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Farming

2020 – A Year of Preparation

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THE NATIONAL Chairman of the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA), James Gray, says that the farming industry and the supply chains into which it feeds must be ‘match fit’ to both capitalise on the opportunities of life outside the European Union, as well as tackling the inevitable challenges that will arise.

“Whatever our thoughts about Brexit, the Prime Minister now has the Parliamentary arithmetic in his favour to confirm the UK’s exit from the European Union at the end of January. Through the eleven-month transition period to follow, we must focus not only on achieving a good trade deal with the EU but in ramping up our efforts to secure new export markets for our farming output further afield. As important as the domestic and EU markets are, we must work harder to sell ourselves more internationally. To this end, AHDB should concentrate its efforts in promoting market development,” said Mr Gray.

“We also need the Government to be working with us rather than against us. Allowing imports of food produced to standards which are illegal in the UK would be a catastrophe. The Government must not undermine our domestic market in attempting to gain market share for our financial services sector abroad. If our animal welfare and environmental standards are important to us, we must protect them at our borders. The Government must use a combination of regulatory standards and tariffs on imports to put our domestically produced, high-quality food in the strongest position in trade terms. As a mark of the Government’s support for our industry, it should require all public bodies involved in food procurement to prioritise food from domestic sources,” said Mr Gray.

“Retail and foodservice supply chains will also continue to need strong regulation to ensure fair treatment of primary producers. Indications from the outgoing Groceries Code Adjudicator that her role could continue on a part-time basis because of the successes she has achieved are at best premature and at worst naïve. By including supply chain measures in the previous Agriculture Bill the Government has recognised the need for a widening and deepening of the regulatory framework. We need a full-time adjudicator doing a full-time job across the whole of the retail and foodservice supply chains from farm to fork,” said Mr Gray.

“Within the tenanted sector of agriculture, we will also be looking to the Government to put in place much-needed reforms to the legislative and taxation frameworks within which agricultural tenancies operate. We need greater security of tenure to promote productivity and better environmental outcomes, opportunities for progression and new entrants, as well as routes to dignified retirement for those tenant farmers reaching the end of their farming careers. Directing all new policies and schemes to the needs of active farmers will be key,” said Mr Gray.

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Farming

A way of life under threat

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THE CAMBRIAN MOUNTAINS, known as the backbone of Wales, is one of the country’s most secluded areas.

Described by the nineteenth-century English writer JH Cliffe as part of the ‘green desert of Wales’, stretching east across Mid Wales to the A470 and Rhaedr, south towards Builth Wells, west to Pumpsaint, and northwards to Llangurig, including the reservoirs of Nant y Moch and Llyn Clywedog.

In Drych: Hel y Mynydd, on S4C on Sunday, January 12 at 9.00 pm, we get to know some of the farmers and shepherds in this extraordinary area as they continue to round-up sheep in the traditional way on foot and on horseback – a tradition which is rapidly dying out.

One of those who continues the tradition is Glyndwr, the head shepherd for the Cwm Elan estate, who farms Claerwen with his wife Wendy: “I help to round-up and exchange sheep with neighbours. There aren’t many of us left who can round-up the sheep in a traditional way. You have to have a dog here or you might as well stay at home. Life is hectic here in the middle of summer as we round-up every day. There isn’t a single fence between me and my neighbours – to me, that’s a great way to live.”

“When you’re rounding-up you are in complete solitude. There isn’t a lot of this rounding-up business going on any longer, but we continue to do it here and it works here – and if it works, there’s no need to change it!”

The area has become a target for a number of English organisations who want to ‘rewild’ a landscape which exists only through thousands of years of human interaction and transform it into their idea of what Wales should look like.

Those schemes have met stiff resistance and one, in particular, Summit to the Sea, has managed to alienate a large number of farmers who would be affected by a variety of crackpot schemes that would force them off the land.

It becomes obvious during the programme that farmers on the open mountain are dependent on each other and offer help by rounding-up each other’s sheep.
We also meet Erwyd, an experienced shepherd from Ponterwyd: “While walking the mountains, a person gets to see the wonders of nature, this is what I call paradise. I feel a part of the place – it is completely unique.”

A reservoir was built in the Elan Valley in 1970 to supply water to cities in the midlands of England. Because of the reservoir, the landscape without fences has survived on the Cwm Elan estate and the farms all belong to the Cwm Elan Trust.

