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Farming

New European policies ‘must have family farms at heart’

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ANY NEW policies adoptedfuw by the EU Parliament following yesterday’s elections must ensure they have family farms at their heart, according to Farmers’ Union of Wales president Emyr Jones. 

Speaking on the eve of last weekend’s Royal Welsh Spring Festival, Mr Jones said that between May 22 and 25 people across the EU will elect 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who, alongside the Council of Ministers and the European Commission, will decide policies affecting our daily lives, more so for farmers than any other section of the community. Mr Jones was launching the FUW’s latest campaign “Supporting Family Farms Since 1955” that coincides with this year’s UN International Year of Family Farming which is highlighting the potential family farmers have to eradicate hunger, preserve natural resources and promote sustainable development. He added: “Given the diversity of climates, topography, cultures and economies across the EU, it is no surprise that even the most pro- Europeans can become frustrated with Brussels dictates which make no sense in a region such as Wales, while those bitterly opposed to the EU have a field day blaming all the ills of the world on our membership. “Yet, despite the focus in the UK press on the issue of EU membership and where the balance of powers between Member States and Brussels should lie, reporting of the daily deliberations of the EU Parliament regarding issues which we might support, or bitterly oppose, remains scant at the most. “This leaves members of the general public detached from the politics and policies they so often bemoan, allowing pro and anti-EU politicians to blame the EU whenever it suits their agendas to do so, and Governments to hide their own insatiable appetites for red tape behind the convenient scapegoat of EU Regulations. “With agriculture taking the most significant portion of the European budget, and bearing the brunt of so many disproportionate and costly regulations, Wales’ farmers must consider carefully the implications of all the options now being discussed.” Those options are: to allow the EU to continue on its present course, which many believe will lead to a United States of Europe; to try and restore it to something more akin to the Common Market we voted to remain a part of in 1975; or to pull out altogether, leading to a full restoration of sovereignty but with no guaranteed access to our most important markets and the common agricultural policies which are part and parcel of that access. “The FUW’s current position is simply that we support EU membership – hardly surprising given that successive UK Governments have made it clear that they wish to increase food imports from outside the EU and dismantle the CAP – a policy which provides essential incomes for Welsh farming families and ensures plentiful, safe and affordable food for EU citizens,” said Mr Jones. “And, of course, we need only look back to the 2001 FMD outbreak and the accompanying export ban to see the impact that being closed out of the common market has on prices. “However, Welsh farmers have much to be aggrieved about when it comes to the suffocating and costly bureaucracy that emanates from the EU, and many wish for a return to the halcyon days when food production and common sense took priority over paperwork and illogical rules. “Whatever our views, we must weigh up the implications of all options with our heads as well our hearts. Welsh agriculture and our rural communities currently rely on the CAP and access to EU markets, and those who wish to see us operating outside the EU must provide valid economic assessments and policies which set out how a collapse in rural incomes and food production would be avoided. “We must also be aware that a renegotiation of powers could centre on the renationalisation of agricultural policies, with the focus not on reducing burdensome EU Regulations, but on implementing key recommendations from the 2005 Treasury/Defra ‘Vision for the CAP’ – a blueprint for dismantling agricultural support and increasing food imports. “Again, we need solid proposals and assurances that any renationalisation of powers will not lead to the collapse of Welsh agriculture and rural incomes. “Those assessments, analyses and policies must have at the heart of them the Welsh family farm: farms which have the highest productivity per hectare, are responsible for the overwhelming majority of Welsh food production and form the backbone of our rural communities.”

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Farming

Union wants answers after Panorama programme

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NFU CYMRU has written to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to express its concerns after a Panorama investigation uncovered alleged illegal dumping of untreated sewage in Welsh rivers.

The Panorama ‘River Pollution Scandal’ aired on Monday, April 12.

The broadcast appeared to show untreated sewage being illegally discharged into protected rivers in England and Wales, including the River Usk.

