by Glyn Roberts, FUW president
THE momentous nature of 2016 in terms of the UK’s decision to leave the EU will dominate New Year’s messages in all sectors, from social care to construction, banking to pharmacy. But the implications for agriculture may be more far reaching than for any other sector: For decades, membership of the EU has burdened farmers and the food supply chain with ever growing levels of bureaucracy, more so than any other industry, leading many farmers to decide on June 23 2016 ‘enough is enough’. But the other side of the coin has been market protection against cheaper non‐EU products produced to far lower standards, and an EU agriculture and rural development budget far greater than that devoted to any other sector. As UK politicians debate and argue over the many post‐Brexit scenarios, our freedom to make decisions without interference from pro‐farming EU members such as France is seen by many as an opportunity to slash support for farming and open up our markets to cheap food. Equally vocal are those arguing for farm rules and restrictions to be ratcheted up while ignoring economic realities and the hypocrisy and dangers of doing this without demanding greater market protection against products not subject to the same restrictions. Meanwhile, those highlighting the dangers such policies represent for our rural communities are few and far between, and it is no overstatement to say that the farming industry and our rural economies are facing the biggest challenge since the Second World War. In anticipation of these dangers and a Brexit vote, the need for a proper assessment of the economics of Welsh agriculture and rural communities was the central message of the FUW’s manifesto, launched at the 2015 Winter Fair. Since then, the union has been at the forefront of moves to undertake such work, and as members of Wales’ Strategic Framework Group we have worked alongside others in collating and analysing data in order to identify and quantify the risks and opportunities represented by post Brexit policies. Meanwhile, communicating the essential roles played by Welsh agriculture in terms of food production, biodiversity, climate change and economics has been a focus of our #FarmingMatters campaign, and in our regular meetings with Welsh and UK Government Ministers and other interested parties. As part of that campaign, we have held regular farm visits for politicians, attended by upstream and downstream businesses which are reliant on the industry in order to demonstrate the complexity and economic importance of the supply chains in which farmers are the key link, and I would take this opportunity to thank all those who have hosted and attended these events. Whilst the work in emphasising this importance to those outside the industry has gone on, we have also consulted internally with members on the nature of Brexit and post‐Brexit policies, agreeing on the key overarching principles which should guide UK governments in terms of negotiations ‐ both with the EU, and between the UK’s devolved regions. Meanwhile, FUW staff across Wales have continued to provide invaluable frontline services for members in terms of assistance, advice and guidance, as well as lobbying on matters such as bovine TB and Nitrate Vulnerable Zones ‐ all issues which will be altered radically by the decisions made in relation to Brexit over the coming months and years. As pro‐European politicians start to recognise the dangers of arrogantly dismissing genuine concerns regarding the nature of the EU, many pro‐Brexit politicians are finding there is a world of difference between pre‐referendum promises of Utopia and the real world of trade negotiations, global politics and economics. With speculation of what Brexit might mean in terms of timescales, trade deals, and legislation changing on a daily basis, we are facing a level of uncertainty and risk not seen for generations. I know of many in their teens and twenties who were heartbroken by the referendum result and what its implications would be for them and the future of our countryside. What better incentive could there be for us as an industry and politicians on all sides of the debate to work to ensure there is a bright future for those who will take our places in the decades to come. We have a responsibility to offer answers, set out visions, and fight for the policies which will make Wales’ future outside the EU a better one, and the FUW is committed to doing just that as the independent voice for Welsh farming. I wish you all a prosperous New Year.