THE SACKING of former natural resources and food minister, Alun Davies has come at a crucial time for Welsh agriculture. Amid concern about the Welsh Government’s handling of farm subsidies, falling stock prices, and the impact of new “greening” measures to be imposed on Welsh farmers, the Cardiff Bay government has, yet again, failed to appoint a full-time cabinet post to rural and farming affairs. The ministerial reshuffle following his sacking has seen Mr Davies’ portfolio split between two existing Cabinet members and the addition of Rebecca Evans AM to the ministerial team. Economy and Transport Minister Edwina Hart will look after agriculture, fisheries and food, Sport and Culture Minister John Griffiths has had environment added to his portfolio and Rebecca Evans is promoted from the backbenches to become deputy minister, for agriculture and fisheries. Ms Hart will attend the Royal Welsh Show at the end of July as part of her newly defined role. Mr Davies was sacked after trying to force civil servants to dig into the financial affairs of opposition politicians who spoke out against his farming policies. As Pembrokeshire County Council’s Deputy leader, Rob Lewis, knows: it is against the rules to use officers or council infrastructure to further party political ends. It has been suggested that one potential victim of his attempted smear campaign was Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams, who is married to a farmer. Soon after the former minister emailed his officials demanding details of agricultural subsidy payments received by 5 opposition members, the official @Laboursenedd Twitter account began posting questions about subsidy payments made to Ms Williams’ husband. It is unlikely that the messages posted on the official Labour news feed were unconnected to Mr Davies’ attempted smear of those opposed to his policies. The FUW has said it is looking forward to working with the new Welsh Government ministers with responsibilities for agriculture, fisheries and food and will be seeking early talks with them. FUW president Emyr Jones said: “Obviously, we are disappointed that the portfolio has been split again, although we welcome the fact that farming gets a dedicated deputy minister for agriculture. We have worked with Rebecca Evans in her role on the Sustainability Committee and she represents a predominantly rural area. “As profitable farming and a sustainable environment are interlinked we also look forward to working with culture and sport minister John Griffiths who has received the environment policy brief. “We will now seek to meet the new deputy minister as soon as possible to ensure that work on the range of outstanding CAP issues does not lose momentum,” he added. Stephen James, NFU Cymru President, said, “Whilst NFU Cymru doesn’t expect to agree with Ministers on all matters it will come as no surprise that we have had a particularly difficult relationship with Alun Davies AM. “His decision, last December, to transfer 15% from Pillar 1 to Rural Development Plan Wales measures was particularly galling. News of his sacking comes however at a crucial time with the vitally important decision on how this money is now to be deployed. Therefore, the timing of this announcement is particularly critical. “It is now time to look forward and re-establish a good working relationship, once again, with the Ministers that represent our industry. We accept that there will be occasions when we will have differing views on policy matters, that has always been the case, but likewise, I’m sure there will be many occasions where we will agree on the way forward for our industry. Stephen James concluded, “It would be remiss of me to not also mention, while I have the opportunity, our concerns about the rural portfolio being split once again. This didn’t work efficiently or effectively following the 2011 election when there was a clear lack of integration of policy. Thankfully, the First Minister recognised this in March 2013 by putting everything back under the Natural Resources and Food portfolio. We are looking to see this position redressed, once again, as quickly as possible.”
NSA Lambing List closes
AS A much-valued service to its members, the National Sheep Association’s (NSA) Lambing List provides farmers with a place to advertise for much-needed lambing assistance from students and others seeking work experience each year.
The list annually provides an annual matchmaking service for around 400 farmers and veterinary and agriculture students. And despite a second lambing season under the constraints of Covid-19 restrictions the list has once again successfully helped farmers across the UK at this busy time of year.
The list has now closed and will reopen for advertisements for the 2021/2022 lambing season in the Autumn.
NSA Communications Officer Katie James says: “The popularity of the NSA Lambing List grows each year.
“The guidance it provides to farmers using it and the links it offers students means it is incredibly valued by all parties involved. For most, the past two lambing seasons have taken place during Covid-19 restrictions meaning potential shortages of staff due to travel constraints or illness from the virus itself and additional measures to consider such as separate accommodation for temporary staff and social distancing.
“All at NSA are therefore pleased that the list has been able to help remove some of these concerns and provide a trusted method of securing extra help for its sheep farming members.”
