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.
New HCC Chair appointed
WALES’ Minister for Rural Affairs last week announced the upcoming appointment of a new Chair at Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).
Catherine Smith, a board member of HCC since 2017, will take over from incumbent Chair Kevin Roberts on April 1, 2021.
Catherine is a food business consultant with more than 20 years’ experience in the red meat sector in procurement, processing and manufacturing. She is also a farmer’s daughter and wife, who lives with her husband and three children on a mixed farm in Monmouthshire.
She will be the first woman to take on the role since the formation of HCC in 2003.
Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, announced the appointment on Wednesday, February 3.
The Minister said: “I would like to congratulate Catherine Smith for her upcoming appointment to the role of Chair at Hybu Cig Cymru – and would also like to thank outgoing Chair Kevin Roberts for all his work in the role.
“Catherine brings a wealth of experience to the role, having worked within the red meat supply chain for two decades and served as a board member since 2017.
“I am very pleased to be able to announce Catherine as the incoming Chair, particularly given she will be the first woman to come into the role – and I hope her appointment reflects wider trends in business across Wales, especially within the agricultural sector.
“She comes into the role at an especially difficult time, with the red meat sector responding both to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the complexity brought about as a result of the recent end of the EU transition period.”
Catherine said “Having grown up in a farming family, and worked in the food sector for twenty years, I’m very proud to be appointed as Chair of Hybu Cig Cymru.
“My priority will be to deliver for our levy-payers; farmers and processors. This will mean building our red meat brands using inventive and effective marketing, helping our industry to be as profitable as possible, and aiming to lead the world in terms of quality and sustainability.
“HCC has responded to the challenges of EU transition and the Covid-19 pandemic with flexibility, determination and innovation. Building on these strengths the organisation will continue to deliver on the priorities set out in Vision 2025 and support the industry to build its profitability and resilience whilst working closely with Welsh Government and all stakeholders within the supply chain.”
Kevin Roberts, outgoing Chair of HCC, said: “The past few years have certainly had their challenges from issues outside our control.
“I’m proud of the way HCC has responded, growing exports of Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef significantly despite the uncertainty of Brexit, and playing its part in driving a major growth in domestic retail sales to help both farmers and consumers during the COVID pandemic. This has come about with the help of a lot of hard work from Gwyn Howells and his team of staff.
“I wish Catherine well in taking over as Chair during the next exciting period for our sector. Some uncertainties remain, but as we look to the future our brands are very strong; we’re offering what consumers want – high-quality food, traceable right back to the farm, and world-leading credentials in terms of environmental and welfare standards.”
NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “I’d like to congratulate Catherine Smith on her appointment as the new Chair of HCC and thank Kevin Roberts for his work and leadership over the past four years.
“Catherine will be taking over at a pivotal time for the red meat sector in Wales as we seek a global market for our products, following our departure from the EU. Welsh red meat is a world-leader in both its quality and sustainability credentials and marketing these strengths, to a global audience, in new and innovative ways, must be a priority for the board.
“Covid-19 has presented unique challenges but also huge opportunities for our products. Consumers’ favourability towards the agricultural industry has never been higher and the pandemic has brought into sharp focus the need for a constant supply of high-quality food to our customers. As we leave the CAP and design new policies made here in Wales, we need to ensure that we develop a comprehensive food and farming policy. This policy must have an ambition for growth that allows us to capitalise on these great credentials in both our domestic and export markets, in order to deliver a vibrant and prosperous future for everyone involved in the red meat sector in Wales.
“I would like to thank Kevin for his sterling work on behalf of the Welsh red meat industry, being at the helm of the HCC board at a time of unprecedented uncertainty brought upon by Brexit. Throughout his time with HCC Kevin has overseen the publication of the organisation’s Vision 2025 strategy and just recently the Welsh Way document, a strong and robust evidence base to further build our sector as a global leader in sustainability.
“We look forward to working closely with Catherine to ensure HCC delivers for levy-payers across Wales.”
Farming bodies slam ‘narrow-thinking’ WG
WALES’ farming unions and Wales’ YFC have written to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to express concerns around the future direction of Welsh agricultural policy, following the publication of the Agriculture (Wales) White Paper.
