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Farming

Horticulture sector needs support

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£8 billion: Trade gap with the EU on fruit and veg

£8 billion: Trade gap with the EU on fruit and veg

A NEW REPORT from the inter-university Food Research Collaboration (FRC) shows the weak state of British fruit and vegetable production and urges policy-makers to give more attention to rebuilding UK horticulture.

According to the briefing paper, strengthening the sector would both reduce the food trade gap and benefit public health.

This is a practical issue which cuts across the current Brexit vs Bremain debate, according to Professor Tim Lang, of City University London, and FRC Research Fellow Dr Victoria Schoen.

The pair argue that horticulture ought to be central in the Government’s forthcoming 25- year food and farming plan, which is understood to commit to increasing food exports to pay for the huge £8 billion food import deficit.

In a statement on the report’s release, Co-authors Professor Lang and Dr Schoen said; “We worry that government strategy looks a bit like allowing Europe to feed the UK with good healthy produce – fruit and veg – while our food industry exports less desirable elements – alcohol and overprocessed, sugary, fatty foods.

“Actually, horticulture offers something relatively simple to improve matters. Grow more here, but make it sustainable production only.”

The report, Horticulture in the UK: potential for meeting dietary guideline demands, paints a sober picture of a mismatch between supply and demand in the UK, particularly in light of public health advice to eat more fruit and vegetables. Drawing on official and unpublished data, the report shows that there has been a big decline in the area given to UK horticultural production.

From 1985 to 2014, there has been a decline of 27% for fruit and vegetables combined. The area growing vegetables has declined by 26% and the area growing fruit by 35%. Fruit and vegetables are by far the greatest source of imports in the UK food system. The trade gap in horticulture has risen to £7.8 billion a year, about 37% of the UK’s total food trade gap of £21 billion in 2014.

Although some growers have extensive growing operations in Southern Europe and further afield, this makes sense for them as commercial enterprises but still does not resolve the serious lack of UK horticultural output.

Some imports (e.g. pineapples, avocados) cannot currently be grown in the UK but others which could be UK grown (e.g. brassicas, mushrooms, lettuce, apples, pears) have seen serious drops in production.

The proportion of the adult population (over 16 years) in the UK consuming five or more portions of fruit and vegetables per day peaked in 2006 at 28% of males and 32% of females.

Only 9% of 11-15 year olds achieved an intake of five-a-day or more in the period 2008/09-2011/12, and only 14% of 16-24 year olds.

The Consumer Price Index for food items as a whole has shown a significant increase of 35% in 2007-2013. Within this, the price of vegetables has increased by 27% and fresh fruit by 26%, less than the average for the food sector as a whole.

The researchers noted that horticulture holdings are unevenly distributed across the country, which they said is partly for climatic reasons, but pointed out that areas which used to have sizeable sectors (e.g. the South West) have seen a heavy decline.

They said a ‘re-boot’ of regional strategies is overdue a review of planning and financial regulations and improve resilience in food and farming.

Currently, only 3.5% of the UK’s croppable land is used for horticulture (and only 2% of the farmed area in England), but this land produces £3.7 billion worth of produce and employs 12% of the agricultural labour force and at least 35% of the UK’s casual farm labour force.

The paper’s authors made a number of recommendations for the government, which is set to bring out its 25 year food and farming plan in the spring. They urged the government to apply a ‘health lens’ to its proposed focus on ‘Brand Britain’ and to work with industry and regional groups to give policy and financial support for horticulture.

This funding should include public health and environmental analysis to look at narrowing the gap between supply and demand for home grown fruit and veg, the authors said, as well as funding more research into sustainable production methods.

Professor Tim Lang, Director of the Centre for Food Policy at City University London, and Chair of the FRC, commented on Thursday: “At a time when some politicians are urging the UK to vote to leave the EU, it is somewhat alarming to note the poor state of UK self-reliance in horticulture.

“This ought to be the ‘good news’ in food and health. Why is the country producing lots of sugar but not enough fruit and veg?

“We have been genuinely shocked by the mismatch of UK supply and demand in horticulture. Our report points out some weak links in the chain: low wages, reliance on migrant labour, a suspicion of low returns to growers, a waste of land and resources.

“These factors should receive more attention from academics and civil society. And politicians need to look very carefully at the sector. Dairy farmers have been understandably ‘noisy’ about being squeezed by rising costs and powerful supermarkets.

The public needs to be more aware of a not dissimilar situation in fruit and veg. “The public says it wants to eat British. Chefs encourage it. But the Government isn’t listening. Its message is more about exports than about growing more here. We think this risky.”

Dr Victoria Schoen, Research Fellow for the FRC, said: “We frequently hear the five-a-day message – many of us can see the reasoning for this. Why is it then that so few of us take any notice? What would happen to our supermarket fresh produce shelves if we did?