NFU Cymru says the broadcast has caused ‘great concern’ among Welsh farmers, who just two weeks ago were severely burdened with ‘indiscriminate and punitive’ measures as part of the Welsh Government’s new all-Wales NVZ regulations aimed at improving water quality in Wales.

The union is asking that Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) carry out a full investigation into the findings of the Panorama documentary, to assure farmers that ‘agriculture has not been held accountable for the pollution caused from other sources, particularly sewage treatment works’.

NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “NFU Cymru has long highlighted that there is a range of factors influencing water quality in Wales. 

“The evidence is clear that a sole focus on agriculture through the introduction of regulatory measures to tackle agricultural pollution will not deliver Water Framework Directive objectives, yet we have observed a false and flawed narrative developing in recent years that frames agriculture as ‘the problem’ with respect to water quality issues in Wales. 

“In light of the evidence uncovered by the Panorama programme, NFU Cymru is seeking confirmation on what actions are being taken by the government and the regulator to stop these illegal practices. 

“We also ask what investigations are being undertaken to understand if and where else within Wales similar illegal practices are or have taken place.”

As part of its letter, the union has also urged that any potential contribution that discharges are making to phosphate levels in the River Usk is accurately accounted for.

Mr Davies continued: “The River Usk was identified as having the highest level of phosphate failures of all Welsh Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) rivers.  

“We note that NRW analysis for the River Usk references agriculture but is silent on any potential contribution of the water companies to phosphate levels.  

“It is important that the contribution of the water industry where through its permitted (or otherwise) activity is now properly reflected in work NRW has committed to do with respect to further investigations. 

“Overall, NFU Cymru seeks assurances, on behalf of our members, from Welsh Government and NRW that the issues raised within the Panorama programme will be fully investigated and addressed so that farm businesses across Wales can be reassured that agriculture has not been held accountable for the pollution caused from other sources, particularly by sewage treatment works. “We would also like assurances that, where necessary, the NRW will revise local and national reports and evidence.”

NFU Cymru is presently in the process of launching a legal challenge against the Welsh Government’s new rules to control agricultural pollution, having previously raised concerns about the lawfulness of the decision.

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Farming

Staycation boom offers farms new revenue stream

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THE NUMBER of working farms looking to cash in on the boom in staycations has sky-rocketed, according to figures from Pitchup.com.

Of the 2,000 campsites listed on Pitchup.com – Europe’s largest outdoor accommodation provider – more than 700 are working farms and 300 of those operate temporary sites, set up to take advantage of the peak holiday season.
Many such sites have joined the business in the first quarter of 2021, eager to secure a post-COVID financial recovery.

The hike comes after a change in planning policy increased the length of time farms and other land-based businesses can legally operate a campsite without planning permission from 28 days to 56 days.

Other factors, Pitchup.com discovered, include concerns over falling support payments and Government plans to curtail farming through environmental policies which will disadvantage active farmers.

Dan Yates, founder of Pitchup.com, said farmers were turning to temporary campsites in droves because they are the quickest and easiest form of diversification to get off the ground.

He said: “Establishing a campsite is very easy. At their most basic, all you need is a patch of land and running water, which most farms have already, and some toilets, which are easy to hire. Crucially, you don’t need planning permission to operate one for up to 56 days per year.

“With staycations booming and that trend set to stay, people are crying out for beautiful areas of the countryside where they can enjoy a relaxing break away from the pressures of work and lockdown.

“Farmers are perfectly placed to provide that. The farm-based campsites we work with can decide how many guests they want to host and with demand as it is, we are extremely confident we can fill those pitches.”

Mr Yates added that as well as being quick, convenient, and unobtrusive on day-to-day farming operations, pop-up and permanent campsites can be very lucrative.

“Although most campsites don’t generate quite this level of income, even small pop-up sites – which are the easiest by far to accommodate – return on average £13,000 in extra revenue per year, and many take tens of thousands of pounds more than this.

“It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that they’re becoming so popular among farms and land-owning businesses. We expect to see many more farmers try this kind of diversification as we come out of lockdown and the summer gets closer.”

