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Farming

Agriculture’s importance emphasised

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(L-R): Stephen Mansel Davies, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, Kaye Mansel Davies, FUW Deputy President, Brian Thomas, and FUW President, Glyn Roberts

(L-R): Stephen Mansel Davies, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, Kaye Mansel Davies, FUW Deputy President, Brian Thomas, and FUW President, Glyn Roberts

A DELEGATION of Farmers’ Union of Wales officials met with Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, on Monday (Aug 15) to discuss the wider economic and social importance of agriculture to the rural and urban economy as well as the importance of encouraging the next generation into the industry. 

The meeting was held at Llwyncelyn Lan farm, Llanfyrnach – home of FUW Deputy President Brian Thomas who has been farming here since 1988. The delegation then visited Mansel Davies and Son Ltd. to discuss the history and nature of the business and its interrelationship with the agricultural industry and rural economy.

Brian Thomas, who farms 280 acres, 30 acres of which is woodland, in North Pembrokeshire, runs a herd of 100 beef shorthorn cattle and a flock of 300 ewes, with cereals also being grown.

Speaking after the meeting, FUW Deputy President Brian Thomas said: “I would first of all like to thank Lesley Griffiths for meeting us here at my home farm. We had wide ranging discussions on farming matters and used the opportunity to highlight the important role farming plays in our rural economy.

“If we are to encourage the next generation to take up farming, it has to be viable for them. Looking around here, there are only one in eight farms that have children who want to take over the family business. The average age of farmers in my local area is 60 plus, so we need to put measures in place that ensure these farms have a future for the sake of our rural economy.

“I see the future for farming in youth. However, with farm household incomes averaging around £13,000 a year and working hours exceeding 60+ per week – why would they? Due to the nature of the business, we are only ever one step away from a crisis.

“Our farming businesses provide stability for the rural economy, income for our children and our families and hold communities together. We now have an opportunity to do something great – and that is shaping our own future in terms of markets and legislations, a point we made clear to the Cabinet Secretary here today.”

Highlighting how important the second and third sector businesses are in making the wheels of our rural economies go around were Stephen and Kaye Mansel Davies of Mansel Davies and Son Ltd.

The company was established in 1875 by the late John Davies. Mansel Davies, his son, joined the business in 1900 and the company still uses that name today. The company is now run by Kaye Mansel Davies (Chairman), fourth generation, and his son Stephen Mansel Davies (Managing Director). The next generation are already involved in the company.

They currently employ over 300 people and operate 180 trucks, with all of its employees living within a 40 mile radius of Llanfyrnach. Apart from the local authority and the oil refinery, they are the largest employers in Pembrokeshire with an annual turnover just short of £30 million.

Stephen Mansel Davies highlighted that 90% of the company’s work is linked to agricultural, saying that: “We are the largest milk haulier in Wales, collecting 1.4 million litres per day for seven different buyers and doing UK distribution for a further two buyers. Our total milk or milk products movements comes to about four million litres per day.”

The company delivers milk and milk products into processors in Newcastle Emlyn, Llangefni, South Caernarfon, Felinfach, Acton, London, Southampton, Droitwich, Bridgewater, Westbury, North Tawton, Aylesbury, Chester, Severnside and a number of other factories around the UK.

Another important sector of the business is the distribution of animal feed in the area. Mansel Davies and Son are also the largest suppliers of ground limestone, which they also spread on to the land for soil neutralisation.

Following the meeting with the Cabinet Secretary, Stephen Mansel Davies said: “All of those who are involved in Government need to understand how important agriculture is to Wales – it’s the only sustainable long term industry we have. When you look at the numbers employed directly and indirectly into the sector, it is far more important than people and Government give it credit for.

“Agriculture, and in particular the dairy industry, has just gone through very hard times with farm gate prices dropping in the region of 30%, which is not sustainable. As a direct result of low milk prices, we have seen volumes drop 11% from July 15 to July 16. If managed correctly, I think Brexit could bring long term positives to agriculture – the important part will be the management by government of the transition period and the short term.”

The Union will continue to highlight how much farming matters through regular meetings with key decisions makers, industry stakeholders, as well as Governments in Westminster and Cardiff.

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Farming

FUW open letter urges against Brexit protest votes in EU election

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THE FARMERS’ UNION OF WALES (FUW) has warned that protest votes in Thursday’s election in favour of hard-line Brexit MEPs will damage agriculture, rural communities, and the UK’s reputation on the international stage.

Speaking at the NSA biennial Sheep Event at Glynllifon yesterday (May 21), FUW President Glyn Roberts described the European Elections as one of the most unusual in living memory, but warned votes should not be treated lightly or be used to send a message of frustration to mainstream politicians.

Mr Roberts said: “That frustration is understandable, as is the fatigue we all endure around Brexit, having seen mistakes at every turn and so many promises broken.

“But the dangers of placing symbolic votes for single-issue hard-line Brexit politicians who have no manifestos to speak of cannot be underestimated.”

A vote for those who would see us rapidly exiting the EU – rather than doing so over a realistic and safe timetable – would hit farmers and rural communities hard and cause untold damage to our economy, warned Mr Roberts.

He said: “We must look at the facts, not the rhetoric, and recognise that the only way in which to make Brexit a success is to be patient and cautious.”

