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Women in Farming present ‘View on Brexit’



CONTINUED access to a single market, an integrated rural training and education policy and the risks of reduced financial support for farmers are just some of the critical issues facing Welsh farm businesses.

These are some of the key findings set out in a new report which a group of more than 20 women supported through Farming Connect’s Agrisgôp management development programme, recently presented to Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment and Rural Affairs at a meeting in Cardiff Bay.

A group women working in agriculture in Wales who were supported through Farming Connect’s Agrisgôp management development programme, recently presented their new report, ‘A view on Brexit’ to Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment and Rural Affairs at a meeting in Cardiff Bay.

“As we prepare for a future outside the EU it is vital we hear the views from as many people as possible to ensure Wales’ future agriculture policies benefit everyone within the industry, not just a select few.

“Women are under-represented in senior positions within agriculture and their voice often goes unnoticed. We must do more to raise the profile of women by improving their skills, confidence and ensuring the relevant support systems are in place. This is how we can best achieve our shared vision of a prosperous, resilient agriculture industry promoting Wales’ present and future well-being,” the Cabinet Secretary said.

Working within three regional groups, these dynamic, focused women have over the past year collaborated to produce their report which will now contribute to the conversation which the Welsh Government is already having with other key stakeholders and which will directly influence the development of an Agricultural Policy for Wales post-Brexit.

With each group facilitated by trained Agrisgôp leaders, who work with like-minded individuals to develop ideas and business propositions through action learning, many of the women first got together at one of Farming Connect’s annual ‘women in agriculture’ forums last year, when the Cabinet Secretary invited delegates to set up their own regional forums and to provide their perspective on key issues facing the industry today.

Agrisgôp leader, trained coach and mediator and farmer Alice Lampard, who leads a group which has met regularly in South West Wales since the beginning of this year, emphasised the importance of empowering and encouraging women to ensure their voices and opinions are heard and valued at this important time.

“Women are recognised as having a hugely influential role in many farm businesses. Largely unsung heroes who are expected to manage farm and work commitments alongside family duties, there has never been a more important time for us to get together and speak out.

“Wales now has an opportunity to lead the way in policy development and thinking in terms of the new British Agricultural Policy and resulting Welsh policy which will sit alongside.

“This new report identifies the considerable challenges which inevitably lie ahead while also setting out recommendations on what the industry can do to capitalise on the opportunities which, we hope, are also within reach,” said Ms. Lampard.

The topics of discussion given most attention were summarised in seven specific headings namely trade; education; financial support; animal health and welfare, cross cutting themes including planning policy, broadband and rural support services; marketing and legislation.

Agrisgôp leader and financial expert Sally Herdman led the South East women’s group.

“The rural economy is particularly fragile with a high dependency on public sector jobs. A hard Brexit that leads to a suppressed rural economy, coupled with further austerity measures puts female workers in a vulnerable position.

“Closer working relationships and improved communications between the industry and Welsh Government will be the catalyst to ensuring that Wales is represented at the UK Government’s negotiating table, and I’m delighted that Agrisgôp has been able to support these groups and ensure that the female perspective is taken into account,” said Ms.Herdman.

Ceredigion AM Elin Jones said:

“I was pleased to meet with the women from across Wales to discuss the impact of Brexit on agriculture and rural Wales. As a Rural Affairs Minister for four years I found the vast majority of farming representatives were male, so to have so many women involved in a meeting like this was excellent and a breath of fresh air.

“The decision to leave the European Union won’t just affect men it will be all of us in rural Wales.”

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Mid and West AM Simon Thomas added:

“We had a good discussion on the implications of the leaving the European Union and what it might mean for our food we put on the table, its impact on farmers, the environment and our rural areas. It was useful to have an input from voices traditionally not heard when it comes to agriculture. We talked about the importance of access to the European single market for our producers, the potential cost of food and whether Westminster will start to listen to Wales when it comes to agriculture and the environment. I look forward to working with the forum in the future.”

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Cabinet Secretary kick starts land management debate



One size doesn't fit all: Lesley Griffiths argues for different approach in Wales

CABINET S​ECRETARY for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, has outlined her vision for land management in Wales post-Brexit and has kick-started a conversation with the industry on how this can be delivered.

Speaking at the NFU conference in Birmingham, the Cabinet Secretary outlined the importance of devolution and reiterated her commitment to ensure Wales does not lose a penny of funding as a result.

Speaking at the conference, the Cabinet Secretary said: “As we prepare to leave the EU, the case for devolution is stronger than ever. The nature of our farming is different and our rural communities are different. There is no one size that fits all.

“Farming is a vital part of our rural economy. I often have to remind people from outside the sector that over 80% of Welsh land is owned and managed by Welsh farmers, foresters and environmental bodies. We need them and the work they do to help deliver our ambitions for a prosperous Wales.

