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Farming

Home Office accused over labour shortages

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WESTMINSTER’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee questioned the Minister for Safe and Legal Migration at the Home Office, Kevin Foster MP last week.

Following this meeting, the Chair of the Committee, Neil Parish MP, said: “Labour shortages in the food and farming sector have caused a human and animal welfare crisis. But the Home Office is simply not listening. It is not supplying enough visas for foreign workers in a timely, efficient manner.

“Employers need workers and cannot get them in time. Pigs are being culled and wasted because there are not enough butchers in the abattoirs. Fruit is rotting on trees and crops are not being planted.

“There appears to be a disconnect between this reality and what Mr Foster says.

“Again and again during our evidence session, he said visa systems were in place to resolve the labour shortages.

“The food and farming sector tells us this is not the case.

“We need the Home Office to respond to what farmers and businesses are saying and to stop blaming the sector for being at fault.

“We need an effective cross-Government food and farming labour strategy that deals with immigration and other issues – and we need it fast.

“We have a world-class food production capacity in the UK, but the shortage of workers means we are in real danger of exporting our industry – which means we’ll be importing more of our food

“We were pleased to learn from the Minister that a temporary visa scheme is to be extended to cover the ornamental horticulture sector.

“That’s good news for the daffodil growers of Cornwall – and we thank Mr Foster for that.

“But much of the rest of the farming and food sector is in crisis and we ask the Minister to please listen to its entirely justified cries for help.”

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Farming

Pembrokeshire producer celebrating Porc from Wales Week

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PORC from Wales Week (24 – 30 January) is an annual celebration of artisan producers and retailers that specialise in breeding and supplying high quality porc and porc products, from traditional Welsh sausages to Italian style charcuterie.

With a ‘How far is your fork from our porc’ theme this year, leading figures from Welsh food such as broadcasters Samantha Evans and Shauna Guinn of Hang Fire Southern Kitchen fame, and a host of food bloggers from Wales, will be showcasing the very best of locally sourced porc and where consumers can buy it from.

Experts in their field

Wales is home to small-scale and artisan porc producers specialising in creating a unique, hand-reared product; a consequence of this is that it is often only available to buy directly from the producer or local independent shops, like butchers.

How food is produced and the impact it has on the environment have increasingly become important factors for consumers in recent years. For generations, Welsh farmers have played a pivotal role in creating and maintaining the rural landscapes that we know and love, both physically and culturally.

The industry is currently a growing one in Wales with an increasing number of producers starting a new business and research has shown that 2021 sales of pork products UK-wide (fresh and frozen, cuts and processed) were 15% higher than in 2019.

Aled Harper of Snipes Bay Meats, near Haverfordwest, said: “We are small scale farmers in the heart of Pembrokeshire, breeding and rearing pigs to produce quality porc, dry cured bacon and handmade sausages.

“I believe that quality comes not only with skill and attention to detail, but also with dedication and passion. The trick is not to become complacent. That’s when your product will become just another product and not the unique, artisan end product that we aspire to.

“The bonus of buying porc from your local producer is that you know where your meat is coming from. Buying local helps keep everything moving along nicely in our small supply chain. There’s a certain satisfaction when you buy local – its benefits go way beyond the actual product you buy. The effects will be seen on a community level, an economic level and of course on a more holistic, environmental level.”

When Hang Fire met Scott Quinnell

To celebrate Porc from Wales Week, Sam and Shauna will be showing rugby legend Scott Quinnell how to cook porc ‘tomahawks’ with West Indian salsa verde, sweet potato steaks and jerk porc bonbons. 

Sam Evans of the Hang Fire duo said: “We’re delighted to be part of this year’s Porc from Wales Week. We’re all about cooking fresh, local, quality ingredients, with excellent sustainability credentials, so really, porc ticks all our boxes!

“We’ve created this amazing dish of porc tomahawks with a West Indian salsa verde and Scott Quinnell is going to help us make the dish in an exclusive masterclass. We’ll show you (and Scott!) how easy it is to prepare and cook porc and introduce you to some exciting flavours.

“What makes porc so special is that it’s so easy to cook with. We love cooking porc on the BBQ, but we’re excited to show you (and Scott) how you get the best from this fantastic produce in your own kitchen. You can get some cracking results from porc, and people shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with flavours. And it’s not just about bangers on the barbie; porc is great for roasting, frying, stir-frying and slow cooking. So, why not pop to your local butcher’s shop or your local pork producer and ask your butcher for some delicious porc. You won’t be disappointed!”