The union has long warned of the dangers of trying to untangle too quickly the UK from an EU which it has spent almost half a century becoming more aligned with.

“Rash decisions and votes born of frustration with the failures of mainstream politicians can only lead to long-lasting economic and social damage to our food producers and security, and our communities and nations as a whole,” said Mr Roberts.

Mr Roberts highlighted that import tariff rates, published by the UK Government in mid-March, were a fraction of those which would apply to the tariffs UK farmers would have to pay to export – an approach championed by Nigel Farage, who admitted in 2018 that: “It could be the [sic] lowering of standards in terms of what we buy in our shops, and it could be bad news for farmers.”

In addition, some candidates say that, if elected, they will use their time in the European Parliament to be a disruptive force.

“My fear is that such individuals will send messages across the EU and the World that the UK is anything but a mature country which is open to trade and fit to play a role on the international stage,”said Mr Roberts. “Rather, it will close doors across the World and further undermine our international reputation.

“We must ensure the Members of the European Parliament we do elect genuinely represent Wales and the UK’s long term interests, by acting with respect, honour and diplomacy,” said Mr Roberts.

“We must build bridges with their counterparts and officials from across the European Union – the people with whom the UK will in coming months have to negotiate a favourable trade deal if the affluent markets on our doorstep are to remain open to essential trade.”

Mr Roberts also sent a stark warning about the rise of extremism, saying that symbolic votes for popularist politicians who are very much to the right of conventional politics, some with links to the extreme right, brought to mind what was seen across Europe in the 1930s.

“The frustrations with the Brexit process and desire for ‘Britishness’ is understandable, but – whilst I regard myself as a Welshman, first and foremost – I do not believe that such a lurch to the right would reflect true Britishness. In fact, it would be a move towards the sort of politics against which battles were fought seventy five years ago to protect our nations and freedoms,” Mr Roberts added.

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Farming

Farming faces zero carbon challenge

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AN AMBITIOUS new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 will lead to significant changes in farming practices over the coming decades, according to a leading agri-environment specialist.

Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, was responding to the publication of ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’ published by the UK Government Committee on Climate Change.

Professor Donnison is an expert on agriculture and land use, which feature in the report in terms of targets for one-fifth of agricultural land to be used for forestry, bioenergy crops and peatland restoration.

According to Professor Donnison, such a reduction is very ambitious but achievable in Wales and the wider UK. “Land use can positively contribute towards achieving the net zero targets, but there are challenges in relation to emissions from agriculture especially associated with red meat and dairy,” said Professor Donnison.

“In IBERS we are already working on how to make livestock agriculture less carbon intensive and developing new diversification options for the farming of carbon. For example, net zero targets could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

Professor Donnison added: “The report gives a clear message regarding the importance of the task and the role that the UK can play to compensate for past emissions and to help play a leadership role in creating a greener future.

“The report says it seeks to be based on current technologies that can be deployed and achievable targets. One-fifth of agricultural land is a very ambitious target but I believe that through the approaches proposed it is achievable (e.g. for bioenergy crops it fits in with published targets for the UK). This is based on the knowledge and technologies we have now regarding how to do this, and because right now in the UK we are developing a new agricultural policy that looks beyond the common agriculture policy (CAP). For example, the 25-year Environment plan published by Defra envisages payment for public goods which could provide a policy mechanism to help ensure that the appropriate approaches are implemented in the appropriate places.

“The scale of the change, however, should not be underestimated, although agriculture is a sector that has previously successfully responded to challenges such as for increased food production. The additional challenge will be to ensure that we deliver all the benefits we wish to see from land: food, carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) management and wider environmental benefits, whilst managing the challenge of the impacts of climate change.

“The link is made between healthy diets with less red meat consumption and future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. This reflects that agriculture will likely go through significant change over the coming decades as a result of changes in consumer diets.

“Net Zero targets, however, could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

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Farming

HSE fees up 20%

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A FEE imposed on farm businesses found to be in breach of health and safety legislation has gone up nearly 20% to £154/hr.

Since October 2012 the Health and Safety Executive has operated a cost recovery regime, which means that businesses are charged for the costs of an investigation from the point a material breach has been identified through to the point when a decision is made on enforcement action.

If you are found to be in material breach of health and safety law, you will have to pay for the time it takes the HSE to identify the breach and help you put things right. This includes investigating and taking enforcement action. This charging scheme is known as a Fee for Intervention (FFI).

Robert Gazely, farm consultant and health and safety specialist for Strutt & Parker said: “A material breach is something which an inspector considers serious enough that they need to formally write to the business requiring action to be taken. Once an inspector gives a farmer this written notification of contravention (NoC), the farmer will be expected to pay a fee. 

“From 6 April 2019, the hourly charge has been increased from £129 to £154. The final bill will be based on the total amount of time it takes the HSE inspector to identify the breach and their work to help put things right.

“Of course, the primary reason for farms to be proactive in their approach to health and safety should be to protect themselves, their families and any employees.

“The number of people who are killed and injured each year on farms remains stubbornly high and the human cost of these incidents can be incalculable to those affected.

“But taking a safety-first approach should also help farm businesses to avoid a financial hit, as the HSE fees can mount up in the event of an investigation.”

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