Earlier this month, the Farmers’ Union of Wales met with the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, to discuss the recent collapse of Tomlinson’s Dairies..
The closure of the dairy and the subsequent refusal to collect milk came in with almost immediate effect and left many dairy producers in Wales scrambling to find another processor for their milk.
The FUW remains extremely concerned for its affected members. Our producers were offered no prior warning and the FUW is extremely disappointed that farmers were left in a predicament where they had no one to collect their milk.
The loss of yet another major processor in Wales is a severe blow to farmers, workers and the industry as a whole at a time when significant efforts are being made to bolster and build on our unique Welsh brand.
The collapse of Tomlinson’s comes after a significant £22 million funding boost in 2017 which saw an expansion of their cold storage facilities and the creation of 70 jobs.
The immediate concern of the FUW is the desperate situation facing affected producers; some of whom are owed many tens of thousands of pounds. The FUW has discussed short-term measures with the Minister including prioritising BPS payments and reducing inspection burdens for those affected. .
A research paper, published earlier this month in Scientific Research, sheds further light on the effectiveness of a rigorous and thorough badger culling policy in reducing the incidence of bovine TB in cattle.
Unlike some other research in this field, the study conducted by Downs and co-workers assessed the real effects of the 4 yearly culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset between 2013-2017. The results overwhelmingly demonstrate the positive impact of this policy on the TB incidence of cattle in these regions. Indeed, four years after the introduction of badger culling, the level of bovine TB in cattle reduced by 66% and 37% in Gloucestershire and Somerset respectively. This is consistent with earlier analyses which also showed a reduction in cattle TB incidence 2 years after the onset of culling in these regions. Moreover, current data on the 2km buffer zone around the edge of the cull areas saw TB incidence decline by 36% in Gloucestershire. There was no change in the TB incidence in cattle in the buffer zone in somerset and therefore no evidence of the oft-reported negative perturbation effects in either of these buffer zones.
Alongside cattle control measures, the FUW remains a strong proponent of badger culling as a means to reduce bovine TB levels in cattle. The Welsh cattle industry continues to operate under a plethora of cattle controls and testing regimes which have yet to make a significant impact on the levels of bovine TB in cattle. The FUW believes that Welsh TB policy should be reviewed and a scientifically tried and tested badger cull policy be established which learns the lessons from the strategy employed by defra in England.
The Farmers’ Union of Wales’ has welcomed a UK Government consultation which would see an alternative method of ageing sheep at slaughter for the purpose of removing specified risk material.
The consultation proposes to allow a cut-off date to be used when ageing sheep as an alternative to the current method of ageing by dentition. In sheep, ageing by dentition is deemed inaccurate as incisors can develop between 9 months and 15 months of age. Nevertheless, all sheep with two permanent incisors erupted are considered to be over 12 months of age and the carcase must be split causing significant losses. The use of a cut-off date allows any lambs born in the previous year and submitted to slaughter before this date to be deemed under 12 months of age.
Under this alternative system, sheep producers will have much greater certainty on the price received for lambs and this is important for a sector which already suffers from low margins. APHA has already confirmed that this change would not compromise existing food safety or result in any additional risks to either human or animal health.
According to data from the National Sheep Association (NSA), the average loss of revenue caused by the current ageing system is estimated to be around £22 million. A further study conducted by EBLEX and the NSA estimated that the cost of dentition to British auction markets is almost £650,000.
The FUW welcomes the changes proposed but remains concerned at the lack of any definitive timeline for their introduction. The alternative ageing method proposed had previously been agreed at both a UK and EU level in November 2018. Indeed the proposal was confirmed by the then Farming Minister, George Eustice, and was followed by confirmation from DEFRA that the change would be implemented in June 2019.
Given the financial and administrative costs to the sheep sector of further delay, the FUW believes that it that maintaining the status quo would be wholly unacceptable and that the alternative method of ageing sheep should be established promptly.
Environmental Secretary Theresa Villiers confirmed this month that the UK has secured ‘national listed status’ which allows for the export of animal products to continue if there is a no-deal Brexit. This move provides certainty to a market which, according to defra, is worth more than £5 billion per year.
Notwithstanding the fact that this is a step in the right direction, the FUW remains concerned that this is no ‘silver bullet’ as UK producers will still need to meet new requirements and face potentially disastrous tariff rates and Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs) in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
For example, under current no deal Brexit scenarios, UK cheddar exports would face a 57% tariff whereas the tariff for cheddar imported into the UK would be set at just 7%. The same applies to beef carcasses - UK exports to the EU would attract a 70% tariff compared with a 37% import tariff. For beef, this sits amidst a, TRQ of 124,000 tonnes which would not attract any tariff at all. These tariffs set by the UK Government risk opening the door to food produced to much lower animal health and environmental standards and could undermine the viability and sustainability of UK producers.
In an attempt to encourage longer term agreements and increased productivity, the Republic of Ireland has adopted an approach which increases income tax reliefs for farmland lettings of more than 5 years.
As a result, farmland area let in the Republic of Ireland increased from 2% in 2011 to 7% in 2017. Following the scheme, approximately 450,000 acres were let under new agreements between 2015 and 2017, and Ireland now has more letting agreements than Great Britain which are longer than 5 years duration.
Farm Business Tenancy agreements significantly contribute to Wales’ agricultural sector - Welsh Government figures show that 9% of holdings that applied for BPS in 2018 were wholly tenanted whilst 39% were mixed ownership. However, the Farm Business Survey (FBS) estimates that 35% of rental agreements in 2017-18 were for less than 12 months and the FUW believes that the positive impact of tax relief in Ireland could be seen as a lesson for the UK.
The FUW continues to lobby for greater support for tenant farmers. The Sustainable Farming and our Land consultation considers the importance of ensuring that tenants can access the new ‘public goods’ derived scheme, but there remains uncertainty as to how those with shorter tenancy agreements could receive payments for implementing long-term actions. The FUW will be responding to this consultation in due course and will ensure that, amongst the number of issues facing the sector, the particular issues facing tenant farmers are fully recognised.