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Farming

Eustice turns in a useless performance

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GEORGE EUSTICE has all the qualifications to be DEFRA Secretary of State in the Westminster Government.
He owns a pair of green wellingtons, corduroy trousers, a smart tweed jacket and a wax jacket.
He must be very good at his job. He’s been a Minister in DEFRA for most of the last six years.

CAR CRASH INTERVIEW

Which makes his catastrophically ignorant performance on Sunday’s Andrew Marr programme all the more baffling.
After six years as a Government minister, four of which have come after the result of the 2016 Referendum and ten months of which have come after Boris Johnson ‘got Brexit done’, Mr Eustice appears to have little or no grasp of the realities of agricultural production and food processing.
His nonsensical remarks about sheep farming – which he has sought to clarity – have received a lot of attention.
Of equally worthy attention is how George Eustice regards the interaction between markets.
In Eustice World ™, tariffs will have no effect on the UK’s dairy industry because tariffs will also be applied to EU goods coming into the UK. Which would be an interesting take if in the last reported year the UK didn’t operate a surplus of dairy trade with the EU. In short, EU countries buy more of ours than we do of theirs.
No doubt the gap in exports will be taken up by exporting blue cheese to the notoriously lactose-intolerant population of Japan.

ARLA RESPOND WITH HUMOUR

As an illustration of the Eustice Doctrine the DEFRA Secretary claimed that if producers like Arla wanted to continue to trade in the UK, they would have to relocate their production of Lurpak to the UK.
Arla explained in a subsequent tweet, doubtless to George Eustice’s amazement after only six years in DEFRA, Lurpak is subject to legal origin protections. Those mean that Arla can only produce Lurpak® in Denmark with Danish milk. It can’t be produced in the UK.
Arla helpfully added: “Don’t panic, whatever happens with Brexit, we’re sure we’ll be able to find a way to keep Lurpak coming into the UK.”
Dairy production was only a small part of George Eustice’s monumental achievements during his interview.
He went on to anger sheep farmers with a crass assertion so wrong-headed that even his subsequent attempted gloss on his words rubbed salt into their wounds.

FEELING THE HEAT OVER SHEEP MEAT

Andrew Marr asked George Eustice about the effect on sheep farmers. In a no-deal Brexit, red meat exporters face tariff barriers to trade with their largest export market. Over 40% of sheep meat is exported to the EU and that accounts for 90% of all UK sheepmeat exports. The largest market for British sheep meat in the EU is France, which takes around half of all exports.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the tariffs on lamb exports would make UK production uncompetitive in the EU market. Worse, the prospect of a trade deal with New Zealand raises the dual prospect of imports carving UK farmersout of their home markets.
Mr Eustice blithely asserted that UK sheep farmers would face only short term price drops and farmers who farmed sheep and cattle together could diversify into beef as imports from Ireland and the EU would fall due to increased tariffs affecting imports to the UK.
He subsequently clarified: “In my comments on the Andrew Marr Show, I did not say that all sheep farmers should diversify into beef. I said that if tariffs were applied then some mixed beef and sheep enterprises might choose to diversify more into beef because Irish beef would become subject to tariffs, creating new opportunities for British producers.”
That is not what Mr Eustice said. He said mixed cattle and sheep farms could diversify.
Mr Eustice’s suggestion would only have force if he thought most sheep farmers farmed cattle. Otherwise, his answer on sheep tariffs would make no sense in context.
On the latter point, farming organisations expressed dismay and bemusement at Mr Eustice’s ignorance.

