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Farming

Agriculture Bill passes Commons

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THE CONSERVATIVE Party used its Commons majority to ram through its Agriculture Bill on Monday, October 12.
Along the way, it voted down amendments which would have forced Boris Johnson’s government to uphold its manifesto promises on food production standards and animal welfare.
The Government’s actions, combined with its procedural manoeuvre to block an attempt to give a proposed trade watchdog teeth, have drawn universal condemnation from farming unions and organisations.
Fourteen Conservative MPs opposed the Government, including former DEFRA Secretary of State Theresa Villiers. Every Welsh Conservative MP voted against safeguarding farmingstandards.
The Wildlife Trusts of Wales and England described the vote as: “[T]he clearest signal yet that the Government do not intend to uphold their election manifesto commitment to maintain the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in trade negotiations.”
Phil Stocker of the NSA commented: “There is now the very real risk, despite Government’s assurances, that the UK’s standards that our nation’s farmers are proud to work to, could be undermined by lower standard imports.”

‘DISAPPOINTMENT AN UNDERSTATEMENT’

Speaking to The Herald after the vote, TFA Chief Executive George Dunn said: “To say that the events which took place in the House of Commons last night were a disappointment, would be a major understatement. For the Government to whip its MPs to vote against an amendment entirely in line with its own policy has created a breach of trust in believing its rhetoric around protecting our high environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards in future international trade agreements.”
“It was also shocking that the Government used a procedural manoeuvre to deny MPs the opportunity of voting on a crucial House of Lords amendment that would have improved the operation of the newly appointed Trade and Agriculture Commission,” Mr Dunn told us.
He continued: “This was a shocking piece of political chicanery which prevented MPs from even debating this important piece of legislation. Over a million people signed a petition earlier in the year calling on the Government to ensure the strongest standards in trade and it is an issue for which there has been cross-party support. Expanding the role and remit of the Trade and Agriculture Commission would not, as the Government claimed, tie its hands but merely ensure that its future trade policy had proper scrutiny and support from an expert panel.”
Mr Dunn concluded by drawing attention to the erosion of trust between the Conservative Government and the agriculture industry: “Day after day we hear Government Ministers declare that they will not jeopardise our high environmental, animal welfare and consumer safety standards in trade. Sadly, their words say one thing, but their actions say another. Unless we have strong legislation in this area, the fine words are just empty promises.”

‘WARM WORDS WON’T WASH’

Carmarthen East & Dinefwr MP Jonathan Edwards told this newspaper: “The Agriculture Bill was a missed opportunity to safeguard in law food product standards and in particular food production standards.
“Warm words from the British Government that they won’t allow Welsh farmers to be undercut by lower standard food in trade deals won’t wash.
“The fact that the British Government have gone out of their way to stop democratic accountability over trade deals does not fill me with confidence.
“Wales should have a veto over trade deals negotiated by the British Government in the same way that every single member of the European Union could veto trade deals negotiated by the EU.
“The reality is that the future of Welsh farming is in the hands of a British Government who I fear will be conceding access to food markets in order to gain concessions for London banks.”

NFU DISMAY

NFU Cymru expressed dismay but vowed to continue lobbying for binding commitments to safeguard farming’s high standards in future trade deals
NFU Cymru Deputy President Aled Jones said: “It is a blow that the Grantchester amendment (on animal welfare) was not adopted by a majority of MPs, nor did MPs have the chance to vote on the Curry amendment (strengthening the Trade & Agriculture Commission). However, NFU Cymru remains steadfast in its belief that Welsh farmers must not be undermined by imported products produced to lower standards than those observed here in the UK.”
Adopting an upbeat approach which suggested NFU Cymru was prepared to take government promises and MPs’ words at face value, Mr Jones continued: “We were encouraged to hear so many MPs in last night’s debate expressing their support for those high standards – standards that consumers in this country have come to expect – and we thank those MPs who spoke up in favour of this important cause.
“This ongoing debate around food standards is matter of a huge importance for Britain’s farmers and Britain’s consumers, also. We simply cannot risk any trade scenario which could result in food imports coming into this country that would be illegal if produced here.”
Looking forward to the next stage of the Bill’s passage to the statute books, Aled Jones added: “With the Agriculture Bill set to return to the House of Lords, this gives peers another opportunity to put forward amendments that we hope will bring about the changes we want to see – UK farming’s high standards protected and enshrined in law, while also giving more power to the elbow of the Trade and Agriculture Commission.”

