Alun Davies and Emyr Jones
THE Farmers' Union of Wales has called on natural resources and food minister Alun Davies to honour his commitment to make Welsh farms more efficient - by reducing regulatory burdens which add to costs and reduce profitability.
In a letter to the minister, FUW president Emyr Jones listed 21 changes to Welsh Government policies which should be implemented to improve farm efficiency and profitability. He also called for the changes to be included in a Farmers' Charter of the kind issued in the Republic of Ireland.
The call comes after Mr Davies, in a Farmers Guardian article on March 14, accused the Welsh farming unions of lacking leadership, arguing for the "status quo" and "taking their cue from the loudmouth at the back of the room".
He also claimed they were the biggest barrier to his vision of revolutionising Welsh agriculture through CAP reform and creating a more efficient industry which had shed its "dependency" on subsidy.
In a response published alongside Mr Davies' comments, FUW director of agricultural policy Nick Fenwick stated: "The FUW's views are established by a democratic process, and when the minister says we have no leadership what he means is he would like our views to be dictated by a minority which shares his views.
"That is not going to happen: we will remain a democratic organisation and will continue to lobby, complement, criticise, or correct in line with our members' views. We will not give in to bullying, and believe the industry would be better served if the minister respected a majority which holds different views to him."
President Emyr Jones' letter states: "I do not believe your comments published in Farmers Guardian regarding the farming unions merit any response from the FUW over and above what we have already said.
"However, control over many of the areas where savings could be made and profitability enhanced lies not with farm businesses, but with Government, and, given your public commitment to making Welsh farms more profitable. I believe there is now an opportunity for you to demonstrate that commitment by reducing those regulatory burdens.
"Moreover, far from arguing for the 'status quo', as you claim, the FUW has been vociferous over many years in calling for changes which are within the Welsh Government's gift which would improve the efficiency of Welsh farm businesses."
FUW's 21-point plan for change
WE believe that the Welsh Government should honour its latest commitment to making Welsh farm businesses more efficient and profitable by:
Introducing practical Quarantine Units over the coming 12 months, and ahead of any changes to the County Parish Holding (CPH) system and its associated rules, in order to allow farmers to better access markets and circumvent the six-day standstill rule without compromising animal health. This would avoid the problems inherent in the current proposals, which Gareth Williams' Working Smarter report states "...would not be an acceptable solution"
Reviewing the six-day standstill rule at the earliest possible opportunity, with a view to abolishing it, as has been proposed in England
Ensuring changes to the CPH system and Sole Occupancy Authority (SOA) rules are accompanied by measures which reduce costs and bureaucracy for all farmers, including those relating to TB testing
Ensuring that the introduction of EID Cymru and any associated changes to the rules on sheep tagging do not add to input costs for farmers, either through addition administration, tag costs, or risks of penalties due to technological failures
Extending the hedge-cutting dates in Wales in order to address health and safety, Cross Compliance and economic impacts for Welsh farms
Altering the relevant Welsh legislation in order to allow a general derogation to cut hedges outside the hedge-cutting dates where weather conditions have made accessing fields dangerous, impractical or illegal
Reducing the significant burden associated with farm record-keeping, particularly those for the Glastir scheme, which far outweigh requirements under previous agri-environment schemes
Reducing production costs for cattle farmers by abandoning pre-movement TB testing, as was done in 1996 in the Republic of Ireland which, since 2000, has experienced a 50% reduction in the number of TB reactors
Reinstating the plans to remove badgers in the Intensive Action Area, in line with the view of the Bovine Tuberculosis Subgroup of the EU Task Force for Monitoring Animal Disease Eradication which concluded in 2012 that "The Welsh eradication plan will lose some impetus as badger culling will now be replaced with badger vaccination...There is no scientific evidence to demonstrate that badger vaccination will reduce the incidence of TB in cattle. However, there is considerable evidence to support the removal of badgers in order to improve the TB status of both badgers and cattle...UK politicians must accept their responsibility to their own farmers and taxpayers as well as to the rest of the EU and commit to a long-term strategy that is not dependent on elections"
Ensuring all farmers are able to make maximum use of their pasture and that Environmental Impact Assessments are assessed proportionately and in a way which takes account of farm efficiency - particularly where land has degenerated due to participation in agri-environment schemes
Increasing the period farmers have to report cattle movements from three to seven days, thereby bringing Wales in line with the EU requirement and reducing unfair penalties for farmers
Ensuring that Cross Compliance and other requirements introduced under the post 2014 CAP regime are kept at the minimum level required by the EU, and that the penalty matrix ensures proportionality in all circumstances
Securing changes to planning guidance which minimise restrictions on the ability of farms to secure succession, diversify, and make efficiency improvements
Guaranteeing that all farmers have access to meaningful Rural Development funding which is guaranteed to improve the efficiency of their farm businesses
Ensure that Glastir does not place undue restrictions on farm practices which reduce the efficiency of farms
Recognising the essential role that grazing animals and hefted flocks play in terms of maintaining Wales' environment, particularly in Wales' uplands, and ensuring all Glastir grazing proscriptions are appropriate and reflect the need to feed displaced livestock during the winter months
Ensuring that Wales' primary producers are placed at the heart of the Welsh Government's food and drink action plan.
Focussing Rural Development funding on meaningful measures, such as grants, which guarantee improved efficiency and profitability, as opposed to those consultancy services regarded by the industry as wasteful and ineffective, with a balanced emphasis on Young Entrants
Ensuring that, within the context of the Access Green Paper, any presumption towards a statutory increase in unfettered access to farm land or water bodies is not adopted, due to the severe implications for farms and rural businesses in Wales
Ensuring that Wales' Rural Development Plan delivers improved incomes for farmers which place them on an even playing field with those competitors in regions which will receive higher levels of funding from CAP measures, with a view to making necessary changes at the earliest possible opportunity should it be shown that current plans are having a detrimental impact on Welsh production and farm incomes
Fully implementing the recommendations contained in the Upland Forum's 2012 Unlocking the Potential of the Uplands report
Establish a Farmers' Charter which provides commitments to the industry in relation to all the above, and all other areas where the Welsh Government can assist farmers in making their businesses more efficient and profitable.