You can find Hang Fire’s recipe and more information on Porc from Wales Week at www.porcweek.wales

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Farming

WG won’t act to help tenant farmers

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UNSCRUPULOUS landowners are attempting to evict farm tenants to regain possession of land let under Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies for tree planting purposes.


TFA Cymru reports that some landowners, in an effort to cash in on Welsh Government subsidies are trying to use a procedural trick to force tenants off productive farmland.


And it looks like the Welsh Government proposes to do nothing to stop them.


The Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 allows a landlord to use what is called a Case B notice to quit on a tenant if the landlord has gained planning permission for non-agricultural use of the land.


However, tree planting does not require planning permission and therefore a Case B notice to quit cannot be validly served by a landlord who intends to plant trees on the land which is subject to the notice.


TFA Rural Surveyor, Caroline Squire, said “We are seeing a lot of instances where landlords are attempting to resume land for tree planting by using Case B notices. Tenants are not able to contest these notices, so they are quite frightening when they arrive.


“However, tenants can ask for the notice to quit to be referred to arbitration to determine that it is an ineligible notice.


“It is critically important that the notice demanding arbitration is served by the tenant within one month of the date of the landlord’s notice to quit. Failure to respond within the deadline will render the landlords notice valid.


“The only circumstance in which a Case B notice to quit for tree planting might be valid is if the tree planting was ancillary to a development which had planning permission – for example, if there was planning permission for a timber processing facility and the land around it was required to grow timber to be used within that facility.


“Similarly, a landscaping requirement for a housing development might also fall within scope. However, straight tree planting without a co

nnected change of use confirmed by a planning consent will always be out of scope for case B,” said Caroline.


We asked the Welsh Government what steps it was taking NOW to protect tenant farmers’ rights and prevent the abuse of the notice system by rogue landlords.


We also ask what further steps, if any, it proposes to ensure tenants have increased security, tenant farms remain viable, and productive farmland is not destroyed in the pursuit of a subsidy.


And the answer to those questions was “not much”.


A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We encourage tenants in receipt of Case B notices to seek immediate advice from a relevant professional, such as the Tenant Farmers Association, and act within the statutory deadlines.”


They continued to offer even less than “not much”: “We need to plant 86 million trees by the end of this decade if we are to meet NetZero carbon emissions by 2050.


“Properly managed, this also offers a considerable opportunity to the rural economy to create green jobs and skills in harvesting timber for high-value goods.


“We want to work with Welsh farmers and landowners to achieve this.”


In short, the Welsh Government will do nothing to address any current problems and prefers planting trees to food production.


Local MS Sam Kurtz, the Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, said: “This is an alarming situation and one that deserves serious action from the Welsh Government.


 “We already know that Welsh farmers are facing unprecedented pressure from foreign investors to sell off their land for tree planting. If that wasn’t enough, it now appears their attention has shifted to landlords – and so, putting further stress and strain on our tenant farmers.


“The Welsh Government must take serious and immediate action, and not wait for the introduction of the new farming support schemes. It is they who have created the lucrative woodland creation project. Except, it’s not Wales’s farming community who are benefitting from these projects, neither are the people of Wales.


“If we see the landscape of Welsh farms cut up, sold off, and diminished in favour of mass afforestation, then so too we will see the demise of Wales’s rural communities and economies.”

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Farming

Food coalition demands supply chain fix

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A COALITION of leading food and farming businesses warns that the UK faces a deepening food supply chain crisis unless the government takes urgent action to fix the industry’s structural issues.

Last week, Minette Batters chaired the Food Security Summit: Serious about British food. The organisations there called on the government to set a positive food and farming policy that creates a resilient and sustainable supply chain to underpin domestic food security.

ONGOING ISSUES

The summit took place at the end of a year that saw the first-ever mass cull of healthy pigs in the UK, a shortage of seasonal workers that threatened fruit and veg being left unpicked in fields, a shortage of lorry drivers, a limited choice of products on supermarket shelves and a rise in imports due to domestic supply chain issues.

Alongside this, record inflationary pressures have affected energy, feed and fertiliser prices.

NFU President Minette Batters explained, “Britain’s farmers are world-leaders in producing climate-friendly food and, over the past 18 months, have been working hard to keep shelves and fridges full despite many being impacted by severe supply chain issues, particularly worker shortages.

“Government has tried to paper over the cracks with short-term fixes, but if we want to avoid this crisis continuing, long-term solutions are urgently needed to ensure a resilient supply chain that enables us to continue supplying everyone at home with fantastic produce, as well as leading on the global stage.”

