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Farming

Rural communities disconnected

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IT IS unacceptable that rural communities remain ‘second class citizens’ when it comes to accessing broadband and mobile coverage, according to NFU Cymru.

In a survey, conducted by the NFU in October 2018, 46% of those questioned didn’t believe they received sufficient broadband for the needs of their business, while 37% didn’t believe they received sufficient mobile signal for the needs of the business.

NFU Cymru President, John Davies said: “In this digital age, where technology is moving so quickly, I find it extremely frustrating to hear of members who still fail to open an email or receive a phone call due to poor broadband or mobile coverage on farm. This is absolutely unacceptable and is holding farmers back from maximising business opportunities.

“In a Cabinet Statement in December, on Superfast Cymru, Julie James AM announced that Wales now enjoys over 95% broadband access coverage to homes and businesses.

“However, 50% of our respondents who had internet connection had a download speed of 2Mbps or lower. Considering the average download speed in Wales is 33.4Mbps, it is apparent that rural communities are second class citizens when it comes to accessing sufficient broadband.

“Welsh Government continues to push the need for Welsh farmers to become more resilient – especially ahead of Brexit – and this is exactly what the industry is striving for, but broadband and mobile coverage is holding us back. 46% of those surveyed didn’t believe they received sufficient broadband for the needs of their business and 37% of those surveyed didn’t believe they received sufficient mobile signal for the needs of the business. How can businesses become more resilient when they can’t even access the standard communication channels?

“With the industry facing so much uncertainty, it is clear that farmers need as many tools as possible to maintain business resilience, and having access to digital connectivity is paramount if they are to compete with our international neighbours in the global market.”

John Davies continued: “Most worryingly for me is the health and safety aspect.

“Only 16% of respondents reported that they had a reliable mobile signal in all outdoor locations when on farm, with 9% saying they have no reliable locations for mobile signal when outdoors. With farmers often working long hours alone in isolated locations it is vital that farmers have access to reliable mobile coverage to call for help.

“More must be done by Welsh Government to ensure the connectivity divide between urban and rural communities is decreased. The benefits that full connectivity will bring to farming businesses will enable the industry to continue to be productive, profitable and progressive in the future.”

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Community

Farm shop helps disabled

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A retail outlet selling a range of products handcrafted by local disabled people has been officially opened.

The farm shop at Scolton Manor near Haverfordwest also provides employment for those with a disability.

It is the result of collaborative working between a number of organisations.

A leading role is played by Pembrokeshire County Council’s Norman Industries – a supported factory in Snowdrop Lane, Haverfordwest, which employs people with a disability.

The opening of the Scolton Manor farm shop has enabled Norman Industries to employ a further six people in the unit, giving them experience in a retail environment and customer service.

A further three disabled people have been taken on in its craft workshop bringing the total number of people on its supported
employment programme to over 50.    

The shop supports a wide range of Pembrokeshire producers – not just Norman Industries – and has opened up a range of work-based alternative day opportunities for people in craft industries.  

Funding has been accessed through a variety of sources including from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) through its Access to Work programme, through Workways+ from European Funds and through the Welsh Government’s Integrated Care Fund.

The official opening was performed by the Vice Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council, Michael James.

He told guests: “This enterprise is an important step in improving the wellbeing of Pembrokeshire citizens. Along with the other initiatives run by Norman Industries, it shows how the County Council has improved its support and employment of people with disability over the last two years.”

Councillor James said the work had resulted in Pembrokeshire County Council being recognised as a DWP Disability Confident
Leader – the first local authority in Wales to achieve the distinction.

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Farming

Frictionless trade vital for meat industry

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GIVING evidence to a powerful committee of AMs this week, Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) Chief Executive Gwyn Howells acknowledged that preparing for four different Brexit deadlines has been tiresome for the industry over the past year.
He emphasised, however, that free and frictionless trade with Europe was still crucial for the lamb and beef industries.
Addressing a meeting of the External Affairs Committee in the Senedd, Gwyn Howells discussed the extensive contingency planning that HCC and others, in co-ordination with Welsh Government, had undertaken since 2016.
“Welsh meat exporters have been consistent in raising alarm at the prospect of massive WTO-level tariffs if the UK leaves the EU without a deal,” said Gwyn. “However non-tariff barriers such as additional paperwork and delays at ports are also a concern. In the event of a Brexit deal, a lengthy transition period may be needed to get these issues right. It was good to have the opportunity to discuss this matter with AMs.”
He added, “Companies, as well as customs authorities, will have to be aware of what’s needed in terms of non-tariff barriers, but with exporters having had to prepare for several political deadlines already, ‘Brexit Fatigue’ is an issue.”
Gwyn Howells referred to collaborative work, such as the Welsh Government-funded Enhanced Export Programme, which was showing dividends in growing new markets. But he warned that this could not replace free access to established European customers.
“Over the past year, we’ve seen trade begin with a number of new countries such as Japan, and there are promising signs that Welsh Lamb exports to the Middle East will be substantially up in 2019, partly thanks to HCC’s ongoing work in the region reinforced by Welsh Government help,” he said.
“However, the lamb trade to Europe is worth over £120 million a year, so continued free trade with our nearest neighbours is vital whatever political solution is found.”

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Farming

NFU seek Basic Payment Scheme commitment

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NFU CYMRU has asked the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to make an early commitment to maintaining the Basic Payment Scheme in Wales for 2021.
In a meeting this week NFU Cymru President John Davies asked the Minister, Lesley Griffiths AM, to commit to maintaining the Basic Payment Scheme unchanged for 2021.
Speaking after the meeting, John Davies said: “The events in Westminster these last few days mean that our future relationship with the EU remains as uncertain as it has ever been, with the prospect of a general election in the not too distant future, this means further political upheaval, and by extension more uncertainty. The fact that the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill was not carried forward when parliament was prorogued means that the intended legal basis for setting Welsh agricultural policy has now also disappeared, and we are now essentially back to square one.
“At the end of last year, Welsh Government announced that the Basic Payment Scheme would remain unchanged in 2020; we welcomed that announcement as it offered Welsh farming some stability at a critical time. The uncertainty in the intervening period has only intensified, NFU Cymru considers the possibility of a disorderly Brexit to be a very live possibility, either after a failure to reach an agreement at the end of any extended Article 50 period, or alternatively if the UK fails to agree on a future trading relationship with the EU27 during the transition period.
“There are many factors completely outside of our control which considered individually or collectively would have a very detrimental impact on Welsh agriculture. NFU Cymru is very much of the view that this calls for a cautious and restrained approach from the Welsh Government when it comes to developing future agricultural policy. We would urge Welsh Government to take its time and not to hasten to move away from the present arrangements until we have a far clearer picture of the sort of future trading relationship we will have with the EU27.
“We fully respect that the timing and nature of Brexit, the general election and the fate of the Agriculture Bill are all outside the hands of Welsh Government, but what we do ask for is the support of Welsh Government on the areas that sit within its remit. In our meeting with the Minister, we have asked if she will make an early commitment to the continuation of the BPS unchanged for 2021.
“We have also asked the Minister to ensure that the additional £5.2 million per year for the next two years made as part of the UK Government’s response to the Lord Bew review last month is used as a top-up to the BPS. This funding has been allocated to Wales because average Pillar 1 payments have historically been lower in Wales than in some other parts of the UK. We therefore firmly believe that as the Lord Bew review was about correcting this matter then the additional money should be made as a top-up to the BPS and not spent elsewhere.”

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