In a previous survey of NSA members using the list, more than 90% of respondents said they valued the list and would use it again to try and source additional lambing help from veterinary and agriculture students.
Students who will be looking for work experience to assist their application to university or as part of ongoing veterinary studies are encouraged to consult the list from November 2021 when it becomes available once again to aid the student/farmer matchmaking.
NSA members will be able to add details of their available placements for their next lambing season from October.
MPs urge level playing field
IN its new report—Seafood and Meat Exports to the EU—the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee expresses urgent concerns for exporters of highly time-sensitive fresh and live seafood and meat shipments to the EU, particularly small and medium-sized businesses.
Despite overcoming initial “teething problems” the new barriers small seafood and meat export businesses face could render them unviable, and factories and jobs may relocate to the EU.
The Committee’s report, therefore, calls on the Government to ease burdens, including:
• as a matter of priority, seeking agreement with the EU on digitising the certification of paperwork such as Export Health Certificates
• taking a flexible approach to the compensation fund for seafood exporters—including reconsidering the cap of £100,000 on individual payments, and providing similar support to meat exporters
• providing the same help to small meat and seafood businesses with the costs of extra red tape for exports to the EU as they can receive for moving goods to Northern Ireland
• establishing a ring-fenced fund to help create new distribution hubs, which allow smaller consignments to be grouped into a single lorry load, so reducing transport costs.
The Committee criticises the fact that controls on EU seafood and meat imports will not commence until 1 October 2021, with checks at the border only commencing from 1 January 2022.
This has placed British businesses at a competitive disadvantage and reduced the incentive on the European Commission to negotiate measures that would lessen the burdens facing British producers.
The report finds that adhering to the revised timetable will be ‘crucial’, to ensure food safety and to create a regulatory level playing field.
Neil Parish MP, Chair of the EFRA Select Committee, said: “British businesses have acted with incredible agility and perseverance to adapt to the new processes for exporting meat and seafood to the EU.
“With the many checks causing delays and costs, this hasn’t been easy. We are concerned that in the absence of equivalent checks for imports from the EU to Great Britain, there will be serious long-term repercussions for our producers.
“As it stands, the playing field is not even, and the Government must ensure that the new timetable to introduce import checks is adhered to.
“Even as “teething problems” are sorted, serious barriers remain for British exporters, and it is now imperative that the Government take steps to reduce these.
“It must be pragmatic in seeking an agreement with the EU to reduce the red tape that harms both sides, and in the meantime, crack on with giving practical support to small British businesses to sell their produce abroad.
“By the end of the year, the Government must have developed a digital system for certifying EHCs for imports from the EU, enabling it to then negotiate a reciprocal arrangement.”
Cattle prices exceed averages – and expectations
BEEF cattle prices in England and Wales have hit the milestone of £4 per kilo, making this average the highest on record in a number of years.
The average deadweight price for steers for the week ending 24 April was 401.4p per kg which is 83p higher than this time last year and 67p above the five-year average.
Market prices at present are being influenced by a number of unique factors, including strong UK domestic retail demand, a lack of supply due to stockpiling in late-2020 ahead of the Brexit deadline, and changes in trade patterns caused by both Brexit and the Covid pandemic.
Whilst the impact of these factors on demand for beef in 2021 is unpredictable, newly released data from the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) suggests that no radical shift is likely in the supply of animals over the coming months.
During 2020, total calf registrations in GB were up marginally (0.5%) on 2019. In Wales, the figures show an increase of 1.4% in beef calf registrations, whilst dairy calf numbers increased by 3.2% on the year. For 2021 so far, beef calf registrations are currently trending 1.1% below last year.
Glesni Phillips is a Data Analyst at Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC). She said: “As we approach the peak calving period for spring calving herds in Wales, it is expected that BCMS monthly registration figures will increase over the coming months.
“However, the suckler cow herd in the UK has been retracting in recent years and currently, it shows no signs of re-building quickly. Prime heifer slaughterings during 2020 and the first quarter of this year, for instance, are higher than recent historic levels.
“These figures would suggest that supply onto the domestic UK market will likely remain tight for some time. Domestic retail figures for beef are strong, and with barbeque season coming up we should continue to see good demand for good quality, locally produced beef.”
A more detailed analysis of the BCMS calf registrations data is available in HCC’s latest Market Bulletin on the HCC website.
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