LACK OF COMMITMENT ‘SPEAKS VOLUMES’

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Llyr Gruffydd MS, told us: “Last night, Plaid Cymru supported amendments that would have protected food standards in future trade deals and strengthened parliamentary scrutiny of trade negotiations.
“Yet again, the Conservatives let down Welsh farmers when given the chance to protect their livelihoods. Despite all their promises and manifesto commitments, the Government defeated the amendments, exposing our farmers to cheap produce in future trade deals.
“Plaid Cymru will continue to put forward a positive vision for our food producers based on a greater say for our devolved governments and the protection of food standards. This is not because we not only believe them necessary now, but because they are fundamental to our farmers and food producers in the future.”
Lesley Griffiths, Wales’ Minister for Rural Affairs, said: “Although UK Ministers continue to insist they will maintain existing high standards of food safety and animal welfare in any new trade deals, their rejection of the opportunity to put this commitment into statute speaks volumes – especially given the fact that the amendments put forward by the Lords gave them a prime opportunity to do so.
“Food safety and welfare are devolved matters, and we have been clear that we would resist any clauses in the Internal Market Bill which would allow Westminster to start a race to the bottom in terms of standards – a move which would not just impact consumers, but also risk farm businesses across Wales as they face international competition from companies willing to forego the standards to which they adhere.”

WIDER REACTION

Prominent farmer and TV presenter Gareth Wyn Jones tweeted: ‘Very disappointed this morning after last night’s government defeated amendments to the #AgricultureBill which would have protected our #food & #farming standards. Don’t forget they’ve not only sold the farming community out but the health of our nation. @BorisJohnson’
Conservation groups and environmental campaigners also expressed their concern at the government’s unwillingness to commit to anything more than warm sentiment over environmental standards and welfare measures.
The RSPB said: “The UK Government must now say how it will meet its manifesto commitment to maintain standards in future trade deals, as confidence in them to do so is now at a chronically low ebb.”
RSPCA Chief Executive Chris Sherwood also underlined the Government’s failure to put meat on its manifesto promise.
Chris Sherwood said: “The Government once again failed to make good their manifesto promise that they will not sell out the UK’s animal welfare for a quick trade deal. The vote shows a disregard for the British public, 83% of whom said they did not want lower standard imports coming in from the US when we leave the EU.”
Nature Friendly Farming Network UK Chair, Martin Lines, observed: “Despite manifesto commitments and repeated assurances from successive governments not to lessen standards in trade, the government has instead passed on one of the final opportunities to enshrine our high-quality environmental and animal welfare standards in law and to protect the UK farmingindustry.”
James Russell, BVA President, said: “This result is a severe blow for animal welfare and a betrayal of the Government’s own manifesto commitment to maintain and improve on health and welfare standards.
“We have long argued that the UK cannot commit to raising the bar domestically while allowing in goods that don’t meet the high standards that British consumers rightly want and expect.
“If the government won’t legislate to protect our standards it is vital that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is given more powers and stature to safeguard them in future trade deals.”
CLA President Mark Bridgeman sounded a warning note: “Government Ministers have successfully convinced MPs they can be trusted to protect food production standards without the need for legislation.
“Time and again Ministers have promised to protect British farmers from a flood of cheap imports produced to animal welfare and environmental standards far below our own.
Farmers across the country will be watching Government’s every move very closely from hereon in.”

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Farming

Worshipful Company of Farmers reunite at Bluestone

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A DELEGATION from the Worshipful Company of Farmers has visited Bluestone National Park Resort in Pembrokeshire to meet with its CEO and a former dairy farmer, William McNamara.

Bluestone welcomed the 35th Advanced Farm Management Course of the Worshipful Company of Farmers for their annual reunion.

The Worshipful Company of Farmers is a Livery Company linked to the Livery Companies of London and its purpose is to inspire, encourage and develop excellence in the management of British Agriculture.

Since its formation in 1946 it has promoted farming to the nation, developed professionalism within the farming industry, and supported a wide range of charitable organisations.

After a visit to Pembrokeshire’s Puffin Produce in the morning, the group visited Bluestone to speak to Mr McNarama, a former dairy farmer, to gain further insight into the creation of the holiday resort on what was previously his farm.