FARMERS RESPOND TO USELESS DISPLAY

Phil Stocker, CEO of the National Sheep said: “Mr Eustice’s comments will have angered many of our nation’s sheep farmers, failing to identify the unique and varied nature of sheep enterprises across the country.
“To begin with, to suggest that many of our sheep farmers are mixed farmers is wrong. This assumption will enrage sheep farmers across the UK who have structured their farms to focus on sheep, and it will particularly antagonise our devolved nations where the landscape includes more remote areas of countryside, especially suited to sheep, and where buildings, machinery and farminfrastructure simply would not suit a sudden switch to cattle farming.
“The fact we have many sheep farmers, especially younger farmers and new entrants to the sector who run their sheep on arable farms and on short term grass lets was completely ignored – simply switching to cattle would be impossible for them.
“I find it hard to think that George Eustice really believes what he said This interview leaves us thinking his comments could either be part of creating a ‘we don’t care’ attitude to bolster trade negotiations, or, and this would be highly concerning, it exposes an underlying willingness to see our sheep industry go through a restructure to reduce its size, scale and diversity.”
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “The reality is that failure to reach a trade deal would have a catastrophic impact for our key agricultural sectors that would hit home very quickly, with the sheep industry likely to feel the impact most acutely.
“It would also cause untold disruption to food and other supply chains and complete anarchy at our ports.”
Mr Roberts said that such a failure would also have devastating impacts for EU businesses and that it was therefore in both the EU and UK’s interest to ‘pull out all the stops’ to reach a deal.
Mr Roberts also rebuffed claims by Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the UK ‘will prosper’ without an EU trade deal.
“You cannot cut yourself off from the worlds biggest economy and trading block in the height of a global pandemic, the worst recession for a century and having borrowed a quarter of a trillion to cope and think it’s going to go well.
“Not only would this amount to catastrophic self -harm from an economic point of view, but also at a practical level the country is woefully unprepared to cope with the flow of goods over our borders and all the paperwork and checks that this requires.”
Mr Roberts said that while EU ports facing the UK had undertaken significant changes to prepare for different Brexit scenarios, many UK ports were still in the early stages of planning new infrastructure and would not be prepared to cope with the movement of goods until at least July next year.
“Even if a deal is reached, we are facing significant additional costs and disruption as a result of non-tariff barriers due to the UK’s decision to leave the Single Market and customs union.
“A no-deal will severely escalate these and must be avoided at all costs,” he added.
NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “Ahead of the EU Referendum and ever since, NFU Cymru has been consistent in its messaging that a ‘No deal’ Brexit outcome, which would see the UK trading with the EU on WTO terms, would be a catastrophic position for Welsh farming. The reason for our strong position is that the EU market has been – and remains – the nearest, largest and most lucrative export market for many Welsh products. It is a marketplace where our customers recognise and value the Welsh brand and the high standards it represents.
“Only a year ago the industry was told that the odds of a ‘No deal’ Brexit were ‘a million to one against’ and there was an ‘oven-ready deal’, yet here we are only weeks before the end of the transition period, facing the prospect of ‘No deal’ and high tariffs on our exports.
“The comments made by Secretary of State George Eustice serve to further underline why it is so important to Welsh agriculture that UK Government agrees on a deal that secures access to the EU without tariff barriers and with minimal friction.
“The Secretary of State’s view that Welsh sheep farmers could diversify into beef production to offset the impact of a ‘non-negotiated outcome’ will be of major concern to our sheep farmers, who are some of the most efficient and innovative in the world producing a quality product. The reality is that changing production methods involves long-term production cycles and for many, the significant investment required makes it an unviable option.
“The Minister’s comments on the dairy sector are also concerning and do not account for the fact that we are net exporters of some dairy commodities and that the profitability of some domestic sectors, like liquid milk, is tied closely to the timely export of high-value co-products to the EU, like cream. The idea that many of the major EU dairy processors will have to relocate their operations to the UK is fraught with difficulties and is, in many cases, unviable.
“Being priced out of our nearest and most important export markets for even a short amount of time would have severe consequences for the food and farming sector in Wales.”
TFA National Chair Mark Coulman said: “To suggest that dairy farmers will be saved by forcing Arla to produce its popular Lurpak brand in the UK when it is legally bound to keep its production in Denmark and that dedicated and successful sheep farmers should consider diversifying into beef production, if export markets for our high-quality lamb become closed to us, were not helpful, to say the least. The farming community was hoping for much better than this.
“Somehow, we need to use the short time available to garner the strength to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. This will require a concerted effort with the Government and the farming industry working together to achieve that. Although late in the day, the TFA is committed to engaging in that work,” Mr Coulman concluded.

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Farming

Welsh Conservatives mark Welsh Food and Farming Week

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A FOOD SUMMIT and support for an innovative piece of legislation to precision-breed plants and animals to boost food production is top of Conservative calls on Welsh Food and Farming Week.

The NFU’s annual showcase of the best of Welsh agriculture has seen the Official Opposition in the Senedd call on the Labour Government to deliver on the summit that would bring together farmers, food processors, and retailers.