In a show of unity, NFU Cymru, the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) and Wales YFC called upon the Minister, Lesley Griffiths MS, to pause and reconsider what a future policy should deliver for the people of Wales.
The three organisations have raised concerns that little has changed over three consultation processes and there remains a lack of ambition for the future of farming in Wales.
The letter states ‘the direction of travel proposed does not appear to reflect the uniqueness of Welsh farming, built around family farms delivering for our economy, our landscape, language and culture. Instead, and most worryingly, it looks as though we are implementing a policy based on a very narrow definition of public goods, policy thinking very similar to what we have seen emanating from elsewhere, rather than a policy ‘Made in Wales’.’
In a joint statement, NFU Cymru and FUW said: “Welsh farming is at a significant crossroads. The decisions taken by policymakers in the coming months will shape and impact the sector for generations to come. Leaving the EU has given us the opportunity within Wales to put together an ambitious policy that enables Wales to lead the way, securing the supply of safe, high-quality affordable food for all in society, delivering jobs and prosperous rural communities, all while enhancing the environment for the benefit of all.
“We have throughout this process recognised and embraced the need for change in the belief that the main opportunity from Brexit was to develop an agricultural policy in Wales for Wales that had its people, the land they farm, and the food they produce at its heart. Collectively we are ambitious for Wales and passionately believe that our sector can play a leading role in the major challenges facing society, not least climate change, all whilst feeding an ever-growing population with the highest quality food and drink produced by the best farmers in the world. Put simply our ambition is for Wales to be recognised as a world-leading country of excellence for climate-friendly farming and food production.
“We have a once in a generation opportunity to get this right and enable rural Wales, its people, communities, language, landscape and environment to thrive and as such we urge you to reconsider the direction of travel and work with us to develop a policy that is ambitious and enables us to reach our potential.”
Katie Davies, Wales YFC Chairman, said: “Thousands of young people from across Wales are desperate to forge a career within Welsh agriculture, supporting food and farming. It is imperative that we work together to find a way forward that is both ambitious and creates opportunities for the next generation.”
The White Paper, which stands no chance of getting on the statute book before May’s election, hails the Welsh Government’s consultations with stakeholders. Which stakeholders the Welsh Government has consulted with is not identified in the White Paper. However, the text shows no signs of addressing long-standing concerns about the Welsh Government’s drive to marginalise farmers in favour of voices more congenial to its metropolitan base.
Janet Finch-Saunders MS, the Conservatives’ Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, praised the letter.
She said: “Farming and agriculture is in the DNA of Wales. Despite the pressures the sector faces even in the best of years, it’s still a big draw for many young people, and a major contributor to the Welsh economy.
“Years of Labour’s mismanagement of the sector based on viewing Wales through the prism of Cardiff Bay led to this letter. I must agree with the NFU, the FUW, and Wales YFC when they say the direction of travel proposed by the Labour Government does not appear to reflect the uniqueness of Welsh farming.
“Labour also seems to be hell-bent on policy ideas that are not ‘Made in Wales’, but ‘Made in Cardiff Bay for Cardiff Bay’.
“In short, the letter is an indictment of years of Labour’s mismanagement of the agricultural sector, a sector like all others that will need specific and thoughtful future policymaking now we have exited the EU, and are looking towards a post-pandemic recovery.
“One thing is clear: recovery for agriculture and other sectors will not come from Labour, but from a Welsh Conservative Government as ambitious and dynamic as the agricultural sector.”
NFU Cymru President’s New Year message
NFU Cymru President John Davies provides his New Year message, looking back over an unprecedented 12 months and assessing what lies ahead in 2021.
“2020 was a year the likes of which we’ve never seen. The Coronavirus pandemic has challenged all of society. My condolences go out to all of those who’ve lost loved ones to this disease. My thoughts are with all whose livelihoods have been affected by the knock-on effects that the pandemic has had on businesses and our general way of life. I’d like to place on record my heartfelt thanks to our NHS workers and those supporting them on the front line for their courage in tackling this global health emergency. So often the term ‘hero’ is attached to those in films or on the sporting stage, but if this year has taught us anything it’s that, in fact, the real heroes are those people in our communities who have gone to work – putting themselves at risk – to care for the sick and keep the rest of us safe. Diolch yn fawr iawn pawb.