“I want to start detailed discussion with stakeholders about the details and to get their input on what works.

“We must work towards a shared vision. I know farmers can adapt but it is government’s job to give them the time and tools to do so.

“The transition period must be a real one, it must be well-planned and it must take place over a number of years. There is too much at stake – economically, socially and environmentally – to not get this right.

“This is worth taking the time to get right. It is a once in a generation opportunity and I am confident we can make swift progress.”

Responding to her comments, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “Within days of the June 2016 EU referendum we had issued a call for a realistic post-Brexit transition period for farming, and for future policies to be developed slowly and investigated thoroughly, so the Cabinet Secretaries comments are naturally welcome.”

During her speech, Mrs Griffiths highlighted the need for clarity over UK funding arrangements for Wales, and that Wales should not lose a penny in rural funding, echoing calls made earlier in the day by the FUW President.

The Cabinet Secretary also gave assurances that she would “…fight to protect funding returning to Wales from going elsewhere,” adding, “We must continue this vital support because I cannot think of another part of Welsh society which makes such a multi-faceted contribution to our nation. Farming is a vital part of the rural economy. It is the social anchor of our rural communities, and farmers are the custodians of the land that underpins our natural environment.”

“We need to make the most of the opportunities we have to improve what we already do, while also ensuring tools are in place to cater for possible adverse impacts of Brexit,” Glyn Roberts said.

Mr Roberts added that: “The FUW has valued and seen the fruits of our recent work with the Cabinet Secretary and her wider team and we are pleased to see such significant progress. We look forward to continuing to work closely with the WG as we seek to protect the future of family farming in Wales.”

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It’s all go for Moat Goats



A family business: Meg and Damian McNamara with 4 month old Iori

GOAT farming couple Meg and Damian McNamara of Moat Village Farm, New Moat, Pembrokeshire, have been recognised for keeping the countryside vibrant by the Pembrokeshire FUW Countryside Business Award 2017.

The award, a £200 cash prize, perpetual trophy and a year’s free membership of the FUW, is presented every two years to someone who, 40 years of age or under, has developed their own business in rural Pembrokeshire.

“In presenting the award we recognise the fantastic work our young people are doing to keep our rural areas of Pembrokeshire vibrant and economically active places. Meg and Damian are very worthy winners of the award indeed and we can be proud to have such an inspirational farming couple in our midst,” said FUW Pembrokeshire County Executive Officer Rebecca Voyle.

Meg and Damian were both raised on dairy farms in Pembrokeshire, and always had a strong ambition to farm themselves. Although they both work outside of agriculture, Damian works as a Process Operator at Valero Refinery and Meg is a qualified Bank nurse, currently on Maternity Leave, they have managed to fulfil their farming ambition alongside keeping their day jobs. Meg also participated in the 2017 Agri Academy Business and Innovation Programme.

They bought their first land, a 12.5 acre field, in April 2015 and also farm 72 acres of Meg’s family’s farm. Their first goats arrived just 7 months later, having decided that this diversification would be both challenging and rewarding. Their herd now numbers 200 breeding female Boer goats.

Their agri-food business, Moat Goats, operates from farm to fork with home-bred kids reared by their dams. The male kids are finished for meat and the females are retained to increase the size of the breeding herd. Grass is grown both for grazing and for silage, with surplus sold for extra revenue. Mixed leys with herbs are also being tried to exploit health and production benefits.

Talking about a usual day on the farm Meg said: “We start by feeding the goats, checking and observing that they are ok, then it’s on to bedding down and we also spend time on farm work such as fieldwork and farm maintenance tasks. We also aim to post a picture or post on social media every day, as well as answering phone calls, responding to emails, and making sure that we market the business properly.”

As the male kids fatten and finish, Meg and Damian organise the slaughter in Maesteg, Bridgend and butchering of the carcasses locally at Cig Lodor, Rosebush. They then promote and sell the product online and started selling goat kid meat direct from the farm in October 2016. Now they supply meat boxes to customers throughout the UK via courier delivery, using social media for marketing. They have also supplied several local butchers with their goat meat, such as Chris Rogers in Carmarthen, T.G.Davies in Newport, Andrew Rees in Narberth, Gary the Butcher in Llandysul and DMS Llanelli and sell from the farm itself.

Speaking about the need to diversify, Meg explained: “We were aware that we needed to diversify in farming as we didn’t have enough land or time to compete with dairy, beef, sheep farmers.

“We experimented at home with jam making, cheese making, bought some heritage pigs before falling in love with 2 pet Boer cross goats and deciding to make a business from this interest.”

Meg and Damian exploit every opportunity to raise awareness of their quality produce, devising recipes, posting photos of the goats and the meals online and also supplied meat for a cookery demonstration at the 2017 Pembrokeshire County Show.

