you can achieve if you put your mind to it.

“The Agri Academy has been a hugely valuable stepping stone, which has inspired so many individuals, giving them confidence and necessary networks to plan for their future as successful rural leaders, professional business people and innovative farmers.”

Einir Davies, development and mentoring manager with Menter a Busnes, which delivers Farming Connect on behalf of the Welsh Government, says that the 2018 programme promises exciting opportunities.

“Candidates selected for the Business & Innovation Programme will visit Iceland, a country renowned for its innovative approach to environmental management, renewable energy and sustainable farming methods.

“Iceland has a similar topography to Wales with its combination of lowland, upland and coastal farms and it is self-sufficient in meat, eggs and milk,” said Ms Davies.

Rural Leadership Programme candidates will meet figureheads and policy leaders from the Welsh Government and visit the European Parliament in Brussels.

Branwen Miles (24), a candidate for the Rural Leadership Programme in 2017, grew up at her family’s organic dairy farm near Haverfordwest.

Branwen, who was recently appointed to a policy role with CLA Wales, studied French and international politics at Aberystwyth University, which involved her spending a year working in Strasbourg.

“I can’t believe how much confidence I gained through the Agri-Academy, and I know that the new friends and many business contacts I made will stand me in good stead in years to come.

“A particular highlight for me was visiting the European Parliament in Brussels, where our group met many high-ranking EU officials and heard at first hand their views on agriculture, and their opinion on the future as the UK plans its exit of the EU.​”​

Branwen’s father Dai was one of the Agri-Academy’s first intake of students, and so a persuasive advocate when his daughter first mentioned applying.

“I’ve always known that I want a career which involves me in the policy side of agriculture, rather than grass roots farming.

“I would advise anyone wanting a career in agriculture in Wales to apply for the Agri Academy. Not only has it given me a very relevant notch on my cv, the training, mentoring and new network of friends has been immensely empowering.

“I enjoyed university and I’ve had a number of interesting jobs since I left, but the Agri-Academy has contributed hugely to my sense of ambition and focus and I’m so grateful to have been part of it.”

For further information, eligibility criteria and to download application forms, visit www.gov.wales/farmingconnect

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Farming

Farmers should prepare for IHT changes

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FARMERS should review their Inheritance Tax (IHT) and succession plans ahead of the Spring Statement as potentially significant changes are expected, according to rural accountant Old Mill.
There are less than six months before the Spring Statement, and changes to the IHT format – based on recommendations originally outlined by the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) in July 2019 – are likely. “The recommendations were primarily geared towards streamlining IHT administration but may have the secondary effect of reducing some of the favourable reliefs available to farmers,” explains Catherine Vickery, associate director at Old Mill.
“Current IHT legislation can be very beneficial for farmers, giving confidence that they can pass down agricultural business and property assets to the next generation tax free on death,” she adds. “Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has left the Government with a very large debt, so there’s potential that it will implement any OTS recommendations to increase tax revenue.”
So, with the Spring Statement anticipated for March, what can farmers do to mitigate any potential changes?
“Under the existing rules, agricultural land and property qualify for Agricultural Property Relief (APR) from IHT at up to 100%,” explains Mrs Vickery. Other land and property assets, like diversified enterprises, can qualify for up to 100% Business Property Relief (BPR) as part of an overall farming business which is at least 50% trading. “These reliefs can apply on lifetime transfers as well as on death where the conditions are met.”
Transfers on death currently also qualify for Capital Gains Tax (CGT) free uplift so that gains are effectively washed out. Lifetime transfers of agricultural land, property, and businesses which are at least 80% trading qualify for gift holdover relief, meaning gains can be deferred until a later disposal. 
However, a key OTS recommendation is to remove the CGT free uplift on death when IHT relief is also available. This would mean that the next generation would inherit the farm at an historically low base cost, leading to higher CGT on any future sale. The OTS has also just released its report into CGT simplification which echoes this same recommendation.   Proposals to alter the trading test for BPR, aligning it to the 80% CGT trading test could leave farmers ineligible for 100% BPR, which could result in assets having to be sold to pay IHT liabilities.
“The most tax efficient option has often been for farmers to continue to actively farm and hold onto assets until they die,” says Mrs Vickery. “Now, given speculation about potential changes, the best course of action is to get a succession plan in place as soon as possible and start implementing it.
“Plans need to be arranged based on what is right for you, your family and the farm right now, rather than how things might stand at a later date.”
This means establishing who is taking on the assets and if they have the skills needed to drive the business forward. “Pass over this responsibility while you still can and while you can be on hand to guide and support your successor,” advises Mrs Vickery.
It’s also important to review partnership or shareholder agreements, and consider the handing on of other assets. Additionally, farmers should collate any trust and gift deeds, so that paperwork is on hand to be reviewed.
“Though we suspect the new IHT rules won’t be favourable, farmers need to make use of the rules we have now as these are a current certainty,” says Mrs Vickery. “Succession planning is so easy to put off but it’s a vital tool in safeguarding the future of farming businesses.”