Clive, who farms at Hirnant in the Elan Valley adds: “There are no rules here, no-one makes money or loses money, everybody just helps one another. This must be one of the few places where if the old boys came back, they would show us a thing or two.”

Another who helps the crew is Gwyndaf – neighbour and shearer:
“The country folk think that the mountain boys don’t do anything, but it’s amazing what hard work it is. I can’t see there being any sheep left on the mountain in a few years.”

Following a day of rounding up, comes a day of shearing.

“Shearing day has always been an important day in the mountains’ calendar with the mountain community coming together. It’s one of those jobs that have to be done, but I love shearing.

I would shear every day of the year if I could!”

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Community

Welsh produce on GCSE menu

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AS A whirlwind of misinformation about how food is farmed and produced circulates on social, online and media platforms, it is more important than ever that children are aware of the facts and understand how ingredients reach their dinner-plate.

The education system in Wales is making an attempt to address this through the school curriculum.

All pupils studying for the GCSE in Food and Nutrition this year are expected to research traditional Welsh recipes and Welsh ingredients as part of the course and use that work as the inspiration for three dishes that showcase local produce.

Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) Market Development Manager, Rhys Llywelyn said: “We welcome the introduction of this task as part of the WJEC’s GCSE qualification in Food and Nutrition. It offers a good opportunity for students to learn more about red meat, how it’s produced, and how it can be prepared to create nutritious, tasty meals.

“It is also a chance to remind young people about Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef’s Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status.”

Rhys recently visited pupils at Ysgol Bro Idris in Dolgellau to talk about red meat production in Wales.

He said: “As part of the session, I was able to focus particularly on Welsh Lamb, which is, of course, a roduct which has been perfected over generations by farmers in rural areas.

“We had a good discussion on how Welsh Lamb is traceable from farm to fork through its PGI status, which is appreciated by consumers. Also, with many of the students coming from farming families, it was very useful to raise some of the factors within the international food industry which influence the price that farmers receive for their livestock.”

The students received packs of literature, including nutritional information and recipes, to help them with their studies. As a follow-up, many of them attended the Royal Welsh Winter Fair to learn more about food and farming.

Teacher Angharad Davies said: “The students enjoyed the visit to the Winter Fair and were fascinated by the Welsh Lamb butchery demonstration which was held on the HCC stand. The butcher expertly showed how a carcase is broken down into the different cuts of meat which can be cooked in various ways. Rhys Llywelyn’s informative presentation has led them to think about how red meat is produced and how it can be prepared along with other, local Welsh ingredients that are available on our doorstep.”

This work is part of HCC’s wider educational activity, which has involved preparing classroom resources for the new Food and Nutrition GCSE as well as materials aimed at younger pupils, and a programme of teacher training events.

This provision will be developed further over the next twelve months, adding to HCC’s online resources and recipe videos, which will help children obtain a greater understanding of food culture, nutrition, and farming.

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Farming

NFU Cymru President, John Davies: ‘Much work ahead’

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AS WE close the book on what has been an eventful year, I’d like to survey the events of 2019 and look ahead to see what is on the horizon in 2020.

We’ve just emerged from the third UK General Election in four years, following what has been a period of extraordinary political instability. The result of December’s election gives the Prime Minister the majority he has been seeking to take forward his Brexit plans. Although in legal terms we cease to be an EU Member State at the end of January, there is much work ahead to secure the access we need to our nearest and most valuable export market.

Although uncertainty persists, I am ambitious for our sector. Wales’ farmers have the skills, natural resource base and ambition from which to rise to future challenges and opportunities which lie ahead. These opportunities include increasing our self-sufficiency by producing more high-quality food, securing new export markers and becoming producers of the most climate-friendly food in the world by becoming zero net emitters of greenhouse gases by 2040.

Leaving the EU at the end of January based on the current withdrawal agreement means that we enter a transition period, during which time we continue to enjoy access to the EU’s single market. We must ensure that when that transition ends, we can access that market on the most favourable terms possible, with tariff and non-tariff barriers eliminated wherever possible. The UK’s government must also avoid a situation whereby the transition period elapses without having reached an agreement on a future trading relationship with the EU, culminating in us trading with the EU on WTO terms.

