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Farming

Welsh farmers on the brink: Could we soon see protests like in Europe?

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WHILE scenes of agricultural protest sweep across Europe, from the bustling streets of Brussels to the historic avenues of Berlin, Britain’s farmland remains notably calm. Yet, farmers have been gathering in large numbers, voicing their concerns in packing out cattle markets rather than taking their issues directly to the streets.

The relative quiet of the farmers in Wales might seem puzzling against the backdrop of widespread European demonstrations. The agriculture sector across the whole of the UK, in fact, is grappling with significant challenges.

Recent surveys revealing alarming concerns among fruit, vegetable, and dairy producers about their survival in the coming years.

Nearly half of the UK’s fruit and veg growers and a third of dairy farmers fear their operations may not last beyond 2025, a statistic that paints a grim picture of the industry’s future.

One might speculate that Brexit has shielded British farmers from the tumult affecting their European counterparts.

Tractors parked at the farmer’s meeting in Carmarthen last week (Image C Campbell/Herald)

However, this assumption quickly falls apart when one delves into the myriad issues facing UK agriculture.

The crisis is not of isolation but of scale, economics, and policy. British farms are generally larger than those in the EU, which may buffer them against some pressures but does not immunize them against the high costs of fuel, stringent environmental regulations, and the uncertainties post-Brexit policy changes bring.

In Wales, the situation is particularly acute. The Welsh government’s Sustainable Farming Scheme, set to redefine agricultural funding post-Brexit, demands significant environmental commitments from farmers.

They are required to dedicate portions of their land to tree planting and wildlife habitats, a mandate that many argue is impractical without undermining their business viability.

Coupled with the reduction in environmental payment schemes and sweeping regulations on slurry and fertiliser usage under the new nitrate vulnerable zones (NVZ) policy, Welsh farmers find themselves at a crossroads.

The dissatisfaction runs deeper, touching on the essence of farming identity and its place in society. British farmers, particularly in Wales, express a profound concern over their perception by the public and the political establishment. There is a fear of far-right or populist groups exploiting their cause, a worry compounded by a perceived lack of public empathy towards the agricultural sector. This cultural and political disconnect has left many feeling isolated and misunderstood, reluctant to adopt the protest tactics seen elsewhere in Europe.

Moreover, the shadow of bovine tuberculosis (TB) looms large, with Welsh farmers calling for more decisive action to tackle the disease that has led to significant cattle losses. The government’s refusal to consider a badger cull, seen by many as a necessary measure, has added to the sense of frustration and helplessness within the farming community.

The challenges are manifold: rising operational costs, from fertilisers to machinery fuels, have squeezed margins to breaking points, while environmental and regulatory demands place additional burdens on an already struggling sector. Yet, despite these hurdles, the response from Welsh farmers and their British counterparts has been markedly different from the uproar seen across the Channel.

A coffin placed at the meeting in Carmarthen last week as a stark warning from farmers (Image: BBC)

This divergence perhaps speaks to a broader narrative about the British agricultural ethos – one of quiet endurance and a focus on adaptation over confrontation. The farming community in the UK, and particularly in Wales, is at a pivotal moment, navigating the complexities of modern agriculture, environmental stewardship, and economic survival.

In response to the crisis, Welsh Government Minister for Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths MS, has invited the presidents of the two farming unions to an urgent meeting to hear their views and discuss the serious concerns of Welsh farmers and rural businesses.

The meeting has been arranged following an urgent request from NFU Cymru President Aled Jones who met with Minister Griffiths earlier this week to express the deep sense of feeling and anguish that the industry is feeling at this moment in time.

NFU Cymru President, Aled Jones said: “We met with the Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths on Tuesday this week to express the deep concerns of the industry and we left her in no doubt over the strength of feeling and seriousness of the situation following the robust feedback we have received from our series of roadshows. I welcome the fact that the Minister recognises the serious concerns of farmers and as such has agreed to meet and look at ways to address these issues.

“Having travelled the length and breadth of Wales in the past week and met with thousands of members, it is clear that the current Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) consultation and the proposals laid out in it are causing a deep sense of anguish and concern as members contemplate the future scheme and the implications on their own individual business.

“The Minister has assured me this remains a genuine consultation and so I would urge anyone with an interest in Welsh farming to respond and let the Government know directly the strength of feeling that exists amongst our farming community. The information, briefings and response template are all available on the NFU Cymru website.

“The current consultation which proposes that the Basic Payment Scheme will be fully phased out in 2029 with no long-term stability payment in its place within the SFS is set against the backdrop of a challenging time for Welsh farmers. Agricultural inputs are over a third higher than pre-covid times, water quality regulations have added a huge regulatory and cost burden on farming businesses and bovine TB continues to cause heartache to farming families.

“NFU Cymru will take the concerns of the industry directly to the Minister at our meeting, and we will clearly set out our key asks.”

Samuel Kurtz MS, Shadow Rural Affairs Minister (Pic: Herald)

The conservatives, in opposition in Wales, have been vocal about what they feel is Welsh Labour’s lack of support for the farming industry.

