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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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Business

Council officers conduct visits in response to Avian Influenza incident

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Following the identification of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza  in poultry at a site near Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire and the declaration of an Influenza Protection Zone and wider Surveillance Zone surrounding the Infected Premises (by the Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales), on Friday 9 September, officers from Pembrokeshire County Council’s Public Protection Division have been engaged in visiting addresses within the 3 kilometre Protection Zone around the site.

Officers are identifying locations where poultry and/or other captive birds are kept and to provide information on restrictions that currently apply to help prevent the spread of disease.

The Council’s officers are working in support of veterinary colleagues from the Animal and Plant Health Agency who are managing a co-ordinated response to the incident, in collaboration with the Welsh Government, Food Standards Agency and Public Health Wales.

A map showing the extent of the zones and restrictions that apply can be seen on the Welsh Government website at https://gov.wales/declaration-avian-influenza-protection-zone-surveillance-zone-near-milford-haven-pembrokeshire, and road signs are currently being erected by the local authority to help clarify where these zones begin and end, which will remain in place until the restrictions can be lifted.

It is vital keepers of birds remain vigilant and ensure they have the very highest levels of biosecurity in place.

Responsibilities of people who keep birds:

  • All keepers of kept birds should be vigilant for signs of the disease such as increased mortality, respiratory distress and drops in food or water intake, or egg production.
  • Consult your veterinary surgeon in the first instance if your birds are unwell.
  • If you or your vet suspect that avian influenza could be causing illness in your birds, you must, by law, report this to the Animal and Plant Health Agency Wales on 0300 303 8268. This will trigger a disease investigation by APHA vets.
  • You must apply strict biosecurity measures to prevent any materials, equipment, vehicles, clothing, feed or bedding that could have been contaminated from wild birds coming onto your premises. Further guidance is available here: biosecurity and preventing disease in captive birds.

The UK health agencies advise that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the UK food standards agencies advise that avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.

Members of the public who do not keep birds can help by reporting dead wild birds.  You should call the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 if you find:

  • One or more dead bird of prey or owl
  • Three or more dead gulls or wild waterfowl (swans, geese, ducks)
  • Five or more dead birds of any species

These may be collected for examination and avian influenza surveillance, depending on the species and location. It is important not to pick up or touch any sick or dead bird.

Sick or injured wild birds should not be reported to Defra. Instead contact the RSPCA (in Wales and England) on 0300 1234 999 who may be able to offer assistance.

Dead or sick birds in public places, such as beaches, can also reported by calling 01437 764551 (or out of hours 0345 601 5522) for Pembrokeshire County Council to arrange to collect safely.

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Farming

Welsh Government must balance farming priorities

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IN EARLY July, the Welsh Government published its proposals for the Sustainable Farming Scheme.

Robert Dangerfield, Communications Manager for the Country Land Owners and Business Association Cymru, responds.

We are pleased to see the ambition shown within the document to support sustainable and profitable food production alongside addressing the climate and biodiversity emergencies.

The proposals arise after three consultations over five years and reflect the work our members and the CLA team have done with Welsh Government.

We are happy to see considerable detail on what the scheme will pay for, the process for how farmers and landowners can apply, and how the transition from the current landscape of the Basic Payment Scheme and Glastir to the Sustainable Farming Scheme will work.

We do, however, have some specific concerns.

Firstly, the requirements for 10% woodland/forestry cover and a 10% requirement for habitat creation and maintenance may not be suitable for all holdings. The need to balance sustainable food production must be considered further.

Secondly, there are no specific payment rates for the scheme. Welsh Government have explained that this is because the current funding settlement with the UK Government only goes to 2024, so they cannot commit to specific rates. This is disappointing, and we will continue to lobby to ensure future funding matches the commitments within the proposals.

WHAT HAS BEEN PROPOSED?

Despite the concerns highlighted above, there is a fair amount of detail within the document. To summarise, the scheme includes a farm sustainability review that will include farm details (size, sector, livestock), a carbon assessment and a baseline habitat survey.

The review will be digital, where possible, to reduce cost and concentrate resources on scheme delivery.

It will provide entry to the scheme and identify the actions Welsh Government will pay for. These will consist of a mixture of universal activities that all applicants must undertake – for which they will receive a baseline payment via a five-year contract and optional and collaborative actions which will attract additional payments.

The universal actions include:

·        Record of key performance indicators;

·        10% of land for woodland/forestry and 10% for habitat creation/maintenance;

·        Undertake animal health and welfare plan;

·        Undertake a biosecurity plan;

·        Manage areas of cultural/heritage significance;

·        Undertake a five-yearly soil analysis.

The optional and collaborative actions are very wide-ranging and will be able to be tailored for the plethora of different farm types across Wales. One particular area of importance for our membership is access.

The proposal outline that any options relating to access are optional and include:

·        upgrading footpaths to multi-use paths;

·        enhancing existing paths to make them more accessible;

·        establishing joined-up and new access routes and trails;

·        establishing new access;

·        hosting educational and care farm visits.

