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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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Farming

Pembrokeshire farming couple honoured at Downing Street reception

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MIKE and Joy Smith from Pembrokeshire were among the select few invited to a prestigious reception at 10 Downing Street, recognising their outstanding contribution to farming and food production. The couple, who are well-regarded pillars of the local farming community, were nominated by Stephen Crabb MP to attend the event which celebrated Food and Farming Champions across the nation.

Farming is more than just an occupation in rural communities like Pembrokeshire; it is a way of life that has sustained families for generations. The Smiths, who farm in partnership with their brothers at Parc Y Marl near Llysyfran and Pelcomb Farm near Haverfordwest respectively, embody the dedication and passion that characterise this vital industry.

Their commitment to fostering the next generation of farmers and ensuring the sustainability of the sector is well acknowledged. “It was a real pleasure to nominate my good friends and outstanding Pembrokeshire farming couple, Mike and Joy Smith, to attend a reception for Food and Farming Champions in 10 Downing Street today,” said Stephen Crabb, expressing his pride in the couple’s achievements and their significant role in feeding the nation.

Before the celebration at No. 10, the Smiths were treated to an exclusive tour of the Houses of Parliament. They had the unique opportunity to watch live debates from the viewing galleries, witnessing firsthand the legislative process in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

The recognition of Mike and Joy Smith serves as a reminder of the critical role farmers play in maintaining the supply of local produce and sustaining the agricultural heritage of regions like Pembrokeshire. Their story is a testament to the hard work, resilience, and community spirit that underpin the farming industry.

As the local community and indeed the nation continue to benefit from the dedication of farmers like Mike and Joy, the message is clear: without farmers, there is no food. The recognition at Downing Street not only honours their personal contributions but also shines a light on the broader significance of farming in ensuring food security and preserving rural ways of life.

Stephen Crabb MP, in acknowledging the contributions of the Smiths and the wider farming community, extended his gratitude: “Thank you to Mike, Joy, and all farmers in Pembrokeshire for your role in helping to keep local produce on our plates.” This sentiment resonates with the appreciation felt by those who understand the importance of farming to our daily lives and the fabric of rural communities across the UK.

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Thousands of farmers descend on Cardiff to say: ‘Enough is enough!’

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THOUSANDS of farmers and supporters converged outside the Senedd in Cardiff, Wales, to voice their strong opposition to the Welsh Government’s proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) and other contentious issues threatening the agricultural sector. The protest, marked by a sea of placards bearing the stark message “No Farmers, No Food,” highlighted the depth of the farming community’s fears for its future.

The demonstration, the latest in a month-long series of actions across Wales, saw farmers, many arriving on tractors, gather to contest plans they argue would compel them to sacrifice a significant portion of their land for environmental purposes. With estimates suggesting that the scheme could lead to 5,500 job losses, the stakes for the agricultural community and rural Wales are high.

Despite police estimates putting the crowd at around 3,000, below the anticipated 10,000 to 20,000, the turnout was a record for a protest of this nature outside the Welsh Parliament. The demonstration saw a mix of solemnity and spirited resistance, with the Welsh song ‘Yma O Hyd’ resonating amongst the crowd, symbolising steadfastness and resilience.

At the demonstration, notable figures lent their voices to the farmers’ cause. Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, was seen engaging with protesters, underscoring the political dimensions of the dispute.

Sam Kurtz MS, from Pembrokeshire, addressing the protest

Sam Kurtz, another Conservative MS, told the crowd that he was a farmer’s son. He told the gathering that he would fight tirelessly for the farming community.

Afterwards he told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “It was the proudest moment of my life addressing the farmers in Cardiff Bay today. Made prouder still that my father was there.

“The momentum is with the industry now and whomever becomes Wales’ next First Minister, and next Rural Affairs Minister, must work hard on the SFS, NVZs, and Bovine Tb, to repair a broken relationship between government and the agricultural sector.

“Can I thank all those who attended the protest for the respect and order that they showed.

“It was the largest of its kind and if the message hasn’t got through to the Welsh Government now, I’m not sure it ever will.”

Tractors lined the outskirts of Cardiff as the protest took place

Perhaps more movingly, Nigel Owens, renowned former international rugby referee and a farmer himself, addressed the crowd from the Senedd steps. Owens, comparing the protest’s significance to his experience refereeing the 2015 World Cup final, underscored the fundamental role of farming: “There can be no Six Nations game in Cardiff next Saturday against France if there is no referee. There can be no food on the table if there are no farmers.”