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Eustice turns in a useless performance

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GEORGE EUSTICE has all the qualifications to be DEFRA Secretary of State in the Westminster Government.
He owns a pair of green wellingtons, corduroy trousers, a smart tweed jacket and a wax jacket.
He must be very good at his job. He’s been a Minister in DEFRA for most of the last six years.

CAR CRASH INTERVIEW

Which makes his catastrophically ignorant performance on Sunday’s Andrew Marr programme all the more baffling.
After six years as a Government minister, four of which have come after the result of the 2016 Referendum and ten months of which have come after Boris Johnson ‘got Brexit done’, Mr Eustice appears to have little or no grasp of the realities of agricultural production and food processing.
His nonsensical remarks about sheep farming – which he has sought to clarity – have received a lot of attention.
Of equally worthy attention is how George Eustice regards the interaction between markets.
In Eustice World ™, tariffs will have no effect on the UK’s dairy industry because tariffs will also be applied to EU goods coming into the UK. Which would be an interesting take if in the last reported year the UK didn’t operate a surplus of dairy trade with the EU. In short, EU countries buy more of ours than we do of theirs.
No doubt the gap in exports will be taken up by exporting blue cheese to the notoriously lactose-intolerant population of Japan.

ARLA RESPOND WITH HUMOUR

As an illustration of the Eustice Doctrine the DEFRA Secretary claimed that if producers like Arla wanted to continue to trade in the UK, they would have to relocate their production of Lurpak to the UK.
Arla explained in a subsequent tweet, doubtless to George Eustice’s amazement after only six years in DEFRA, Lurpak is subject to legal origin protections. Those mean that Arla can only produce Lurpak® in Denmark with Danish milk. It can’t be produced in the UK. 
Arla helpfully added: “Don’t panic, whatever happens with Brexit, we’re sure we’ll be able to find a way to keep Lurpak coming into the UK.”
Dairy production was only a small part of George Eustice’s monumental achievements during his interview.
He went on to anger sheep farmers with a crass assertion so wrong-headed that even his subsequent attempted gloss on his words rubbed salt into their wounds.

FEELING THE HEAT OVER SHEEP MEAT

Andrew Marr asked George Eustice about the effect on sheep farmers. In a no-deal Brexit, red meat exporters face tariff barriers to trade with their largest export market. Over 40% of sheep meat is exported to the EU and that accounts for 90% of all UK sheepmeat exports. The largest market for British sheep meat in the EU is France, which takes around half of all exports.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the tariffs on lamb exports would make UK production uncompetitive in the EU market. Worse, the prospect of a trade deal with New Zealand raises the dual prospect of imports carving UK farmersout of their home markets.
Mr Eustice blithely asserted that UK sheep farmers would face only short term price drops and farmers who farmed sheep and cattle together could diversify into beef as imports from Ireland and the EU would fall due to increased tariffs affecting imports to the UK.
He subsequently clarified: “In my comments on the Andrew Marr Show, I did not say that all sheep farmers should diversify into beef. I said that if tariffs were applied then some mixed beef and sheep enterprises might choose to diversify more into beef because Irish beef would become subject to tariffs, creating new opportunities for British producers.”
That is not what Mr Eustice said. He said mixed cattle and sheep farms could diversify.
Mr Eustice’s suggestion would only have force if he thought most sheep farmers farmed cattle. Otherwise, his answer on sheep tariffs would make no sense in context.
On the latter point, farming organisations expressed dismay and bemusement at Mr Eustice’s ignorance.