“We are eating slightly less fruit and veg per person than we did ten years ago but this is increasingly fruit and veg that are not grown here.

“It is time policy-makers considered the reasons for this and whether anything can be done to encourage consumption, and production, of British produce.

“British horticulture has contracted partly because of lack of demand for the things we grow here. A more thorough examination of the food systems in place is required to understand why products that should be more expensive – those that are highly processed – are often in greater demand than those that come to us in the fresh-from-the field state.”

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Farming

Warning to dog owners following recent attacks on livestock

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POLICE and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn has issued a warning to dog owners that they face being prosecuted if they fail to keep their dogs under control when out walking the country side.

His warning comes following reports of several recent incidents whereby livestock have been attacked or killed by dogs in rural parts across the Dyfed-Powys Force area.

As a result of the recent incidents and the ever increasing concerns within local Farming Communities, Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn has moved swiftly to organise a meeting with NFU representatives and the Dyfed-Powys Rural Crime team which will take place on 11 January 2021.

Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn said; “This is a critical time in the rural community as farmers go into the lambing season, and in light of these recent, concerning incidents, I will be meeting with NFU representatives and our Rural Crime Team in the Force to identify ways of working collaboratively to tackle the problem.

“Dog owners need to take responsibility for ensuring dogs are kept under control while out walking the country side, especially as we enter the lambing season.

“They may think it is fun to run around animals in fields, but this is not the case and these animals often get scared, injured or killed as a result.

“We are grateful to the majority of responsible dog walkers in our communities, but we want to remind all owners that dogs should be kept on leads at all times around livestock – it is an offence to allow your pet to worry, kill or maul sheep, their lambs, or any other livestock”.

PC Esther Davies of Dyfed-Powys Police Rural Crime Team said; “Since the Rural Crime Team was formed some two and half years ago, we have received regular reports of livestock worrying throughout the force. These are incidents that occur throughout the year and can have a devastating effect on farmers and rural communities.

“Dog owners must take responsibility for their dogs and ensure that they are kept under control at all times. If dogs are being walked be it on the road, through a field or on a footpath, and especially somewhere where there is likely to be livestock, they should always be kept on leads. Incidents like this can and should be avoided.”

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Farming

NFU Cymru President’s New Year message

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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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Farming

Farmers face hidden tax hike

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POTENTIAL changes to rules on Capital Gains Tax could lead to a tax hike for those inheriting farmland and assets, financial advisers at NFU Mutual have warned.

Many farmers can potentially pass on farms to their children free from Inheritance Tax due to Agricultural Property Relief and Business Property Relief.

As capital gains are wiped away on death, children inheriting can sell and only face Capital Gains Tax on any rise in value between the date of death and a sale.

However, in a review ordered by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the Office of Tax Simplification has recommended that gains should no longer be wiped away on death where the estate has claimed Agricultural or Business Property relief to reduce Inheritance tax.

Sean McCann, Chartered Financial Planner at NFU Mutual, said: “Many farmers choose to hold on to their farming assets until death on the basis that not only might they be free of Inheritance tax, but also escape Capital Gains Tax if sold shortly after death.

“The Office of Tax Simplification’s recommendation that gains should no longer be wiped on death where Agricultural or Business Property relief has been claimed to reduce inheritance tax will mean bigger tax bills for some farming families.

“The biggest impact will be on those who sell farming assets they’ve recently inherited. Those that retain the assets and continue to farm won’t face any immediate tax liability under the proposed changes.

“The Office of Tax Simplification also recommended a hike in Capital Gains Tax rates that would align them to Income Tax rates, leading to larger tax bills.

“However, it’s likely that any change would be accompanied by an allowance to take account of the rise in value caused by general inflation, so any tax is only levied on ‘real’ gains.

“It’s important to stress Rishi Sunak has not yet confirmed he will agree to these recommendations, but many farming families will be watching the March Budget with interest.”

[INSET BOX]

EXAMPLE

A farmer owns a farm worth £1m which he bought 25 years ago for £300,000. He dies and leaves it to his children, who sell for £1m shortly after his death. Under current rules, if he met the criteria for 100% Agricultural and Business Property relief, they would pay no inheritance tax on the £1m and no Capital Gains Tax on the sale.

Under the proposal to abolish the tax-free update on death, while there would still be no inheritance tax due – if the farmer’s children sold shortly after his death, they would face a Capital Gains Tax bill on the £700,000 gain. Based on the existing rate (20%) that would trigger a Capital Gains Tax bill of £140,000.

“It’s important to stress Rishi Sunak has not yet confirmed he will agree to these recommendations, but many farming families will be watching the March Budget with interest.”

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