Responding to news that protest action amongst farmers may soon be “inevitable”, Samuel Kurtz MS, Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, said: “The Labour Government must listen to the farming industry before it is too late.

“Welsh farmers have had to deal with a host of policy changes in a short space of time, their frustration is not being heard by the Labour Government and they are left feeling protests are the only option.

“There is a real sense of frustration and anger in the sector at the moment, therefore I am urging the Welsh Government to pause this consultation and to redouble their efforts to get the scheme right so that it works for Wales’ farmers.”

He later added: “Had the Welsh Government taken seriously my calls to pause the SFS consultation, then changes to the proposal could have been made. Sadly, my calls, like the calls from the farmers themselves were ignored.

“The inevitably of farmers protesting is linked to the Welsh Government’s inability to listen.

“I will stand shoulder to shoulder with farmers during any protest. My message to them is only stick together, be respectful, but the Welsh Conservatives will be with you.”

Cefin Campbell, Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for Mid & West Wales, who spoke at the large farmers’ meeting on Thursday (Feb 8), said: “Enough is enough was the resounding message amidst the 3,000 heavy crowd in Carmarthen.

“The frustration our farmers and rural communities feel towards the Welsh Government and Westminster on many issues was all too clear. I will do my best to make sure their voice is heard in Cardiff Bay, and I would urge the Welsh Government to accept the unanimous call made by those present for a meeting, where these concerns can be discussed further”. 

Farming

Farming Connect announces Agri Academy Class of 2024

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THE NAMES of this year’s intake selected to take part in the Agri Academy 2024 have been announced.

The successful candidates will meet for the first time at a reception at the Royal Welsh Show on Tuesday 23 July.

Exactly 300 alumni have completed the Agri Academy since the first cohort was recruited in 2012. Demand for the much sought after spaces has grown year on year and this year’s recruitment process was exceptionally competitive with a record number of candidates. Previous alumni have credited the Agri Academy for forging invaluable friendships and business connections that lay the foundations for a network of support and knowledge that can be tapped into for years to come.

The Agri Academy provides an action-packed programme of training, mentoring, support and guidance over 3 intense residential sessions and including overseas study visits and has 2 distinct elements.

  1. Agri Academy – for individuals over 21 and aimed at supporting and inspiring the next generation of farming entrepreneurs and trailblazers in Wales.
  2. Junior Academy – aimed at supporting young people aged between 16 and 21 years who hope to carve out a career or set up a business in the food or farming industries.

Later this year, candidates selected for the Agri Academy programme will undertake an overseas study visit to Ontario, Canada while the Junior Academy candidates will be visiting Norway.

One of the candidates selected this year is Emyr Wyn Owen, who manages the day-to-day operations of Rhug Estate’s organic farm near Corwen, which involves a diverse range of livestock enterprises.

Emyr is a strong believer in peer-to-peer learning and is hoping that the Agri Academy will spark ideas and provide experiences that will enable him to return to the business with a fresh mindset and enthusiasm to take on the next set of challenges and opportunities.

Another participant is Dylan Wyn Jones, a farmer’s son who has set up a Hobbit House hospitality business to add value to the family’s Sheep and Beef farm near Mallwyd, Machynlleth.

He is looking forward to learning about different agricultural systems that will help him develop new approaches to his current business.

“The experience will be an opportunity to make new connections in the agricultural sector and to share ideas and learn from them.”

Selected for the Junior Academy, Lisa Jenkins from Llanybydder looks forward to broaden her network with like-minded young Welsh farmers to address the challenges facing the industry as well as to learn more about different farming systems across the country and further afield.

She’s a fourth-generation farmer who is currently working on the family beef, sheep and dairy farm as well as working part time at another neighbouring dairy farm.

Another candidate selected for this year’s Junior Academy is Emma Corfield who, having last year completed her A-levels in Biology, Maths and Business, has returned home to work alongside her father on the mixed beef, sheep and arable family farm near Newtown.

Emma is passionate about educating the public on the role of farmers and promoting Welsh produce. She is hoping that the experiences the Agri Academy will provide, through media and communication training will give her the skills and confidence to pursue these goals.

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Farming

FUW sets out its key priorities at the Royal Welsh Show

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THE Farmers’ Union of Wales has set out its robust asks of the UK and Welsh Governments despite the challenges presented by navigating through a constantly changing political landscape.

Speaking at the Royal Welsh Show this week, FUW President Ian Rickman reiterated the fact that the Union’s stance remains constant and relentless in an ever changing political arena.

“Welsh farming is at an important crossroads which will determine our future for decades to come. Whilst our direction of travel depends heavily on the development of devolved agricultural policies, we must not forget how decisions made by the newly elected UK Government will effectively determine the degree of funding the Welsh Government has available to support agriculture and rural development.

“This, in turn, will have an impact upon the extent to which Welsh food producers can be expected to compete against producers in other UK nations and across the globe on various levels.

“Despite these challenges, our focus as a Union is to keep-on lobbying governments relentlessly for the best possible outcomes for our members, Welsh agriculture and our rural communities.

“The recent Senedd Cabinet reshuffle and UK General Election certainly brought about considerable change to the political landscape in Wales, not least the appointment of Huw Irranca-Davies MS as Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and a new UK Labour Government holding a majority at Westminster.