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Farming

FUW calls for Welsh policies for Welsh agriculture

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THE FUW has urged the incoming Welsh Government to develop bespoke, tailor-made policies that reflect global realities as well as Welsh economic, social, and environmental needs.

Five years ago, ahead of the 2016 Welsh Senedd elections, the Farmers’ Union of Wales warned of the unprecedented challenges facing the incoming Senedd Members and Government. Since then, those challenges have not only materialised but been exacerbated and added to. 

Outlining the big issues facing agriculture in Wales at a press conference, which launched the FUW’s 2021 Welsh Senedd Election Manifesto, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “The materialisation of a far harder form of Brexit than had been promised by those who lobbied for our departure from the EU has restricted access to our main export markets on the continent in ways that are only beginning to be felt. 

“At the same time, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives beyond recognition and has highlighted the fragility of global food supply chains and the importance of a strong farming sector on which our domestic markets should be able to rely upon for commodity products.

“While such issues have been largely beyond the control of our devolved administrations, the reaction of the Welsh Government to the uncertainty and challenges faced by our agriculture sector has at times been bewildering and counterintuitive, not least in terms of its appetite for drastically increasing costs and restrictions while advocating untried and untested reforms of rural support policies.”

Meanwhile, UK Government cuts to Welsh rural funding – in a direct contradiction to promises made repeatedly by those who advocated Brexit – have added to the pressures on Welsh agriculture, the rural economy, and Welsh Government, said the Union President.

Through its manifesto and ongoing lobbying work, the FUW continues to be clear that Wales’ family farms lie at the centre of our rural economy, culture, and landscape, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of thousands of businesses involved in the Welsh food supply industry, and making innumerable other contributions to the well-being of Welsh and UK residents – benefits central to which is the production of food, our most precious commodity alongside water.

“Moving forward we need policies which reflect the need to mitigate climate change and protect our environment, but such aspirations must be tempered by the knowledge that sweeping changes that undermine our family farms and food production will merely shift production to countries with lower animal welfare standards and higher global and environmental footprints” said Glyn Roberts.

Highlighting the disappointment of members over the years with the current Welsh Government, Mr Roberts added that rather than feeling that industry concerns have been taken on board and seeing proportionate measures put in place to safeguard the agricultural  industry, many consider the current direction of travel as a betrayal of devolution which directly threatens the agriculture industry and the culture, language and way of life which are intrinsically linked to Welsh food production.

Speaking from his farm in North Wales, he added: “With this in mind, I make no apology for highlighting our members’ frustration about the lack of bespoke Welsh policies regarding future farmingscheme proposals and tackling water quality issues put forward by the current Welsh Government, and the distinct feeling that those who govern us from Cardiff Bay are now more remote from and indifferent to our rural communities than ever.

“Welsh farmers are proud to produce world-leading food to environmental, animal health and welfare and food safety standards that are second to none, but these need to be regulated in a proportionate manner which does not stifle innovation, create unjustified restrictions and place Welsh farmers at a severe competitive disadvantage against other countries’ agricultural produce.” 

Such concerns are particularly pertinent in an era when the UK Government is proactively seeking to sign trade deals with countries with production standards which fall well short of those already required of Welsh food producers, and while the aspiration that further raising standards will provide our producers with a competitive advantage in high-end markets is understandable, it is also naive given what the data tells us about widespread consumer indifference to such standards both here and around the globe.

“Alongside other critical issues and priorities outlined in this manifesto, the FUW urges the incoming Welsh Government and Senedd to develop bespoke, tailor-made policies that reflect such global realities as well as Welsh economic, social and environmental needs and the seven Welsh Well-being Goals; policies that maintain our already high standards while ensuring Welsh producers are not undermined in ways that lead to greater imports of food from those with far lower standards than our own,” said the Union President.

For the period of the next Welsh Senedd and beyond, the FUW is committed to lobbying all those in Cardiff to ensure that agriculture and family farms receive the attention and respect that they warrant – for the sake of all our futures.

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