by Glyn Roberts, FUW president
It is hard to believe this is my final column for 2018 – it certainly has been a turbulent year, with Brexit, funding for agriculture, the havoc caused by the weather, bovine tB and agricultural pollution remaining high on the agenda among many other farming matters.
But it was a year where we made some considerable progress in our #FairFarmFunding campaign. I am pleased to say the FUW’s lobbying on not Barnettising Welsh rural funding, as part of the #FairFarmFunding campaign, has been successful. Of course, the budget available to the Welsh Government remains to be confirmed and it will no doubt be one of our main priorities to get clarification on in 2019.
throughout the year we have regularly met with Welsh and UK Government staff, including First Minister Carwyn Jones, our Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths and Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn, as well as DEFRA ministers Michael Gove and George Eustice, and Wales Office minister Alun Cairns.
this is in addition to attending and giving evidence to many Welsh Assembly, UK Parliament and other committees on more occasions than ever before during a calendar year, taking every opportunity to represent the interests of our members.
With that in mind, the FUW has been consistent in its view and lobbying of politicians that the best way to minimise disruption and economic damage to agriculture and other industries is to remain within the Common Market and the Customs Union after leaving the EU.
Anything that falls short of that will bring with it obstacles in terms of trade and other issues, with inevitable consequences for our industry and economy. By the time this paper went to print, we were still waiting to hear what the decision in the House of Commons would be on the proposed deal with the EU. But members can rest assured we will continue to put their best interests, those of Wales and our economy first in everything we do in the year to come.
On the more domestic front, issues like the weather, future Welsh farming policies, farm safety, Quarantine Units, agricultural pollution and the bovine tB regime have been the subject of ongoing discussions within the union and government officials.
The weather this year will of course be remembered by many. the consequences of the wet spring and prolonged drought over the summer continue to be felt across the country.
to address the issue we called for a Welsh Government weather summit, which was held at the Royal Welsh Show (see picture above). It was as an important step, taking action to minimise current and future impacts of the weather on Wales’ agriculture industry. We emphasised the need for decisive action to be taken as soon as possible in terms of the relaxation of rules and other measures.
Of course, it remains to be seen if enough has been done to ensure that essential winter fodder is available on farms across Wales and we will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Another major commitment for us this year was of course theWelsh Government’s ‘Brexit and our land’ consultation. We discussed the consultation with thousands of members from all regions of Wales and all sectors, as well as others with an interest in the agricultural industry.
this engagement took place at twelve FUW open meetings, as well as through the union’s normal democratic committee processes. In our response to this (more details on page 12) we made it clear that the overwhelming view of our members was that any major changes, as proposed in the consultation, to rural policies should be informed by knowledge and considered
“Rest assured that in the coming year the FUW will continue to be at the forefront of the fight
to protect the interests of Wales’ farming families and rural communities.”
analysis of the post Brexit economic landscape and trading environment.
We also called for detailed and thorough analysis, modelling and piloting to investigate likely impacts of policies on individual farm businesses, sectors, regions and those involved in upstream and downstream agricultural supply chains.
the post-Brexit policies likely to affect our main competitors in devolved regions and the remaining European Union also need to be taken into account, and analysis of potential impacts of competitive advantages and market distortions due to differing policies need to be carefully considered.
In addition, we stressed that we need full understanding of the validity and possible impacts of the proposals in terms of compliance the World trade Organisation Agreement on Agriculture.
Given the responses we had from members, we made it clear that you – the FUW’s members – rejected the proposals put forward by the Welsh Government.
Notwithstanding this, we saw merit in some elements of the proposals, and in turn have agreed a set of five key principles with NFU Cymru. this saw the launch of a joint principles paper ‘A Welsh way forward’ at the end of October at the Pierhead Building in Cardiff (see picture above).
Assembly Members, including Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths, heard how we joined forces to agree on a set of policy principles which should define a way forward that is uniquely Welsh and based on placing food, farming, livelihoods, communities and Wales’ environment on a firm post Brexit footing.