Speaking about the visit, Mr McNamara said: “I was greatly honoured to have had the opportunity to host the 35th group of the Worshipful Company of Farmers at Bluestone. With my roots firmly in farming, it was a pleasure to share Bluestone’s story and my own experience of farming diversification.”

Meurig Raymond added: “To see at first hand the amazing development of the Bluestone Resort over the past 13 years was a great privilege and a highlight of our trip to Pembrokeshire.

“The group were most impressed by the Bluestone story; the incredible amount of investment into a world class holiday resort, and the sheer passion and enthusiasm which William and his team portrayed during our tour.

“There is no doubt that Bluestone is a real jewel in the future of tourism in Pembrokeshire and many of our group indicated that they will be returning with their families to enjoy the wonderful facilities at the resort.”

William spoke to the group about growing up working on the farm, located in Southwest Wales, and how he believed he was destined for a career in agriculture. After attending agricultural college, expanding the family’s milking herd and harvesting Pembrokeshire New Potatoes, it was the introduction of milk quotas that first encouraged him to diversity into leisure.

Bluestone is now one of the largest tourism operators in Wales, welcoming 160,000 staying visitors to the resort each year with an average annualised occupancy of 97%.

The resort contributes in excess of £17m per annum directly into the local community through the supply chain and payroll, and as a Green Key accredited business is committed to sustainable tourism, most recently banning the sale of plastic water bottles on the resort in partnership with Refill Wales. Over 700 people are employed in permanent, long-term positions across the site.

The 35th group, led by Meurig Raymond who is a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Farmers, were treated to a full guided tour of the resort by CEO, William McNamara which included Serendome – where they enjoyed afternoon tea – and the newly opened HIVE activity centre. They also met other Bluestone team members including Director of Operations, Rebecca Rigby.

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Farming

Pembrokeshire farmers put spotlight on trade deals and climate change in discussions with local MP

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(left to right): FUW Pembrokeshire County Chairman Mike Kurtz, Stephen Crabb MP, FUW Pembrokeshire County Vice chairman Gerwyn Williams

FARMERS from Pembrokeshire have put the spotlight on industry concerns around the free trade deal with Australia and climate change when they met with local MP Stephen Crabb. Hosting the visit was Farmers’ Union of Wales Pembrokeshire County Vice chairman Gerwyn Williams, who farms at Upper Swmbarch, Letterston near Haverfordwest.

The farm extends to approximately 94 acres, with the majority of the land rented from Pembrokeshire County Council, and 3.5 acres owned. Upper Swmbarch is home to a 50 Suckler cow herd, made up of Limousin and British Blue cows. The calves are reared with some sold as stores, some fattened and some kept as replacements. Gerwyn Williams keeps a closed herd and uses AI. Tack sheep are kept on the land in the winter.  The land is mainly down to grass, but around 3 hectares of arable silage and 3 hectares of forage rape are grown each year to feed the livestock.

The farm has participated in the Glastir Small Grants scheme, which included planting new hedgerows in a number of locations across the farm and the holding has also previously participated in the Preseli ESA scheme, Tir Gofal and Glastir Entry.

Leading the discussions on the farm walk, Mr Williams said: “We are very concerned about the free trade deal with Australia. There will be major negative impacts for our farmers in Wales. It is absolutely essential that the UK Government ensures there are break clauses in the deal to allow for it to be reviewed. We need the UK Government to stand with the farming sector and help develop export opportunities for our farmers here at home.”

Union officials further highlighted concerns around beef prices and uncertainty within the industry as to what would happen as covid restrictions continue to be lifted and more people begin to eat out. Farmgate prices declined significantly during the early stages of the pandemic given the loss of demand from the UK foodservice sector for premium products such as steaks and cheese, and yet 12 months on, the sector is witnessing soaring lamb and beef prices following a shift in reliance on local food producers and UK sourcing.

(left to right):  FUW Pembrokeshire County Chairman Mike Kurtz, Stephen Crabb MP, FUW Pembrokeshire County Vice chairman Gerwyn Williams and FUW Deputy President ian Rickman

“While the domestic foodservice sector is evidently an essential outlet for Welsh produce, it is equally a particularly price sensitive outlet through which large volumes of foreign imports are sold. The FUW is concerned that if trade policies allow for cheap food that undermines our world-leading standards to be imported into the UK, the foodservice sector could become an even larger outlet for such food given that the transparency and pressure to source domestic produce is not applied to the same extent as it is with retailers,” added Gerwyn Williams. 