The protest was not just a platform for airing grievances but also a moment for collective expression of a deep-seated love for farming and the rural way of life. Ioan Humphreys, a fifth-generation farmer, poignantly articulated this sentiment, emphasizing the fight for the future of young farmers and the unity required to overcome current challenges. “I’m also here to make sure as farmers stick together and unite through this time of hardship,” Humphreys stated, capturing the protest’s spirit of solidarity.

Rhun ap Iorwerth, leader of Plaid Cymru, reiterated the essential bond between Wales and its agricultural heartland, advocating for government support at all levels to ensure the vitality of rural Wales. His call for action highlighted the broader implications of the proposed changes, touching on the sustainability of rural communities, biodiversity, and the Welsh economy at large.

The protest, while a manifestation of immediate concerns over the SFS, also brought to the fore ongoing frustrations with the Welsh Government’s anti-water pollution measures and the persistent challenge of TB in cattle. The demonstration’s peaceful nature, emphasized by South Wales Police’s statement, belied the deep undercurrents of anxiety and determination among the farming community.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s interaction with the rural community at the Welsh Conservative Party Conference in Llandudno, where he assured farmers of his support, underscores the national significance of the issues at stake. Meanwhile, the Welsh Government’s assurance of its willingness to listen and adapt the proposed scheme following consultation reflects the dynamic and contentious process of policy-making in areas critical to national interest and well-being.

As the protest unfolded, with wellington boots symbolically placed in front of speakers, the agricultural community’s message was clear: the future of farming, and by extension, the fabric of rural Wales, hangs in the balance. The collective call for support, understanding, and meaningful engagement from the government resonated beyond the steps of the Senedd, touching the hearts of many across Wales and beyond.

This convergence of farmers at the Senedd, while a significant moment, represents just one chapter in an ongoing dialogue between the agricultural community and policymakers. As Wales navigates the complexities of environmental conservation, economic sustainability, and rural livelihoods, the voices of those gathered in Cardiff Bay will undoubtedly continue to echo in the halls of power, reminding all of the indispensable value of farmers to the nation’s past, present, and future.

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Cardiff farming protest set to be largest in Senedd history

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A MASSIVE protest is set to get underway in Cardiff today (Wednesday, Feb 28) as farmers from across Wales descend on the Senedd to voice their opposition against the Welsh Government’s proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS).

The demonstration, expected to draw between 10,000 to 20,000 participants, marks a pivotal moment for the agricultural community, highlighting widespread concern over the future of farming in Wales.

The controversy centers on post-Brexit agriculture reforms, with the Welsh Government insisting on a transformative approach to farming subsidies. Under the new SFS, farmers would be required to allocate 20% of their land to environmental measures, including a 10% commitment to tree planting and another 10% to wildlife habitat creation.

These proposals have sparked fears of job losses and significant impacts on farm incomes, with unions forecasting up to 5,500 direct job losses.

In anticipation of the protest, First Minister Mark Drakeford, alongside shadow rural affairs minister Sam Kurtz and Welsh Tory Senedd group leader Andrew RT Davies, has called for a de-escalation of tensions. Drakeford emphasised the need for “conciliation” and a constructive dialogue with the farming community, rejecting accusatory rhetoric in favour of collaborative problem-solving.

This stance was echoed during a session of First Minister’s Questions, where the importance of positive engagement and the recognition of food production as a critical component of the SFS were highlighted.

Despite these calls for calm, the debate has intensified, with accusations flying in the Senedd. A notable clash occurred when Andrew RT Davies accused Alun Davies MS of dismissing protesting farmers as “cranks” – a charge vehemently denied by Davies, who clarified his comments were aimed at a specific group rather than the wider farming community.

The protest, which is set to be one of the largest in Senedd history, will not only see convoys of tractors and coaches filled with protestors but also aims to symbolically highlight the stakes with 5,500 pairs of wellington boots placed on the Senedd steps on March 6. South Wales Police have issued warnings of potential travel disruptions, advising the public of slow-moving traffic and possible restricted vehicle access around the protest area.

Despite these challenges, the police have expressed their respect for the right to peaceful protest, working to ensure safety and minimal public disruption.

As the SFS consultation draws to a close on March 7, the Welsh Government remains firm on its stance, urging participation in the consultation process and hinting at possible adjustments to the scheme.

The farming community’s response, articulated through mass protest and vocal criticism, underscores a deep-rooted anxiety about the future of Welsh agriculture. With both sides standing their ground, the coming days are critical in shaping the trajectory of rural Wales and the sustainability of its farming heritage.

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