“However, turmoil in Cardiff persists as Vaughan Gething’s resignation leaves the door wide open for yet another reshuffle within a matter of a few months.

At a UK level, the FUW is calling for a fair, multiannual funding settlement of £450 million per year in EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) legacy funding for agriculture and rural development in Wales.

“The role of this support in underpinning food production, environmental protection and rural communities in Wales cannot be underestimated.

“We also need to see a far more robust approach to future trade deals with other countries and trading blocs if we are to protect Welsh farmers and UK food security. Food imports and exports must be subject to the same customs and adherence to similar standards if we are to provide a level playing field for both UK and EU producers.”

The FUW is calling for incentives and support for farmers to invest in on-farm renewable energy production that benefits local communities. Food production should be recognised as a national asset and the use of productive agricultural land to meet tree planting and other environmental targets should be halted.

Procurement policies must prioritise public sector support for Welsh and British businesses, recognising the range of benefits such properly designed policies can deliver for society. The newly elected UK Labour Government must also protect and promote the UK’s high animal health and welfare standards and bring in a law that ensures that all dogs should be kept on a lead in fields near or adjacent to livestock.

“Despite the uncertainty in Cardiff, we call on the Welsh Government to build strong relations with the newly elected UK Labour Government to ensure that Welsh agriculture receives the attention it deserves. EU CAP legacy funding allocated for Welsh agriculture and rural development must be protected for this purpose and such funding should continue to be co-funded using national funds.

“The ongoing process of negotiating a revised Sustainable Farming Scheme that provides stability for our food producing family farms must also continue if the scheme is to be implemented in 2026. It is crucial that the scheme considers economic, social and environmental sustainability on equal footings and is accessible and achievable for all active farmers in Wales.

“We also want to see the adoption of practical and innovative technological solutions as a central part of the Control of Agricultural Pollution ‘NVZ’ Regulations review. The process must be based on robust data and evidence while seeking to address water quality issues through innovation rather than regulation.”

Mr Rickman added that the Welsh Government has to, now more than ever before, adopt a scientific and holistic approach to bovine TB eradication in Wales by working with the Technical Advisory Group in investigating the effectiveness of current testing regimes and methods for addressing disease transmission by wildlife.

“Finally, moves towards net zero must be sustainable and based on robust science in such a way that actions carried out in response to short-term targets are not reversed. Reducing our carbon footprint must be manageable and realistic, and must not compromise production or the economic viability of farming businesses.

“The coming days are a celebration of Welsh agriculture and the farmers who continue to produce high quality food and protect the environment against a constant backdrop of political uncertainty and challenge.”

Mr Rickman said that the impacts of such uncertainty across the UK and some fundamental policy questions would be the focus of the FUW’s seminars being held over the coming days, as panels of professionals tackle a diverse range of areas of concern for Welsh farming.

“As always, in addition to these events, our staff and Presidential Team will be meeting officials and stakeholders in order to highlight FUW’s farming members’ good news stories and industry concerns. Rest assured, despite navigating a constantly changing political landscape, our constant and relentless stance remains; to represent the interests of Welsh farmers,” concluded Mr Rickman.

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Farming

Tory call to bring forward Senedd debate on Welsh farming

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FARMING is vital to the people of Wales, whilst making a valuable economic contribution to the Welsh economy, and our local communities. It’s simple, no farmers, no food, the Welsh Conservatives said in a statement.

Yet, they add, the Welsh Labour Government’s Sustainable Farming Scheme, and the UK Labour Government including just 87 words about farming in their General Election manifesto, evidently shows Labour’s distain for our farming community.

In the Senedd today, the Welsh Conservatives are bringing forward a Senedd motion celebrating the importance of farming, whilst calling on Labour to bring forward a plan for our farmers, and ensure a new Sustainable Farming scheme has the support of the farming community.

Commenting ahead of the debate, Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, James Evans MS, said: “Labour continues to take our farmers for granted. Unlike Labour, the Welsh Conservatives would make sure we have a Sustainable Farming Scheme that works for our farmers, not against them, safeguarding the future of our crucial industry.

“In the Senedd next week, I look forward to bringing forward our Welsh Conservative debate on the importance of farming, showing the Welsh Conservatives is that friend the farming community needs. It’s simple, no farmers, no food.”

The motion which will be debated today reads:

To propose that the Senedd:

  1. Celebrates the valuable economic contribution of Welsh farming to the Welsh economy.
  2. Acknowledges the benefits of events such as the Royal Welsh Show, the National Eisteddfod and summer shows in supporting rural communities and promoting the Welsh culture and the Welsh language.
  3. Supports the strength of feeling in the agricultural community against the sustainable farming scheme, and the powerful message of no farmers no food.
  4. Calls on the Welsh Government to:

a) ensure a new sustainable farming scheme has the support of the farming community, with food security and environmental protection at its heart, highlighting the powerful message of no farmers no food; and

b) work with the UK Government to expand on its 87 words regarding farming in the UK Labour general election manifesto, to bring forward a plan for farming and farmers across the United Kingdom.

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