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Farming

Agri organisations want Brexit extensions

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THE UK Farming Roundtable, representing farmers and growers from agricultural organisations across the UK, has today written to all MPs urging them to unite around a single option for an orderly Brexit by Wednesday next week. Failing this, the Government must request a further extension to the Article 50 negotiations.

The letter said: “We are intensely frustrated at the continuing impasse over the UK’s departure from the EU and urge you to take whatever steps are necessary, right now, to ensure the UK does not leave without a deal in the coming days.

“Government and Parliament must ensure our departure from the EU is an orderly one. The farming sector is clear that leaving without a deal would cause huge economic damage to British farming. Over recent months farming organisations, alongside individual farmers and growers, have consistently warned MPs of the severe consequences that no-deal would have, not only for our agricultural and horticultural sectors and the jobs they provide, but also for food supply in the UK and the high standards to which our food is produced and our farmed environment is managed.

“To this end, if parliament has failed to coalesce around a single and clear option for an orderly departure from the EU by the end of the day on Wednesday April 3, the government must request an extension from the EU27 to the Article 50 negotiations. This extension must be of sufficient length to allow government and MPs to agree on a stable way forward out of the current impasse that ensures a stable operating environment for farm businesses. A further extension of just a matter of weeks is not acceptable, given the damaging time and resource that has already been expended in managing the threat of a no-deal departure over recent weeks and months.

“It is unacceptable for farming – and for wider British businesses – to be in a perpetual state of uncertainty with no clear idea of the trading conditions they could be operating under in just a matter of days. This extreme uncertainty is already having real-world impacts on British farming and food production, with investments being put on hold, critical jobs remaining unfilled and farm-gate prices facing increasing downward pressure.

“Time is almost up. MPs must now consider the concessions they will need to accommodate to bring to an end the enormous and damaging uncertainty that is already undermining our food and farming sectors, not to mention the wider economy.”

WELSH FARMING UNIONS RESPOND

Responding to the Parliament’s rejection of the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, NFU Cymru President Mr John Davies said: “It is very clear that Parliamentary support for the Prime Minister’s proposals is simply not there. Brexit uncertainties continue to bear down on the sector, meaning that we have no idea of the trading conditions that we might be operating under in a matter of days, something which is having a severe impact on the sector’s confidence and general wellbeing.

“If we are leaving the European Union, then this must be done in an orderly fashion. That is why I lent my signature to a letter which went to all MPs yesterday, stating that if by Wednesday 3rd April Parliament has not coalesced around a single clear option for an orderly departure from the EU, the government must seek an extension from the EU27 to the Article 50 process. Such an extension must be long enough to find a way forward out of the current impasse which delivers a stable operating environment for farm businesses.”

FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “With power over the Brexit process now resting firmly with Parliament, MPs need to recognise that withdrawing Article 50 is the only way to secure sufficient time to allow a consensus to be reached which bridges the political divides which exist within and between parties.”

Having called for Article 50 to be revoked in January, in recent weeks the FUW has called for preparations to be made for holding European Parliament elections and for all relevant legislation to be changed to allow Brexit to take place over a far more realistic timetable.

“The uncertainty that is affecting businesses across the UK is a direct result of the UK Government’s decision to try and achieve the unachievable over a very short timescale – something we warned against on the day the referendum outcome was announced.

Businesses need to know it will be ‘business as usual’ for a set period and have plenty of warning – months or years – of what exactly will happen after that date so they can prepare properly.

“It is a disgrace that businesses have been facing complete uncertainty as to what might happen in just days’ time, and the responsibility for that lies firmly with the UK government.”

Mr Roberts reiterated the FUW’s long-held view that leaving the EU while staying in the Single Market and Customs Union remained the best way to bridge the political divide which had come from the EU referendum.

“I am heartened by the outcome of the indicative votes which took place last week, and all the necessary moves to allow that process of compromise and common sense to continue need to take place. Revoking Article 50 would be a sure way to give the process sufficient time.

“At the very least, agreeing a lengthy extension period and holding EU elections would bring us closer to having a timetable that properly reflects the magnitude of the task at hand.”

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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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