Trade talks with third countries will begin soon and one point I have been making consistently, and for some time now, is that we must not allow our own high environmental and animal welfare standards to be undermined in any future trade agreements that the UK may enter into. I, therefore, want 2020 to be the year in which the new government moves ahead with the creating of a Trade and Standards Commission, which will be tasked with ensuring our high standards are upheld and respected in any future trade agreements with third countries.

2019 also saw the second stage of the Welsh Government’s consultation on the future of agricultural policy in Wales. The ‘Sustainable Farming and our Land’ consultation followed its 2018 predecessor, ‘Brexit and our Land’, and we were pleased to see these revised proposals including future support around the principle of sustainability. The union remains concerned, however, that the proposals suggest the continued supply of vital economic, social and cultural benefits provided by Welsh farming currently can be secured through what is, essentially, an agri-environment scheme. I’d like to once again thank all farmers and those living in our rural communities who responded to the consultation. We now wait for the Welsh Government to analyse the responses and bring forward the next stage of the process in 2020.

Sadly, as we welcome in the New Year, around 650 cattle farmers in Wales are affected by bovine TB restrictions and this, of course, has a significant knock-on effect on their business and family. NFU Cymru continues to lobby the Welsh Government to review its bovine TB eradication strategy and deliver a more holistic policy that tackles this disease across all its vectors. A peer-reviewed scientific report examining the effectiveness of badger culling in reducing outbreaks of TB in cattle has shown positive results in Gloucestershire and Somerset and we now look to Welsh Government to listen to the science and use all of the tools at its disposal to control the reservoir of disease in wildlife – not just through cattle controls. We also need the Welsh Government to look at the support for chronic herds in Wales and the massive impact long term breakdowns are having on these businesses.

On the dairy side, we look forward to a long-awaited consultation on statutory milk contracts. There are examples of good practice out there but what other industry would allow six weeks of payments in arrears and for processors to adjust prices at a whim? Of course, we want processors to have successful profitable businesses, but we need the same for our milk producers. After all, these are the people taking the price risk when product prices fall. This has to change as evidenced by the latest Welsh Government farm statistics when dairy farm income fell by a massive 43% in the year ending March 2019 compared to the previous 12 months. Statutory contracts will help bring back some stability which the sector needs right now.

Against the backdrop of Brexit uncertainty and low market returns, the threat of regulation continues to weigh heavily on farmers’ minds. Back in November 2018, the Welsh Government announced regulatory measures covering the whole of Wales to protect water quality from agricultural pollution coming into force in January 2020. From information provided by the Welsh Government in early 2019, it is clear the proposed new regulations are whole territory Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) with the NVZ Action Programme requirements applied across the whole of Wales.

The Minister, in December 2019, confirmed that she will be considering advice from officials in January on the introduction of agricultural regulations following further engagement. NFU Cymru categorically rejects any proposals which include the introduction of the Nitrates Directive and Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) across the whole of Wales. This is based on the evidence which shows an all-Wales approach simply cannot be justified; that the existing NVZs in Wales have had limited effectiveness. The great harm an all-Wales NVZ will do to farm businesses and our rural communities, which greatly outweigh any benefits to water quality, cannot be justified. We are clear, an all-Wales NVZ approach is not evidence-based, proportionate or targeted and we continue to work tirelessly to emphasise to Welsh Government the devastating impacts that an all-Wales NVZ approach will have. We urge the Minister to recognise that poor regulation serves no one – not government, not society, not the farming industry or the environment – and work with us to develop the framework to support farmers to take action to improve water quality where this is needed.

2019 has also been a year when the glare of the media on Welsh and British farming has not been as balanced as we would expect. I have long said that, as an industry, we are not immune from critique and we relish the opportunity to stand up and promote our values and leading standards. What we do not and will not accept, however, is unbalanced reporting and false news pedalled by those with an agenda against farming. This year NFU Cymru has shown we tackle such behaviour through robust complaints and other means. Please be assured that we are prepared to escalate our actions accordingly if required.

There will no doubt be huge challenges facing our industry in 2020 and beyond. As an industry, we should all be very proud of the role we play and we must remain steadfast in our ambitions to continue to deliver for the people and communities of Wales. As an organisation, NFU Cymru is ambitious for Welsh food and farming. Politicians in both Cardiff and Westminster must commit to working with us to deliver our ambition for a productive, progressive and profitable farming sector that delivers for the whole of Wales

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