The meeting would aim to make Wales more resilient to the supply chain disruption caused by the war in Ukraine, currently contributing to the rising cost of living, including food prices.

The Labour Government is currently resisting the Welsh Conservative-proposed summit. The Rural Affairs Minister appeared to ignore Mark Drakeford’s instructions after she dismissed the idea of a Food Summit 24 hours after he said he would instruct her to ask industry leaders if one was needed.

A few weeks later, Mark Drakeford struggled to justify previous comments he made when he said “there is no crisis in the food sector” after the Governor of the Bank of England said families will face apocalyptic food price rises due to supply chain problems caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Shadow Rural Affairs Minister Samuel Kurtz MS is also calling on Labour ministers to back the UK Conservative Government’s Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill. The legislation will remove unnecessary barriers to research into new gene editing technology, long held back by EU’s rules.

The Bill will make the UK the best place in the world to invest in agri-food research and innovation; use technology to develop precision-bred plants and animals to bolster food production, resistance to pests and diseases, and resilience to climate change; and reduce pesticide usage to lower costs to farmers and protect the environment.

Mr Kurtz will be participating in this week’s activities with a farm visit, attending the NFU’s Senedd event, and being one of the speakers at a headline event in Pembrokeshire.

Commenting, Samuel Kurtz, Welsh Conservative MS and Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, said:

“I am delighted that NFU Cymru’s Welsh Food and Farming Week is back. With a host of events planned, it is yet another opportunity for us all to promote the fantastic agricultural sector we have in Wales.

“With food shortages a real possibility due to the war in Ukraine, we need all parts of the supply chain to get together, from producer to retailer, supported by the Welsh Government, to develop a plan to ensure our high-quality Welsh produce continues to find its way onto the tables of the people of Wales.

“Indeed, one way to bolster food production and protect ourselves from hostile actors in future is the passage UK legislation to open up innovation in precision-bred plants and animals. But we need this to apply in Wales too and hope Cardiff Bay ministers back this new law.

“But together, we can all back British and Welsh farming by buying local products, supporting our local farmers markets, butchers, and greengrocers. As the old saying goes: ‘If you ate today, thank a farmer.’”

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies MS added:

“Welsh Food and Farming Week is a great opportunity to talk about the benefits farmers and producers bring to Welsh society and the economy, but we must also highlight areas where the Labour Government need to act.

“The Food Summit that we have been calling for to ensure that the supply chain is resilient to global shocks is essential and the First Minister’s reluctance to act is troubling.

“I hope he uses this week, of all weeks, to change that and bring together all facets of the food sector to ensure food in Wales is stable in price and provision.

“Over the last 30 years the country has gone from being 75% self-sufficient in the food we grow to under 60%. Given what is happening in the Ukraine and the desperate pressure the war is having on food supplies and household budgets. It is vital the Labour Government reverse the decline in domestic food production and use the long-delayed Agriculture Bill to single a renaissance in Welsh agriculture.”

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Farming

Roy Noble joins campaign to stop mass tree-planting on agricultural land

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ONE of Wales’ best-loved broadcasters has joined countryside campaigners in calling on the Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to stop mass tree-planting on prime agricultural land, while also urging them to curtail ‘outside interests’ and ‘juggernaut companies’ from doing the same.

Roy Noble, who has been a constant feature on Welsh radio and TV for decades, said in a ‘personal plea to high officialdom’ that he had “real empathy” with farming families who “are out-bid” for land purchases by “financial combines”, who use it to offset their carbon emissions elsewhere by planting trees. He accused them of having “no empathy for, or real understanding of farming or the countryside”.

Appealing to the Welsh public, the OBE recipient argued that taking away agricultural land for tree planting risked limiting Wales’ ability to be self-sufficient and threatened food security.

He said: “The tragic and awful events unfolding in Ukraine and the world’s extreme financial strain currently impacting on our country should focus the mind and underline priorities, one being self-sufficiency. It stands at around 60% in Wales at present I believe, but experts agree, from the farming world and beyond that it could be vastly improved with official support. Of course, we cannot produce everything, but a greater percentage is a realistic goal.”

