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Farming

Evans appointed as new minister

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evans02THE SACKING of former natural resources and food minister, Alun Davies has come at a crucial time for Welsh agriculture. Amid concern about the Welsh Government’s handling of farm subsidies, falling stock prices, and the impact of new “greening” measures to be imposed on Welsh farmers, the Cardiff Bay government has, yet again, failed to appoint a full-time cabinet post to rural and farming affairs. The ministerial reshuffle following his sacking has seen Mr Davies’ portfolio split between two existing Cabinet members and the addition of Rebecca Evans AM to the ministerial team. Economy and Transport Minister Edwina Hart will look after agriculture, fisheries and food, Sport and Culture Minister John Griffiths has had environment added to his portfolio and Rebecca Evans is promoted from the backbenches to become deputy minister, for agriculture and fisheries. Ms Hart will attend the Royal Welsh Show at the end of July as part of her newly defined role. Mr Davies was sacked after trying to force civil servants to dig into the financial affairs of opposition politicians who spoke out against his farming policies. As Pembrokeshire County Council’s Deputy leader, Rob Lewis, knows: it is against the rules to use officers or council infrastructure to further party political ends. It has been suggested that one potential victim of his attempted smear campaign was Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams, who is married to a farmer. Soon after the former minister emailed his officials demanding details of agricultural subsidy payments received by 5 opposition members, the official @Laboursenedd Twitter account began posting questions about subsidy payments made to Ms Williams’ husband. It is unlikely that the messages posted on the official Labour news feed were unconnected to Mr Davies’ attempted smear of those opposed to his policies. The FUW has said it is looking forward to working with the new Welsh Government ministers with responsibilities for agriculture, fisheries and food and will be seeking early talks with them. FUW president Emyr Jones said: “Obviously, we are disappointed that the portfolio has been split again, although we welcome the fact that farming gets a dedicated deputy minister for agriculture. We have worked with Rebecca Evans in her role on the Sustainability Committee and she represents a predominantly rural area. “As profitable farming and a sustainable environment are interlinked we also look forward to working with culture and sport minister John Griffiths who has received the environment policy brief. “We will now seek to meet the new deputy minister as soon as possible to ensure that work on the range of outstanding CAP issues does not lose momentum,” he added. Stephen James, NFU Cymru President, said, “Whilst NFU Cymru doesn’t expect to agree with Ministers on all matters it will come as no surprise that we have had a particularly difficult relationship with Alun Davies AM. “His decision, last December, to transfer 15% from Pillar 1 to Rural Development Plan Wales measures was particularly galling. News of his sacking comes however at a crucial time with the vitally important decision on how this money is now to be deployed. Therefore, the timing of this announcement is particularly critical. “It is now time to look forward and re-establish a good working relationship, once again, with the Ministers that represent our industry. We accept that there will be occasions when we will have differing views on policy matters, that has always been the case, but likewise, I’m sure there will be many occasions where we will agree on the way forward for our industry. Stephen James concluded, “It would be remiss of me to not also mention, while I have the opportunity, our concerns about the rural portfolio being split once again. This didn’t work efficiently or effectively following the 2011 election when there was a clear lack of integration of policy. Thankfully, the First Minister recognised this in March 2013 by putting everything back under the Natural Resources and Food portfolio. We are looking to see this position redressed, once again, as quickly as possible.”

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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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