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Farming

WG unveils new farm support plans

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Brexit and Our Land: Welsh Government launches vital consultation

NEW proposals to support Welsh farmers after Brexit have been unveiled.

On Tuesday​ (Jul 10) the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths launched a consultation on a new Land Management Programme to support Welsh farmers post-Brexit, replacing the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The latest Welsh Government Brexit paper, Brexit and our Land, proposes two new large and flexible schemes to replace Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), Glastir and other parts of the Rural Development Programme.

The programme will consist of the following two schemes:

The Economic Resilience Scheme will provide targeted investment to land managers and their supply chains. It will provide investment to increase competitiveness and make improvements in resilience and productivity for high-quality food production.

The Public Goods Scheme will provide a new income stream to land managers delivering public goods from the land. It will enable them to help address challenges such as climate change mitigation, habitat loss, poor air and water quality.

All land managers will have the opportunity to benefit from the new schemes, not just those currently receiving CAP. However, people will need to do things differently in return for this support.

Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths said: “Welsh land matters. Over 90% of Welsh land is in the hands of our farmers, foresters or other stewards of the landscape. How land is managed matters to us all and our land managers have the potential to produce outcomes of huge importance to Wales.

“Once we leave the EU, our access to markets and how we compete will change so maintaining the status quo is not an option. Exiting the EU means we have to do things differently and now is the time to prepare. We need to change how we support our farmers and agriculture sector to make them sustainable and able to thrive in a new trading environment. We have the chance to design a ‘Made in Wales’ system that works for Welsh farmers and our communities.

“The Programme marks a significant change. That is why we want to see a phased transition that balances time needed for change with the need to provide timely support.

“Our new programme aims to keep farmers farming on their land and will enable the sector to thrive in a post-Brexit world.”

No changes will be made to the existing BPS scheme in 2018 and 2019 and all current Glastir contracts will continue to be honoured. From 2020, work will begin to move to the new schemes, including a phased reduction in BPS as new schemes come on-stream. The ambition is to have the new schemes fully in place by 2025 using existing high-performing Rural Payments Wales systems.

The proposals will be subject to extensive consultation until October, working closely with key partners. A white paper setting out detailed proposals will be published next spring and we will publish a Bill before the end of this Assembly session to make provision for the reform. Funding from old schemes will not be withdrawn until new schemes are ready.

Currently, the Common Agricultural Policy provides around £300m a year of support for Welsh land managers. The Brexit and our Land paper reiterates the importance that Wales should not lose a penny from leaving the EU and calls on the UK Government to urgently confirm that Wales will maintain its current share of funding.

NFU Cymru is urging farmers across Wales to make their voices heard following the launch oft he consultation.

The Union said the consultation will be ‘the most significant and important Welsh Government consultation for a generation’.

NFU Cymru will be undertaking a comprehensive member engagement programme over the coming months, which includes a dedicated consultation seminar at the Royal Welsh Show and similar briefings at the summer county shows, as well as five regional roadshow events across Wales in September, all designed to ensure farmers are able to respond effectively to the proposals.

Speaking following the launch of the ‘Brexit and Our Land’ consultation, NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “NFU Cymru’s vision for a future Welsh agricultural policy is built firmly on three cornerstones: productivity, volatility and the environment. Although this consultation considers in detail productivity measures (economic resilience) and environment measures (public goods), it appears to suggest that volatility (stability) measures are not required. While we accept that Welsh Government is proposing a multi-year phased removal of the BPS, it is the firm belief of the Union that given the unprecedented weather events of the last year and the impact that has had on the industry, coupled with continued global political instability and the ongoing uncertainty over future trading relationships, the case for maintaining stability measures as a strong element of any future agricultural policy has, in fact, never been more compelling if we are to ensure the continued supply of safe, quality, affordable food.