Mr Noble, who worked as a teacher before embarking on a career in broadcast, argued that tree planting has benefits when done in the ‘right place with the right trees’ stating: “Without a doubt, planting trees is regarded and accepted as a way to combat the climate emergency and global warming, but ‘right trees, right place, right effect’ is, I feel, an acceptable mantra in that process. Planting on productive, rich arable land, surely is not, and, if done, the implication and effect will last generations.”

He pointed at rural communities in the Cothi Valley, Carmarthenshire, where his ‘maternal lineage lived for many generations’ saying: “Many of the farming families, in all areas of Wales affected, are rooted in their land, their hallowed ground attached as it is to their soul and their very being. Many likely go back to the very early farmers. That heritage deserves recognition and respect, for all they have contributed and will continue to do, feeding a need, in food production, co-operating in climate crisis initiatives, and working with government and agricultural bodies on sensible paths.”

The broadcaster’s intervention comes as a petition, launched by Countryside Alliance Wales and now in its third week, continues to collect hundreds of signatures by the day. The petition, which is online, calls on the Welsh Government and NRW to ‘stop purchasing productive farmland to plant trees which threatens our fragile rural communities, heritage, culture and the Welsh language’.

It further adds: ‘We are deeply concerned about the number of companies purchasing productive farmland for tree planting to offset their carbon emissions and feel that the Welsh Government should further protect our communities from this practice’.

The petition was launched after a Countryside Alliance Freedom of Information request revealed the Welsh Government has spent a staggering £6million buying land with taxpayers’ money.

In February, the Welsh Government announced that new memorial woodlands would be created at three separate sites, including a section of farmland at Brownhill in Carmarthenshire’s Tywi Valley. The plans involve planting at least 60,000 trees, sparking fears that valuable agricultural land will be lost.

In the Carmarthenshire village of Cwrt-y-Cadno, Frongoch Farm was sold earlier last year to Foresight Group – a multi-billion pound private equity firm based in The Shard. It plans to plant thousands of trees across the valley, prompting locals to launch a fightback, arguing that the afforestation will be largely made up of conifers that could damage soil and have a negative impact on the landscape.

There are also multiple reports of farmers being targeted through cold-calls made by agents working for investors wanting to buy farmland to plant trees.

Rachel Evans, Director of Countryside Alliance Wales said: “It is truly a great honour to receive the support of Roy Noble in what is an incredibly important campaign. We cannot stand by and watch productive agricultural land get swallowed up for tree planting initiatives that while well intentioned, have long term, negative, irreversible consequences for farming families in Wales and threaten our ability to produce our own food. Every signature represents a voice and alongside Roy Noble, we urge the Welsh public to ensure their voices are heard by signing our petition today.”

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Farming

Pembrokeshire County Show returns to Haverfordwest in August

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WALES’ largest agricultural show, which attracts around 100,000 visitors and competitors to the county town of Haverfordwest is back this year after a two-year Covid enforced break.

Pembrokeshire County Show will take place on August 17 and 18, the first open to the public since 2019 it promises to be a celebration of rural life in the county.

The last full-scale show, which would normally attract around 100,000 visitors and competitors, was held in August 2019 followed by a virtual event in 2020 and a scaled down version in 2021 for animals and members only.

Mansel Raymond, Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society president said, “We are very excited about the prospect of seeing our wonderful members, competitors, trade stands, sponsors and community coming together once again this August.

“Whether you’re a Pembrokeshire local or just visiting we’re sure you’ll have a fantastic day out.”

There will be some changes this year to the layout of the County Show to make it a better experience for everyone including the trade stands and visitors.

There will be several smaller rings as was the case in the 2021 members only show.

To enable a much larger public viewing area it has also been decided to remove all marquees and trade stands from the immediate main ringside.

This year there will also be a new open air ‘street food’ area. To enable a smooth transition, it is recommended that all trade and catering stands secure their pitches as soon as possible by visiting www.pembsshow.org or ringing 01437 764 331.

Sponsorship and Pembrokeshire County Show have been a successful combination for the last 45 years.

Sponsors have enjoyed promoting their businesses through the varied mediums of banners, announcements, show rings, buildings, equine and livestock classes and championships over the years.

Anyone interested in sponsorship can contact Richard Cole on 01437 764 331 or complete the form on the society’s website.

Tickets for society members and the public will go on sale in the near future. Visit www.pembsshow.org for up-to-date details of this year’s event. You can also follow Pembrokeshire County Show on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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