Mr Williams added that whilst the proportion of local produce procured by some public bodies has increased over recent years, there remain significant numbers of administrations which fail to support Welsh agriculture, choosing instead to accept produce from countries which often fail to meet the high production standards which are a requirement in Wales. 

“The nature of some procurement contracts means that what appears to be a commitment to procuring Welsh and British produce within procurement rules can be circumvented by carefully worded clauses.

“The impact of Covid-19 on food supply chains in many parts of the world has served as a stark reminder of the dangers of relying on food imports. Domestic policies and trade deals which undermine sustainable food produced by family farms in Wales subsequently place food security, food standards and therefore farmgate prices at risk. Governments must recognise the sheer importance of maintaining and supporting food production, security and standards,” he said.

Addressing concerns around climate change, Union officials  discussed how targets are set by the Government and how the UK and Welsh industry is portrayed negatively in the climate change debate. FUW Deputy President Ian Rickman said: “Many of the facts and figures used in the conversation around climate change relate to non-UK systems of production. 

“Here in Pembrokeshire ,and across Wales, farmers are adopting climate friendly systems of producing food and looking after the land for example through minimal or no till cropping, grass based production systems, planting of hedgerows, and habitat management. We can’t just get rid of the livestock, or drastically reduce it. Livestock play an essential role in looking after the land. Many habitats have to be grazed in order for them to flourish. 

“Our dairy industry is also doing their bit and many dairy farmers are already undertaking carbon footprint calculations and producing nutrient and biodiversity plans as part of their milk contracts. Farming must be seen as the solution to the climate problem and not its root cause.”

Given the many obstacles farmers now face, including the NVZ regulations and bovine TB, Union officials further stressed that recruiting young people into the agriculture sector and sourcing labour was becoming increasingly difficult.

FUW Pembrokeshire County Chairman Mike Kurtz added: “Recruitment seems to be a common problem in relation to vocational occupations that needs to be addressed. 

“I would like to thank Stephen Crabb for meeting with us again and discussing so many issues that trouble the industry. We will continue to work with the UK and Welsh Government to ensure we have thriving, sustainable family farms here in Wales for generations to come.”

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Farming

Economic value of red meat sector rises

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THE VALUE of the iconic beef, lamb and pork sectors to the Welsh economy rose in 2020, as consumers turned to local, sustainable, quality food during the COVID pandemic, according to analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).New figures from the Welsh Government ‘Aggregate Agricultural Output and Income’ report show that the total value of agricultural output in Wales for 2020 is projected to stand at £1.7billion – a 6.2% (or £99 million) increase on the provisional figure for 2019.


Cattle and sheep account for 44% of this total at £750million; the highest proportion recorded since 2016. The agricultural output value for Wales’s pig sector also increased (by 34.3% or £2 million) to a value of £8 million.
The figures reflect the strength of the livestock sector in Wales and sit in contrast to Total Income From Farming (TIFF) figures for the UK as a whole newly released by Defra. Although the TIFF figures are a different form of measuring farm production, the UK data concurs that the livestock sector has had a strong year, but in other parts of Britain, this was more than offset by poor harvests in the arable sector.


Demand for beef and lamb have been strong in the domestic retail market since the immediate aftermath of the first COVID lockdown in spring 2020. After initial market volatility, marketing campaigns by HCC and other bodies encouraged consumers to recreate restaurant meals at home.


Over the past 12 months, domestic retail sales of lamb and beef have trended consistently higher, with spending on lamb 20% higher than the previous year. Sales at independent high street butchers are also strong.


Research shows many demographic groups, including families with children, buying more beef and lamb than previously, and turning to quality home-grown produce.


HCC Data Analyst Glesni Phillips said, “The strong demand for red meat from the domestic consumer has helped drive market prices for beef and lamb at Welsh livestock markets in the second half of 2020 and into the early months of 2021.


“It’s no surprise, therefore, to see that the overall value of the industry is projected to have grown. We have seen inflation in the costs on farmers, which offset some of the gains from improved market price; however, it’s heartening to see consumers’ support for quality Welsh produce.“Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef remain key drivers of our rural economy, and given their excellent brand reputation, they act as flagship products for the growing Welsh food and drink sector.”Further analysis of the aggregate output and income figures for Welsh farms are available in HCC’s latest monthly market bulletin.

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