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Hogan outlines crisis measures

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Criticised over trade talks: EU Commissioner Phil Hogan

Criticised over trade talks: EU Commissioner Phil Hogan

SPEAKING in the European Parliament on Tuesday, Commissioner Phil Hogan unveiled details of the latest EU support package agreed last month.

The Commissioner acknowledged that the crisis facing dairy producers and pig farmers has been ‘Both deeper and longer lasting than any of us had anticipated.’

He said he was pleased to confirm that, on Monday, the Commission adopted three draft Regulations. The first, doubling the intervention ceilings for skimmed milk powder and butter (though this needs official approval from the European Council).

The Commission has also activated regulations that allow producer organisations to plan milk production for a period of six months, and extended the regulations’ scope to include co-ops and other organisations.

Hogan also said: “The Commission has and is continuing to make every effort to lift the protectionist ban imposed by Russia on pig products from the EU.”

Russia introduced a ban on imports of food and farming products from European and North American states in 2014, in response to sanctions imposed as tensions grew over war in the Ukraine.

He added, “Even though so far the Russian reaction has not been very positive, the dialogue remains open.”

Hogan said the Commission is also looking for new opportunities outside Europe; having returned from a trip to Colombia and Mexico (which he described as “encouraging”), the Commissioner will leave for Kazakhstan, China and Japan later this week.

However, though the Commissioner’s “diplomatic offensive” might be yielding promising results, talks with the Mercosur trade bloc have drawn criticism from farm groups and EU Farm Ministers.

At the EU Council meeting on Monday, a large number of EU farm ministers warned that a trade deal could see South American agricultural produce – beef, in particular – flooding the market and undercutting European farmers.

Speaking at the EU’s agriculture council meeting on Monday, Hogan said he remains committed to the trade talks, but promised that negotiators are “very sensitive” to the needs of EU farmers.

EU farm groups have claimed the sector risks losing in excess of 7 billion euros as a result of the Mercosur deal.

Farmers claim the South American trade group is already a major exporter of agri commodities to the EU (accounting for 86% of beef and 70% of poultry meat imports), and have questioned the environmental, traceability and quality standards of meat imports.

On Monday, Thomas Magnusson, president of EU farm group Cogeca, said, “The Commission also promised Ministers it would come up with an impact assessment before proceeding with an offer which it has failed to do.”

Discussing the EU’s support packages, the agriculture Commissioner continued, “Over the past two years, the Commission has mobilised more than €1 billion in additional funding to support farmers, which complements the €56 billion which farmers received last year.

As part of that and in response to a deteriorating situation last summer, you will recall that the Commission took swift and decisive action to provide a €500m support package last September, including €420m in direct targeted aid.”

At a meeting with the Dutch EU presidency on Monday, European farming leader Thomas Magnusson urged Ministers to adopt measures that they agreed on last month as soon as possible including loan/ debt relief for investments.

He warned of the difficult situation on the dairy market, with prices continuing to drop for 25 months and farmers being squeezed by high input costs, and said that the lack of money paid out by member states has seriously reduced the impact of the headline measures.

On Tuesday, Hogan said updated figures should be published later in the day, and added: “Before passing judgement on the effectiveness of either the September package or the proposals I made last month, I would urge you to give those measures the opportunity to work.

In particular, I would point to the fact that, at the end of February, only €162m of the €420m allocated to Member States in September had been spent in 14 Countries.”

Defending the Commission’s response to the crisis, Hogan added: “We have legislative and budgetary constraints within which we must operate, including the market orientation of the CAP and the functioning of the internal market.

“Within those parameters, I believe the Commission’s response has been swift and robust. We have now essentially deployed all of the instruments available to us.”

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Farming

Economic value of red meat sector rises

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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.

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Farming

Ian Rickman: 2021 is a critical year for Wales’ farming future

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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.

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Farming

Excellent Easter for lamb sales

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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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