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Farming

FUW welcomes WG Brexit paper

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Brexit needs a framework for Wales: Glyn Roberts, FUW

THE FARMERS’ UNION OF WALES has welcomed the white paper on Brexit launched by Welsh Government First Minister Carwyn Jones and the leader of Plaid Cymru Leanne Wood.

The joint Welsh Brexit plan calls for continued participation in the Single Market, as well as a ‘balanced approach’ to immigration, linking migration to jobs.

First Minister Carwyn Jones stated that the paper ‘balances the message which the Welsh people gave us’ of the Brexit vote ‘with the economic reality that makes participation in the Single Market so important for the future prosperity of Wales, and indeed the UK as a whole’.

FUW President Glyn Roberts responded to the plans, saying: “I welcome the stance taken by Welsh Government in their Brexit white paper, which acknowledges that ‘continued participation in the Single Market to support the future prosperity of Wales’ is essential.

“The livestock producers which make up the vast majority of Welsh farmers are particularly reliant on exports to the continent, and the FUW has made it clear since the referendum that full and unfettered access is essential to Wales.

“Around 30% of Welsh lambs were exported to continental Europe, and the complexity of pan-EU food supply chains means there are acute threats for other sectors.”

The Brexit white paper also call on the UK Government to make good on promises that Wales would not lose funding as a result of Brexit, as well as calling for recognition that there needs to be a ‘fundamentally different’ relationship between the devolved governments and the UK Government.

The FUW has continually stressed that a transition period of at least 10 years is necessary in order to phase in and allow the industry to adjust to new agricultural policies post-Brexit and, in addition, has argued that agricultural support following our exit from the European Union should be maintained at levels which at least reflect those levels which would have been in place should the UK have voted to remain in the EU.

Furthermore, recognising the different role the Welsh and devolved administrations have to play has been welcomed recently by the FUW.

Speaking about the role the Welsh Government should play in negotiating our exit from the EU, Mr Roberts said: “Devolution should be respected within an overarching UK support framework in the context of making our withdrawal from the European Union and, as such, we welcomed Theresa May’s commitment to work with the devolved administrations and her recognition that Wales is different to the rest of the UK. That call has today been mirrored by Welsh Government and we will continue to work with them to develop a framework that takes Wales’ unique position into account.”

A third of Wales’ population live in rural areas where farming and businesses which rely on agriculture play an important role in local economies; in sparsely populated areas, where centres of population have less than 2,000 people, around 10% of workers are employed in agriculture. That equivalent to 14% of those employed outside the public sector.

“Taking these figures into consideration, the FUW has highlighted for many years the wider role agriculture plays in terms of supporting Wales’ rural and wider economy and that’s why we are stressing the fact that agriculture needs to be allowed to adjust to new policies post-Brexit and that support is maintained in line with other EU countries.

“The chances of a bad trade deal or no deal at all increase the faster the UK Government proceeds, which is why the FUW has consistently called for a lengthy transition period. Otherwise we risk being like lemmings rushing towards a cliff edge.”

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Farming

Lynx trial decision near

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Eurasian lynx: Could be introduced next year

THE NATIONAL SHEEP ASSOCIATION (NSA) is concerned to hear rumours that Secretary of State for the Environment Michael Gove may be prepared to fast-track a decision on lynx release.

It is calling on representative farming bodies and individuals to unite and take action to voice unanimous concerns over the proposals.

NSA is aware the Lynx UK Trust is continuing its campaign work while the application is considered, and feels it is essential Mr Gove appreciates the substantial and widespread concerns rural communities have around the proposed lynx release.

Lynx became extinct in the UK around 1,300 year ago.

The medium-sized cats can grow to around 1.3m, are apex predators in their environments, and hunt by ambush in forest habitats.

Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, said: “I know Mr Gove is interested in these proposals and I am certain now is the time for individual farmers, land managers and their representative organisations to make their feelings heard. I would go as far as urging every farmer who has views over this to write to the Secretary of State so he can appreciate the strength of stakeholder concerns, which go way beyond the losses that will be suffered by sheep farmers.”

A verdict on whether lynx should be released in Kielder Forest, Northumberland, is still pending after Lynx UK Trust submitted a formal application to Natural England earlier this year. The Government advisory body is currently reviewing information, and is expected to announce a decision in the coming months.

The Trust has also asked landowners in Wales if they would be happy to allow lynx to roam their properties and its chief scientific advisor, Dr Paul O’Donoghue, claims that five Welsh landowners have expressed an interest in lynx being placed on their land.

Dr O’Donoghue said in Europe, the kill rate was 0.4 sheep per lynx per year.

Mr Stocker continued: “The risks to landscape and wildlife, heavily invested in for years, are real. Alongside disease and welfare risks, coupled with concerns around whether any lynx population could be genetically sustainable on our heavily populated island. This of course in addition to the resultant losses and stress on farmers.

