Carmarthenshire farmers and rural businesses recently came together to highlight some of the challenges they are facing and to demonstrate why #FarmingMatters, when they met with Llanelli Labour AM, Lee Waters.
Agricultural support post 2020, devolution, the importance of agriculture to the rural economy and the ongoing problem of Bovine TB were hotly debated at the meeting, which was hosted by Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) member Gareth Beynon Thomas at Goitre Fach farm, Hendy, Pontarddulais.
Together with his wife Monica and son Ifan, Gareth Beynon Thomas farms a total of 600 acres, including 375 acres of owned land and runs a herd of 250 milking cows, 250 young stock and also keeps 250 Berrichon ewes. The couples son Rhys works as a local vet for Prostock Vets and their daughters, Sara and Alaw, work as secondary school teachers.
Following a tour of the farm and seeing the milking parlour and livestock, farmers, local businesses and FUW representatives explained the importance of agriculture to the rural economy.
Brian Richards, FUW Carmarthen County President, said:“Family farms in particular are at the heart of our rural economy – as we can see here at Goitre Fach. Farms like these are caring for our landscape, and of course our culture and they make innumerable other contributions to the well-being of Wales and the UK.
“The FUW has long maintained that Welsh food production sustains tens of thousands of other businesses – from upstream businesses such as feed merchants, agricultural contractors and engineers, to downstream businesses such as hauliers, processors and retailers and it is evident that for every pound generated on farm, around 6 pounds is spent in the wider economy.”
He added saying: “Look at the Wales wide statistics (2016) – we have 14,437 sheep farms, 3,054 dairy farms, 8,436 farms on which non-dairy cattle are kept, and 1,255 pig farms.
“And all those farms, no matter how big or small, were responsible for spending an average of £1.2 billion on products supplied by local secondary and tertiary businesses (2014 figures). We must not forget that Welsh agriculture employs 60,000 people in full time, part time, and seasonal employment.”
Farmers and FUW representatives on the day further stressed that irrespective of what trade deals are in place post-Brexit, within the UK, Welsh farmers will compete against their counterparts in other devolved regions.
Gareth Beynon Thomas said: “I would first of all like to thank Lee Waters for meeting us here on farm. We enjoyed very positive discussions on a variety of subjects and it was an excellent opportunity to highlight how essential it is that we have a common policy across the UK which minimises unfair competition and market distortion. We have reiterated the point to Lee Waters that it is essential that a UK agricultural framework is put in place which prevents unfair competition between devolved regions and secures and protects adequate long term funding for agriculture, while also respecting devolved powers over agriculture.”
In regards to agricultural support the FUW stressed that post-Brexit support 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 European Union. However, there is an understanding amongst farmers that a bonfire of regulations is unlikely and that future support may well look very different to what is currently provided under the Common Agricultural Policy.
Nerys Edwards, the FUW’s County Executive Officer Assistant in Carmarthen, said: “There will be a lot of changes and that will of course also affect the amount of financial support we can expect. There is a lot of uncertainty around, with more questions to be asked than we have answer to and of course we are all still waiting to see what a future DEFRA ‘green paper’ on the future of farming will look like. It is obvious to us that we could be waiting a while for that clarity, and in essence that is not a bad thing because the industry will need to have a transition period of at least 10 years to phase in changes and to allow us to adjust to new agricultural policies.
“What is essential in all of this however is that the uniqueness of Welsh agriculture and the importance of involving the devolved administrations in planning the future of agriculture is recognised by everyone.”
FUW Deputy President Brian Thomas used the opportunity to raise the issue of bovine TB with the Labour AM. When Brian’s herd went down with the disease in the late 1990s he commented in interviews that the disease would be more of a problem than BSE would ever be if it was not tackled.
Unfortunately, for many he has been proven right and currently he sits on the local working group for the Assembly’s Bovine TB Intensive Action Area in North Pembrokeshire, representing farmers in the area.
Brian Thomas said: “Our Welsh farmers suffer the daily emotional and financial consequences of having their businesses locked down for months on end by movement restrictions. They see their cattle taken away or culled on farm, year-in, year-out, and they are angry with the Welsh Government. Not just because of their latest proposal to escalate what are already the most restrictive cattle TB rules in the world, but because of the failure to include solid proposals to proactively deal with the disease reservoir in badgers.”
He added that farmers fear that personal views and political cowardice on the part of politicians will continue to slow down TB eradication, as every excuse is used to avoid action.
“The situation would be bad enough under normal circumstances, but with Brexit looming, competitors in other countries have one eye on our TB status, and how it might be used to their benefit – and our detriment – in trade negotiations,” added Mr Thomas.
Gareth Beynon Thomas added saying : “I am grateful that we were able to raise the issue of Bovine TB with Lee Waters and it is encouraging to see his keen interest in the subject. Over the coming weeks Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths will consider whether to implement the Welsh Government’s proposals and we are all hoping that our concerns will be taken into consideration.
“While Welsh Government statements that badgers may be culled when sufficient proof has been gathered hints at light at the end of the tunnel. We have made it clear that failure to be robust and ensure such measures can be rolled out rapidly and on a large enough scale will delay eradication by decades, while prolonging the expense and torment for farming families.”