We cannot highlight enough that we are committed to working with Welsh Government and will continue to do so in the New Year. the Cabinet Secretary has said the current consultation should be considered the beginning not the end of the process and we believe this is the opportunity to design and build a policy fit for purpose. I think it is safe to say this aspect will keep our policy team busy in the year ahead.
Bovine TB also continued to be a significant issue for us. It has been around 13 months since the establishment of the regionalised tB programme in Wales. Although the programme is still at an early stage, the data available does not show any significant decline in tB levels. Data from tB dashboard shows that 94.8 per cent of herds were tB free in Quarter 2, 2018. this is a fall compared with the same time in the previous year (94.9 per cent). Data from Defra also shows the number of cattle slaughtered in Wales between August 2017 and August 2018 was just over 10,000. this is a rise of 2.3 per cent on the following year. Similarly, numbers of disease restricted herds in Wales has risen from 799 to 824 over the same time period.
Last year there was a 75 per cent increase in tB incidents on the previous 12 months in the Intermediate tB Area North. In response, Welsh Government announced that contiguous herds in this area would be subject to a further two contiguous tests at six month intervals. We remain concerned that the ‘go-to’ position for tB control in Wales continues to centre upon
increases in cattle testing, despite a frustrating lack of progress on tackling the disease in badgers.
With all of this in mind, we also remain concerned about the farm-level information provided on the Wales ‘ibtB’ bovine tB mapping information system. this information system remains open to the public and can leave individual farms, including chronic breakdown herds, vulnerable to anti-cull extremists.
We have written to the Cabinet Secretary on this issue in October and November this year and publically reiterated these concerns at the recent ibtB workshop. All but one stakeholder attending that workshop in Wales supported the FUW stance on this issue. I can assure members that we will continue to press for a system which ensures restricted access to the information on ibtB.
Given the many policy and regulatory changes relating to bovine tB control in Wales, there needs to be improved consultation and engagement with industry on the ‘next steps’. the future of tB control in Wales must include a review of the current measures being undertaken to determine if they are fit- for-purpose.
the rules surrounding the establishment and certification ofQuarantine Units also occupied our time this year. At present, the number of QUs in Wales is extremely low. From communications with our membership, we know that the requirements for establishing and maintaining a QU are too burdensome and unattainable for most livestock keepers. there are also special concerns over the cost of establishing a QU for tenant farmers.
the lack of QU facilities means some livestock keepers attending shows must instead adhere to the six day standstill rule and where shows are in close succession, exhibitors are inevitably forced to choose between the events. this has led to a decline in attendance at smaller shows. Given that many exhibitors ‘cut their teeth’ at smaller shows, preserving the viability of such shows is essential to the industry.
We have designed a survey to gather views on the current QU rules and I would encourage you to fill it in – the results will be presented to the Welsh Government as part of the QU review process next year.
During 2018 the FUW have continued its intense collaboration with other industry stakeholders in the Wales Land Management Forum sub-group looking at pollution from agriculture. the group produced a report, tackling Agricultural Pollution, at the request of the Cabinet Secretary. the report included 45 recommendations based on a five prong approach of better advice and guidance, improved range of investment incentives, developing a voluntary, farmer-led approach to nutrient management, ensuring the formal regulatory regime is sufficiently robust to achieve the outcomes required and identifying and promoting innovation.
Since submitting the report over Easter 2018, the Welsh Government announced in November that new pan Wales regulations will come into force in January 2020. these will include nutrient management planning, sustainable fertiliser applications linked to the requirement of the crop, when, where and how fertilisers are spread and manure storage standards.
In conjunction with this Natural Resources Wales have started the process of visiting all dairy farms in Wales to assess yard and slurry storage in relation to SSAFO and oil storage regulations. I can assure members that we have questioned why added regulations will be introduced before the visits are completed.
We regret this change of emphasis away from partnership working towards added regulation, as this will introduce added costs for the agriculture sector during uncertain times, when the vast majority of farm businesses in Wales care for the environment and comply with regulations.