“It is not a simple matter of a compensation package putting everything right. We know from sheep farmers in Finland, Norway and elsewhere that losses go way beyond those predicted. I simply cannot accept that the conscious release of a high-level predator is compatible with the high level of animal welfare expected of British farmers.”

The Lynx UK Trust has announced an agreement with Lloyds Syndicate ARK Speciality Programs, which they say will insure the entire sheep population against lynx attacks throughout the period of a trial – if it goes ahead.

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Farming

FUW criticise Assembly Committee

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Committee naive: Gavin Williams, FUW

ACCORDING to the FUW, a National Assembly for Wales committee has been misled into making a draconian recommendation that would play into the hands of multi-billion pound telecommunication companies.

The union has also suggested that the committee may have been naive in not identifying the true motives of those advocating such moves.

The National Assembly for Wales’ Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee published a report entitled Digital Infrastructure in Wales, which included a recommendation that ‘The Welsh Government should consider making future public subsidy conditional on supporting government policy to improve digital infrastructure, and to ensure that it meets the needs of consumers in the future, in particular any likely convergence between broadband and mobile internet connectivity.’

Responding to the report in a letter to Committee Chair Russell George AM, Gavin Williams, chairman of the FUW’s Land Use and Parliamentary Committee, said: “The Farmers’ Union of Wales has long been a proponent of increasing both broadband and mobile phone coverage in Wales, and has worked closely with Ofcom and others for more than a decade to highlight the needs of Wales’ communities in terms of both.”

Mr Williams goes on to highlight the fact that the union is unaware of any instances where farmers have refused to enter into a fair agreement with commercial companies responsible for digital infrastructure – but is aware of many cases where agreement has been reached between farmers and communication companies but planning permission has been refused, and of instances where companies have behaved in unacceptable and unprofessional ways in order to try and install communication infrastructure on private land.

“There may well be a handful of cases where landowners have been uncooperative, but we would suggest that members of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee have been misled if they believe this is so widespread that it warrants a draconian recommendation to Government, said Mr Williams.

“Rather, we would suggest that the underlying motive for those who have suggested such a barrier exists at any scale is the wish to boost company profits by seeking changes which would allow farmers and landowners to be bullied into signing contracts which do not represent the commercial nature of work and installations.”

Mr Williams concludes his letter by saying, “We share the Committee’s frustrations regarding barriers to broadband and mobile coverage, but find it wholly unacceptable that a National Assembly for Wales committee has been led to believe – some would say naively – that it would be desirable to see multi-billion pound commercial companies boosting their profits by forcing family farms to accept one-sided agreements that in no way reflect the commercial nature of mobile and broadband infrastructure.”

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£1m to improve soil management

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Not well understood: Soil biology

THE AGRICULTURE ​AND HORTICULTURE DEVELOPMENT BOARD (AHDB) and the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) have announced an ambitious new research partnership to develop practical soil biology management guidance.

The five-year partnership looks to improve on-farm understanding of soil health by benchmarking current academic and industry knowledge, developing and validating indicators of soil biology and soil health in research trials and integrating a far-reaching knowledge exchange programme throughout the five-year programme.

This forms an important part of AHDB’s strategic commitment to accelerating innovation and productivity growth through coordinated research and development and knowledge exchange.

The new £1​m project is part of the AHDB GREAT soils programme, complementing a £1.5m initiative looking at soil structure, announced by AHDB last year.

Dr Elizabeth Stockdale, partnership lead from NIAB, said: “We recognise that there are already a broad range of novel soil health management strategies being used in an array of production systems; we want to bring together the best research and the most effective practical approaches on-farm by establishing up to eight farmer research innovation groups across the UK so we can help farmers develop their own site-specific best practice.”

Dr Amanda Bennett, AHDB resource management scientist, said: “Interest in soil health has mounted in recent years but soil biology is not particularly well understood, with research to date failing to generate practical materials to support on-farm decisions. Farmers and growers have themselves taken up the mantle and a great deal of work is being done out in the field experimenting with different approaches to optimising soil biology.

“This exciting new partnership will work closely with farmers, growers and advisers to draw together and build on all that knowledge and experience to create accessible guidance and tools to help farmers improve their soils’ health.”

Dr Simon Bowen, BBRO knowledge exchange & crop progression lead, said: “Soil health is both a longer-term and cross-rotational challenge and the collaborative approach across different crop sectors over the five year programme is a unique and vital research platform. Crops such as sugar beet create an opportunity as a spring-sown break crop for many growers in the East of England to deploy a range of tools and tactics. These include the application of organic amendments, the growing of over-winter cover crops and the use of different soil cultivation approaches. The challenge to measure the impacts of these different agronomic approaches in order to deliver in the most effective improvement in soil health has never been so important​.​”

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