“The case for farm support is a strong one. Just last year the NFU commissioned research which showed that for every £1 invested by government in agriculture the industry delivers a return of around £7.40 – that’s a £1.5 billion return on the £200m a year currently spent on direct payments in Wales. Add to this the wider environmental, cultural and social contribution of farming and there can be little doubt that the industry represents extremely good value for money. Removing direct payments would have a massive impact on the Welsh agricultural industry and because farming is so intrinsically linked to the well-being of Wales, it would consequently have a similarly detrimental effect on the people and communities of Wales. The Welsh Government’s continued stance that Wales should not lose a penny as a result of Brexit is, of course, to be commended.

“NFU Cymru welcomes the opportunity for the Welsh agricultural industry to take a closer look at Welsh Government’s thinking around the future of agricultural policy here in Wales. As a democratic organisation we will now begin an unprecedented level of engagement with our members and feed their views into our formal consultation response.

“Of course, this is not the first consultation on Brexit that NFU Cymru has undertaken; following the referendum vote just over two years ago NFU Cymru launched the biggest consultation in its history. Since that point NFU Cymru has formulated a set of key principles that we believe should form the foundations of a new domestic agricultural policy for a productive, profitable and progressive agricultural industry in Wales. As we begin to analyse and fully digest the consultation we will judge it against these key principles, which include:

  • A policy that underpins and secures the continued supply of safe, quality, traceable, affordable food for our nation, in the context of future global challenges, must be at the heart of any future agricultural policy.
  • All farmers must be fairly rewarded for the environmental/public goods they already deliver and will continue to deliver in future for society.
  • Policies must be simple to administer, easy to understand and target support at those active farmers who take the financial risks associated with food production.
  • Investment measures are required to ensure that farming businesses are well equipped to face the challenges and maximise the opportunities of a post-Brexit marketplace.
  • The regulatory regime must be proportionate and evidence-based and policies must be adequately funded to ensure that Welsh farming remains competitive with farmers in the UK, EU and globally.

“This is the most significant and important Welsh Government consultation for a generation and it is of paramount importance that farmers across Wales contribute their own views as part of the process – we need to ensure the industry’s voice is heard loud and clear.”

Commenting on the document, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “What is proposed would constitute the most radical change to our farm policies since 2005, and is a world away from the kind of policies previously in place from 1947 onwards.

“Given this, it is essential that farmers take the time to consider them over the coming weeks and months and respond to the consultation appropriately.”

The Welsh Government intends to organise a number of events across Wales later in the year during which farmers and others will be able to learn more about the proposals and ask questions, before the deadline at the end of October.

Mr Roberts said that as the FUW is a member of the Cabinet Secretary’s Roundtable group and sub groups, the proposals did not come as a surprise.

“We have numerous concerns about what is being proposed, and we have been vociferous in raising these.

“Amongst these are the fact that the EU have recently announced their commitment to providing the farmers against which we will compete with ongoing direct support at levels similar to those currently in place,” said Mr Roberts.

“We also need to be aware of policy proposals in other parts of the UK and make sure Welsh policies do not place our farmers at a disadvantage.”

The Scottish Government has recently reiterated its commitment to recognising topographical and other handicaps faced by Scottish farmers and providing support payments which recognise these.

“Given we have a similar proportion of disadvantaged land to Scotland, it would be unacceptable if our own government placed us at a disadvantage to our Scottish counterparts,” he said.

Mr Roberts welcomed the fact that the paper acknowledged the need for an appropriate transition period, and raised the question of what a transition might look like.

“The FUW has made it clear since the June 2016 EU Referendum that we need an appropriate and lengthy transition period to any new policy, and that the dangers of implementing a policy over just a few years would be significant.

“We have also highlighted the need to take policy developments in terms of the next EU agricultural policy and the progress of Brexit negotiations into account, rather than rushing forward with detailed proposals which might turn out to be completely inappropriate under the final Brexit agreement.”

Mr Roberts said that the position agreed by the UK Government’s Cabinet on Friday on how agricultural commodities might be traded with the EU made it clear why the FUW was right to do this.

“Above all else, the interests and future of our family farms should be the priority in terms of any future policy for Wales.”

“The FUW will be consulting with each of its twelve county branches over the coming months, and their views will be fully reflected in our response to the Welsh Government.”

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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