“The initial impact of the Covid-19 outbreak and the overnight closure of the hospitality sector had severe consequences for the food supply chain. The resilience of those systems was stretched to the limit as the supply chain frantically sought to redirect produce that would usually be destined for the out-of-home market to the retail sector, where panic-buying had resulted in empty shelves in many stores. I thank all our farmers who have worked throughout the chaos of the Covid-19 fallout to keep the nation fed. I know that for many businesses and sectors this hasn’t always been easy and some experienced significant losses as those supply chains struggled to adapt to new demands. However, the role the entire industry has played during such a fraught period will live long in the memory of many, and indeed recent polls suggests farmers’ favourability with the consumer is higher than it has been in a decade.
“I very much hope that lessons can be learned from this tumultuous year and if the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that the safe, reliable supply of high quality affordable food is now of paramount importance to the public. As farmers we are ready and committed to ensuring that the nation remains fed during this difficult time and through future challenges, too. Our farming systems, underpinned by a fantastic, natural asset base, mean we are well equipped to be the providers of the most climate friendly food in the world. NFU Cymru will continue to lobby Welsh Government to see the importance of food production recognised and protected as a cornerstone of future policy.
“Looking ahead and, with significant changes to how Wales and the UK trades with the EU and the rest of the world, one of the biggest challenges for 2021 is going to be making sure that Welsh farmers have the widest possible range of markets freely open to them, on the best possible terms. We are, of course, relieved that that a deal has finally been agreed between the UK and the European Union, providing some much-needed certainty for the farming sector and allowing Wales’ farmers to continue to send products to the EU27 free of both tariffs and quotas. All efforts must be now be focussed on finding ways of minimising the impact of red tape on the movement of our produce to the EU.
“A heartfelt thanks must go to the one million people from all walks of life who backed our food standards campaign. Their support was instrumental in delivering legislation to ensure that food standards will now have a ‘stronger voice in UK trade policy’.
“Of course, away from the pandemic and agricultural policy, there are still major issues that are affecting the nation’s farmers every day. Bovine TB continues to blight so many businesses across Wales – all too many times this year I have again learned of families’ heartbreak and herds, generations in the making, being decimated due to this horrific disease. Please be assured that NFU Cymru will continue to pressure government to act upon the science and take notice of the proven strategies adopted by so many other countries – an approach that seeks to tackle bovine TB across all its vectors.
“NFU Cymru maintains that a heavy-handed and inflexible approach to water quality through the proposed all Wales Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) designation will not deliver the enhancements to water quality that we all want to see. NFU Cymru is committed to helping to deliver these improvements via an effective and proportionate framework that supports farmers to take action to improve water quality where it is needed. I am heartened that our Minister has recognised that these are not regulations to introduce at a time of crisis.
“Climate change remains a major challenge for all of us in society and the farming industry is putting its best foot forward to deliver on its net zero 2040 ambition. With the prestigious COP26 summit rescheduled to be held in Glasgow in 2021, it is clear this topic will, rightly, remain high on the news agenda next year. As a farmer, it’s important to me that farming’s contribution to mitigating the effects of climate change is fairly reflected in this debate. Recent research has pointed to the fact that Welsh livestock production systems are amongst the most sustainable in the world, but we know that there is much more we can and will do.
“With a Senedd election scheduled for May 2021 we will be speaking to candidates from across the political spectrum to push home the importance of Welsh food and farming. We are committed to working with the next government to deliver our ambitions for a productive, profitable and progressive farming sector that delivers for the people and communities of Wales.
“It has been a year like no other. With the vaccine rollout now underway I hope we will soon be able to consign the last pandemic-hit year to the history books and return to some form of normality, where we can soon meet at the agricultural shows and events that we all hold dear to our heart. Let us look ahead to 2021 and what we hope will be a bright, healthy and safe future.
“Blwyddyn Newydd dda.”
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