FARMERS RESPOND TO USELESS DISPLAY

Phil Stocker, CEO of the National Sheep said: “Mr Eustice’s comments will have angered many of our nation’s sheep farmers, failing to identify the unique and varied nature of sheep enterprises across the country. 
“To begin with, to suggest that many of our sheep farmers are mixed farmers is wrong. This assumption will enrage sheep farmers across the UK who have structured their farms to focus on sheep, and it will particularly antagonise our devolved nations where the landscape includes more remote areas of countryside, especially suited to sheep, and where buildings, machinery and farminfrastructure simply would not suit a sudden switch to cattle farming.
“The fact we have many sheep farmers, especially younger farmers and new entrants to the sector who run their sheep on arable farms and on short term grass lets was completely ignored – simply switching to cattle would be impossible for them.
“I find it hard to think that George Eustice really believes what he said This interview leaves us thinking his comments could either be part of creating a ‘we don’t care’ attitude to bolster trade negotiations, or, and this would be highly concerning, it exposes an underlying willingness to see our sheep industry go through a restructure to reduce its size, scale and diversity.”
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “The reality is that failure to reach a trade deal would have a catastrophic impact for our key agricultural sectors that would hit home very quickly, with the sheep industry likely to feel the impact most acutely. 
“It would also cause untold disruption to food and other supply chains and complete anarchy at our ports.”
Mr Roberts said that such a failure would also have devastating impacts for EU businesses and that it was therefore in both the EU and UK’s interest to ‘pull out all the stops’ to reach a deal.
Mr Roberts also rebuffed claims by Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the UK ‘will prosper’ without an EU trade deal.
“You cannot cut yourself off from the worlds biggest economy and trading block in the height of a global pandemic, the worst recession for a century and having borrowed a quarter of a trillion to cope and think it’s going to go well.
“Not only would this amount to catastrophic self -harm from an economic point of view, but also at a practical level the country is woefully unprepared to cope with the flow of goods over our borders and all the paperwork and checks that this requires.”
Mr Roberts said that while EU ports facing the UK had undertaken significant changes to prepare for different Brexit scenarios, many UK ports were still in the early stages of planning new infrastructure and would not be prepared to cope with the movement of goods until at least July next year.
“Even if a deal is reached, we are facing significant additional costs and disruption as a result of non-tariff barriers due to the UK’s decision to leave the Single Market and customs union.
“A no-deal will severely escalate these and must be avoided at all costs,” he added.
NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “Ahead of the EU Referendum and ever since, NFU Cymru has been consistent in its messaging that a ‘No deal’ Brexit outcome, which would see the UK trading with the EU on WTO terms, would be a catastrophic position for Welsh farming. The reason for our strong position is that the EU market has been – and remains – the nearest, largest and most lucrative export market for many Welsh products. It is a marketplace where our customers recognise and value the Welsh brand and the high standards it represents.
“Only a year ago the industry was told that the odds of a ‘No deal’ Brexit were ‘a million to one against’ and there was an ‘oven-ready deal’, yet here we are only weeks before the end of the transition period, facing the prospect of ‘No deal’ and high tariffs on our exports.
“The comments made by Secretary of State George Eustice serve to further underline why it is so important to Welsh agriculture that UK Government agrees on a deal that secures access to the EU without tariff barriers and with minimal friction.
“The Secretary of State’s view that Welsh sheep farmers could diversify into beef production to offset the impact of a ‘non-negotiated outcome’ will be of major concern to our sheep farmers, who are some of the most efficient and innovative in the world producing a quality product. The reality is that changing production methods involves long-term production cycles and for many, the significant investment required makes it an unviable option.
“The Minister’s comments on the dairy sector are also concerning and do not account for the fact that we are net exporters of some dairy commodities and that the profitability of some domestic sectors, like liquid milk, is tied closely to the timely export of high-value co-products to the EU, like cream. The idea that many of the major EU dairy processors will have to relocate their operations to the UK is fraught with difficulties and is, in many cases, unviable.
“Being priced out of our nearest and most important export markets for even a short amount of time would have severe consequences for the food and farming sector in Wales.”
TFA National Chair Mark Coulman said: “To suggest that dairy farmers will be saved by forcing Arla to produce its popular Lurpak brand in the UK when it is legally bound to keep its production in Denmark and that dedicated and successful sheep farmers should consider diversifying into beef production, if export markets for our high-quality lamb become closed to us, were not helpful, to say the least. The farming community was hoping for much better than this.
“Somehow, we need to use the short time available to garner the strength to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. This will require a concerted effort with the Government and the farming industry working together to achieve that. Although late in the day, the TFA is committed to engaging in that work,” Mr Coulman concluded.

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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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