“The UK Government has tried to paper over the cracks with short-term fixes, but if we want to avoid this crisis continuing, long-term solutions are urgently needed to ensure a resilient supply chain that enables us to continue supplying everyone at home with fantastic produce, as well as leading on the global stage.”

Minette Batters has been calling on the government to ensure that Britain maintains its self-sufficiency level.

She went on to say, “A start would be a serious commitment from government to, at the very least, maintain Britain’s food production self-sufficiency level at 60% and helping to create an environment for farm and food businesses to thrive and compete in the coming years.”

WORKING TOGETHER

Throughout the pandemic, there have been issues, including rising energy prices and worker shortages. These have combined to increase the pressures on the food industry.

Recognising the importance of the summit, Jayne Almond, Director of Policy and Corporate Affairs, Food and Drink Federation, said: “There is no better industry than food and drink – from farm to fork – to level up the United Kingdom.

“With a footprint in every constituency, food and drink provides local jobs and makes a significant contribution to the UK’s economic performance. However, supply chain issues and rising costs challenge manufacturers like never before.

“This important summit must consider how we can work together to support our producers and manufacturers, while ensuring UK shoppers continue to get the food and drink they want, at the right price.”

THE PIG SECTOR IS IN MELTDOWN

In what has been a heartbreaking year for the pig sector, Dr Zoe Davies, Chief Executive, National Pig Association, explained that we all need to pull together. She said: “The UK pig sector is still in meltdown as worker shortages continue to impact our ability to process the number of pigs we already have on farms.

“The entire food supply chain and government must pull together and resolve the backlog now, or we will have no independent pig producers left.

“Already 60% of the pork eaten in the UK comes from the EU – it would be a travesty to see this figure increase as more healthy UK pigs are culled on farms and their meat wasted.”

A CLEAR STRATEGY IS NEEDED

Andrew Opie, Director of Food and Sustainability, British Retail Consortium, acknowledged how hard food retailers and producers have been working post-Brexit; he explained, “The government needs a coherent food policy to maintain UK production, including a clear strategy for solving labour shortages throughout the supply chain.

“Food retailers and producers are working hard to adapt to a post-Brexit world, ensuring supply chains can continue to deliver quality and affordable food for everyone.”

INCREASING COSTS

Ash Amirahmadi, Managing Director, Arla Foods UK, said that pressure on the supply chain would result in price increases: “The UK food and farming sector is experiencing shortages in a range of areas caused by local and global factors that are putting real pressure on the supply chain, increasing costs and, ultimately, prices.

“The UK is one of the most environmentally competitive beef producers globally.

“We have the opportunity to further enhance this position and become a global leader through improved use of data and technology at farm level and adopting a whole farm approach to sustainable beef production.”

Bob Carnell, Chief Executive, ABP UK, added: “These strains are not going to go away as we work to become even more sustainable and compete for the best people to come into our industry.

“Collaboration between government, the industry and farmers is the only way to address this for the long-term and all of us at Arla are ready to play our part.”

Mr Carnell reiterated the need for a level playing field when comparing British meat to imported meat. He said, “The UK is one of the most environmentally competitive beef producers globally.

“We have the opportunity to enhance this position further and become a global leader through improved use of data and technology at farm level and adopting a whole farm approach to sustainable beef production.

“To help deliver and give UK consumers and other markets access to the best beef in the world, we need to attract and retain more skilled workers from home and abroad and ensure a level playing field for quality British meat when compared to imports.”

ENGAGING WITH GOVERNMENT

The food security summit comes after Minette Batters, and her team met MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum to discuss the important issues ahead for farmers in 2022. The event was sponsored by Fay Jones, MP for Brecon and Radnorshire.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak paid tribute to British agriculture and spoke about the importance of rural communities.

In his remarks, he paid tribute to the work the NFU does in Westminster and on the ground, supporting members across England and Wales.

BUY LOCAL

Mr Sunak encouraged all those attending to buy local and sustainable British produce over the festive period and also spoke about the government’s eight new agri-food and drink attachés – something the NFU has long been lobbying for.

Minette Batters thanked the Chancellor for the government’s support for businesses during the pandemic, which provided a lifeline for many businesses across the food and drink sector.

She reiterated to the Chancellor the importance of maintaining our self-sufficiency in food, the need for the government to support innovation in the sector and the importance of ensuring that the government’s agenda reaches rural areas.Ms Batter concluded: “Whatever the rules post-Christmas, the NFU will continue to work hard to engage with MPs and Peers from all political parties to keep farming at the heart of Westminster.”

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