FUW Seeks Clarity on Agri-Pollution Closed Periods

In November 2018, the Welsh Government announced an intention to bring forward pan-Wales NVZ style regulations on agricultural pollution. The number of Welsh farm holdings subject to NVZ style rules will rise from an estimated 600 to more than 24,000 and would be subject to stricter regulations.  The FUW believes that a pan-Wales approach is unjustifiable given that just 1% of all Basic Payment Scheme claimants have been shown to be involved in a pollution incident.  

One of the major concerns surrounding the new regulations is the use of closed periods for slurry spreading.  Despite the original deadline of January 1st 2020, a decision on the introduction of closed periods has not yet been made  and the plans continue to be under review whilst the Welsh Government undertakes a Regulatory Impact Assessment.  Minister Lesley Griffiths remains convinced action needs to be taken therefore the worries associated with the proposals still stand.

The FUW continues to state that introducing a closed period in Wales could very likely increase agri-pollution incidents by forcing farmers to spread slurry at times that do not fit with demonstrable changes in weather patterns.

In England, the idea of abolishing rules relating to closed periods has been supported by Natural England Chair, Tony Juniper, and the FUW continues to call on the Welsh Government to be pragmatic and proportionate when discussing the use of closed periods for slurry spreading.

The FUW has consistently stated that ‘farming by calendar’ can go against the environment by forcing farmers to spread slurry at inappropriate times to ensure that slurry storage facilities do not overflow. 

A flexible approach, which recognises changing weather patterns, is needed.  If this is not adopted, where prolonged wet weather prevents slurry spreading, farmers entering the closed period will have full slurry storage.  A flexible approach will ensure the well-being of the environment and optimum for productivity.

Worryingly, this is just one of the many major concerns about the Welsh Government pan-Wales NVZ proposals.  The FUW continues to fight against the proposals.

FUW Concerned at Lack of Landowner Representation in Countryside Access Talks

Earlier this year, the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, Ms Hannah Blythyn AM, released a statement outlining the next steps on countryside access following the proposals contained in the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources consultation.
Delivery of the initial proposals accepted in the consultation will be delivered by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and other stakeholders.
Other reforms within the consultation require more work to consider the details and potential consequences of introduction.  This work will be delivered by a new group called the Access Reform Advisory Group (ARAG) and the group will be tasked with looking at the legal and financial consequences of making the access changes proposed. The ARAG comprises a Steering Group and a number of Expert Working Groups.  The Steering Group's composition will be made up of access specialists from NRW, the Welsh Government, National Parks Authority and a Welsh Government Local Government Association rights of way specialist.
Around 80 percent of the land in Wales is privately owned and the Farmers’ Union of Wales is extremely concerned that private landowners have not been represented on the ARAG Steering Group.  Private landowners have a wealth of experience relevant to discussions on the future of access and many have directly experienced many of the key issues such as fly tipping, fly grazing and livestock worrying across Wales’ public rights of way network.  Inclusion of such representation is essential in ensuring that future policies recognise the complexity of access issues and do not detrimentally impact upon the ability of farm businesses to operate. 

UK Farmers May Face a 25% Fall in Lamb Prices

The Farmers’ Union of Wales are reiterating warnings of the disastrous consequences of a no-deal Brexit on the Welsh sheep sector which are being felt once again since the newly accounted Prime Minister’s promise of leaving the EU on 31st October.

According to the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), EU retailers are refusing to sign long-term contracts for UK lamb exports due to the likelihood of them having to pay tariffs of 40-65% on lamb under a contract agreement after 31st October.  Instead, retailers are offering ‘spot prices’ for lamb for immediate delivery which would make UK produce uncompetitive once tariffs are introduced.  

The run-up to 31st March saw plans to either cull or offer compensation for unsaleable lambs, an approach that could be vital for securing our Welsh Lamb industry after 31st October.

The beef industry was faced with a similar situation in the run-up to 31st March in addition to the stockpiling of Irish beef imports which have since been flooding the market and reducing prices for UK producers.  It is imperative that the same doesn’t occur for our lamb industry which could see the abolishment of premium high-priced markets.

The BMPA highlights that the National Sheep Association and AHDB are forecasting a 25% drop in farmgate lamb prices when we leave the EU, and Hybu Cig Cymru suggests that 92.5% of our lamb export trade could disappear under a no-deal scenario.

News in Brief

i) Cardigan Mart Closure 
The final Cardigan Animal Market will be held on the 9th September.  Rising costs, reduced throughput and increased TB outbreaks in the area have been cited as the reason for the closure.

This announcement comes just weeks after the closure of the Cowbridge market. The FUW is concerned about the future of other small livestock markets and the possibility that farmers may need to travel greater distances to sell stock.


ii) AHDB Strategic Dairy Farms launched
AHDB have now launched 2 of their 3 confirmed strategic dairy farms in Wales. The aim of Strategic Dairy Farm programme is to ‘help farmers learn from what others are doing by holding regular on-farm meetings with a particular focus on certain elements of the farm, for example transition cow management or calf housing’.


iii) Mycoplasma Bovis Vaccine Trial Launched
The rise in Mycoplasma Bovis (M. Bovis) amongst UK cattle has led to the establishment of of-farm trials of Myco-B; a multi strain vaccine. M bovis is the number one cause of pneumonia in calves. 

Meadows Vets, in conjunction with the Veterinary Medicines Directorate have secured a license to import Myco-B from the USA.  Meadow Vets plan to report on the results of the trial later in the year.  

Farmers to Lose Out with Latest 5G Network Plans

A fundamental change in the way that network operators seek out land for mobile phone masts and other apparatus has led the Farmers’ Union of Wales to express further concern that the push for 5G coverage will have hidden costs for the agricultural sector.

The FUW previously raised concerns over the revised ‘Electronic Communications Code’ in 2017 which has allowed telecom operators to cut the rents paid to farmers who have masts on their land. The rollout of 5G means that this problem is likely to accelerate. 

Under the code, payments are reduced from ‘high-tech’ telecom rates to ordinary agricultural rent.  Indeed, the Code states that the market value of land used for telecoms equipment should not relate to the use of the equipment and reduces the payment to that in the region of ordinary agricultural rent; with some contribution for fees if applicable. The FUW is aware that this can reduce rent from thousands of pounds per year to tens of pounds over an entire 10 year period.  This is a significant loss in income for such farmers.

If a farmer refuses to accept the reduced rent, the associated company can seek to impose rights through the Upper Tribunal under the new Code.

The introduction of the Code has severely impacted the relationship between landowners and telecommunications companies and this will undoubtedly affect the rollout of 5G networks in the near future.The FUW is reminding those who receive income from telecom masts, or are approached for the inclusion of new 5G masts, to be aware of these possible reductions in rent.