We will continue to work with the various access fora and the Welsh Government to ensure that any new access is voluntary, incentivised, and permissive.

INITIAL VIEWS

The Royal Welsh Agricultural Show took place a week after the publication of the proposals, providing an ideal opportunity for discussion with lots of different organisations and our members.

Not surprisingly, the “10 and 10 requirements” dominated many meetings and conversations I had.

Some farmers were not concerned as they had already reached these percentages on their holding but were worried about land held under Farm Business Tenancies that often did not include the woodland.

In the short term, there are no quick answers; but the CLA Cymru team will be part of a Welsh Government-organised tenancy working group to discuss the impact of the proposals on landowners and tenants.

Other members outlined their worries that they needed all the productive land they had to go towards feeding their stock or growing their crops. This is a real concern.

For some, the solution will be to sustainably intensify other parts of their farm and become more efficient.

Where this is not possible, the role of exemptions for some farms must be considered by Welsh Government.

AGRICULTURE (WALES) BILL

The Agriculture (Wales) Bill will be published this Autumn.

It will be the legislative mechanism by which Welsh Government can administer the new scheme.

Ministers are confident it will receive Royal Assent by summer 2023, ready to begin testing, trialling, and introducing the new scheme.

We will be working with Members of the Senedd to ensure scrutiny of the Bill and to propose amendments if we see fit.

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Farming

Pembrokeshire poultry premises hit by bird flu

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ON SATURDAY, September 10, Wales’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Christianne Glossop, confirmed the presence of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 in poultry at a large site in Pembrokeshire.

It was the second confirmed case of avian influenza in Wales this week, following an outbreak in Gwynedd.

A further potential case in Ceredigion is being investigated.

PROTECTION ZONE ANNOUNCED

A 3km Protection Zone and 10km Surveillance Zone have been declared around the infected premises to limit the risk of disease spread.

Within these zones, bird movements and gatherings are restricted, and all holdings that keep birds must be declared.

The measures are stricter in the 3km Protection Zone. 

They include provisions for the movement of poultry and eggs under controlled conditions and provisions for housing poultry to reduce the risk of contamination.

It is vital that keepers of birds remain vigilant and ensure they have the highest levels of biosecurity.

The UK health agencies advise that the risk to public health from the virus is very low. 

The UK food standards agencies advise that avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.

RESPONSIBILITIES OF PEOPLE WHO KEEP BIRDS

ALL keepers of kept birds should be vigilant for signs of the disease such as increased mortality, respiratory distress, food or water intake drops, or egg production.

You can consult your veterinary surgeon in the first instance if your birds are unwell.

If you or your vet suspect that avian influenza could be causing illness in your birds, you must, by law, report this to the Animal and Plant Health Agency. This will trigger a disease investigation by APHA vets.

You must apply strict biosecurity measures to prevent any materials, equipment, vehicles, clothing, feed, or bedding that wild birds could have contaminated from coming onto your premises.

Full details and a checklist are available here: https://bit.ly/MHAvianFlu.

DISEASE SPREADS FROM WILD BIRD POPULATIONS

Avian influenza is a highly contagious viral disease.

It affects many species of birds’ respiratory, digestive, or nervous systems.

Some strains of Avian influenza can spread easily and quickly between birds and have a high death rate.

Migratory seabirds and waterfowl are known carriers of avian flu.

The highly pathogenic H5N1 strain originated in the intensive poultry industry in Asia and has since spread into wild bird populations worldwide.

It reached Pembrokeshire’s seabird colonies in July this year when it was detected on Grassholm.

Grassholm is known for its huge colony of northern gannets; the island has been owned since 1947 by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and is one of its oldest reserves.

A National Nature Reserve, Grassholm is the world’s third most important site for gannets.

It serves as a breeding site for 36,000 pairs of gannets and supports around 10 per cent of the world population.

Migratory waterfowl and gulls are the most likely cause of HPAI incursion. Migratory wildfowl include ducks, geese, and swans.

The risk of avian influenza being introduced into domestic poultry or other captive birds will depend on the prevalence and pattern of virus shedding in wild birds, the level of biosecurity in place on poultry holdings or bird premises and other factors.

Detailed epidemiological assessments are made at each poultry and captive bird infected premises to investigate the possible source and spread.

All available evidence indicates that direct or indirect contact with infected wild birds is the source of infection on almost all of the kept bird premises.

The HPAI virus (bird flu) risk increases during the winter.

Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, Dr Gavin Watkins, said: “There has been an unprecedented incursion of avian influenza into Great Britain and Europe in 2022 and keepers of birds must be vigilant and ensure they have the very highest levels of biosecurity in place.

“There is always more that can be done to protect your birds.

“As we move into the Autumn and Winter, I urge you all to review the measures in place and identify areas of improvement.

“Think about risks from direct contact with wild birds, especially waterfowl, and also the things that could be contaminated by bird droppings – clothing and footwear, equipment, vehicles, feed and bedding.

“Make improvements where you can prevent further spread of this devastating bird disease.

“Good biosecurity is always key in protecting animals from disease.”

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