The business is going strong but there were some challenges the couple faced when setting the business up. Damian said: “The biggest challenge has been learning how to feed, handle and manage a goat herd – they require attention to detail which we have learnt through trial and error. Juggling farm and business commitments with family life and work off the farm remains an ongoing challenge especially with our young baby.”

Not ones to sit on their laurels, the couple are very aware that there are challenges the sector and their business faces. “Marketing and increasing our customer base remains a top priority for us but it’s also about raising awareness and promoting the benefits of goat meat – it’s low fat, low cholesterol, and high in iron.

“But of course, farming goats in north Pembrokeshire there is always the concern of a TB breakdown. So we take care of complying with all the necessary biosecurity and work hard to minimise contact with other herds,” said Meg.

Damian added: “We will deal with all of these challenges as a family unit and will continue to raise awareness of our business and the nutritional value of goat meat through social media. That way we hope to be selling more carcasses to the retail customer. We also intend to expand the business and therefore retain all the female kids for a few more years. Currently, we’re aiming for a herd of approximately 400 breeding females.”

It is clear that Meg and Damian are passionate about their produce and they encourage everyone to give goat meat a try.

“Goat meat is really tasty! It’s similar in texture to lamb and really easy to cook. Try something like pulled shoulder of goat kid or a simple quick-cook recipe such as chops, cutlets or sausages and have a look on our Facebook page for inspiration,” said Meg.

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FUW’s cautious welcome for Gove speech



Michael Gove: Clarity sought following keynote speech

THE FARMERS’ Union of Wales (FUW) has welcomed commitments by Secretary of State Michael Gove to focus on supply chain policies and his acknowledgement of the need for an appropriate balance between devolution and common UK frameworks post Brexit.

Speaking at a National Farmers Union conference in Birmingham, Michael Gove gave a number of commitments to English farmers, while also acknowledging the need for Brexit to be considered in terms of entire supply chains which operate across the UK.

Michael Gove also said: “Leaving the EU requires us to develop new policies on food and farming. For the first time in almost half a century, we are free to design policies from first principles that put British farmers, and consumers, first.”

Responding, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “In light of Brexit, there is an understandable focus on farming, environmental and land use policies, but the FUW has been arguing for entire supply chains to be considered – be it the supply chain for food, carbon, green energy or wildlife.

“Farmers are key links in lengthy supply chains which involve all sorts of industries and deliver a host of public benefits – not least the food which arrives daily on supermarket shelves. We need holistic Government policies which deliver benefits for consumers and fair rewards for farmers, and interventions where there is market failure.”

Mr Roberts said it was therefore welcome that the UK Government has accepted the need to consider entire supply chains, including those which extend across the UK and further afield.

“There has been welcome engagement by UK Governments with farming and environmental bodies over the past eighteen months, but there is concern that government engagement with others along supply chains needs to be stepped up,” he added.

Mr Roberts also welcomed the Secretary of State’s acknowledgement of the need for devolved powers over agriculture to remain firmly in the hands of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – but for there to be a balance between such powers and frameworks which prevent distortions within the UK and wider markets.

“The FUW is an emphatic supporter of devolution, but all mature governments recognise the importance of agreeing frameworks with other nations and countries. The alternative is a free-for-all which distorts markets and leads to inequality between producers which damages relationships and compromises trade.”

Mr Roberts said agreement on such frameworks needed to be reached urgently given the thirteen or so months before the UK left the EU. He therefore welcomed Mr Gove’s assurance that UK Governments were “…working together to ensure there will be UK-wide frameworks on areas of common concern like animal and plant health and no decisions are taken that harm our own internal UK market.”

Responding to the UK Government’s plan to introduce a cap on English farm payments, Mr Roberts said that capping payments had been FUW policy since 2007, and that as a result Welsh payments had been capped under new regulations introduced in 2015.

“However, we have already written to DEFRA minister George Eustice to highlight our concerns that the benefits of capping would be lost if no limit is applied to agri-environmental payments, as large estates and charities would cream off money which would be better spent on family farms,” he added.

“The FUW has made it clear since June 2016 that Wales’ funding should continue at at least current levels, and clarity on this and other matters is essential. England seems to have had these assurances, yet Wales is still in the dark.”

Mr Roberts said the FUW welcomed Mr Gove’s assurance that devolved powers would not be diluted, and that UK Governments were working together on common frameworks, but highlighted the degree to which planning in Wales by both farmers and government was hampered by a lack of certainty.

“With the budget for the 2019 BPS due to be finalised in October this year, there is a real sense of urgency.”

Mr Roberts also highlighted the need for well-meaning policies to be carefully assessed rather than taken at face value.

“Well intentioned policies set out in lengthy sentences must be thoroughly investigated in terms of actual figures and their likely impacts on our farms, rural communities and supply chains,” he said.

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