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NFU Cymru President’s New Year message

NFU CYMRU President Aled Jones provides his New Year message, predicting that 2023 will be a pivotal year for the future of Welsh farming.

“A new calendar year brings an important opportunity to reflect on what has passed and to ponder what may lie ahead.

“Perhaps when we look back at 2022, it will be most notable for the conflict in Ukraine. While tensions had been high in that part of the world for some time, a new war in Europe was something we thought and hoped we’d never see in our lifetimes. Such is the nature of the 24-hour media churn nowadays that updates on the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine have slipped down the news agenda, but it is important that we do not allow ourselves to be complacent and forget about the huge human toll of this war. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have lost family, homes, businesses and whose lives have been altered beyond comprehension. Ukraine is a powerhouse in global food production, affectionately known as ‘the breadbasket of Europe’. Russia’s invasion has impacted on the country’s agricultural systems, and this is having a significant knock-on effect on global food supply.

“At home, it remains a challenging time for all in society as the cost of living crisis continues to bite. Food producers, just like everyone else, are feeling the full effects of significant rises in inflation. The latest price index for agricultural inputs shows a year-on-year increase of over 28% and this is hitting all of our sectors hard, particularly the poultry sector, which is also tackling the ongoing threat of Avian Influenza. As we look ahead to 2023, it is imperative that we see confidence return to ensure that the sector can continue doing what it does best, meet the increasing demand from the consumer for quality Welsh eggs and poultry meat.

“The impacts of rising input costs are not exclusive to the poultry sector. Wales’ sheep farmers are being challenged with costs increasing and lamb prices down nearly 10% compared to this time last year. Many livestock and dairy producers are struggling to keep pace with increasing feed prices, in a year when soaring summer temperatures and subsequent drought hindered the majority of farmers’ efforts to grow their winter feed rations as they normally would.

“Looking forward, 2023 will see the Agriculture (Wales) Bill enter into the statute book. The bill will establish the framework for agriculture policies that will define farming in Wales for a generation or more. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that we get this bill right. This bill must prioritise the production of high quality, affordable food for all in society. It must champion on-farm productivity; underpin the financial resilience of our family farms and, in so doing, sustain our rural communities, language, culture and heritage; supporting farmers to maintain and enhance the farmed environment whilst assisting the delivery of our 2040 net zero ambition.

“Whilst the bill will establish the framework for future policy, it is vital that the policies that emanate from the bill are fit for purpose. In July we saw Welsh Government publish its outline proposals for the Sustainable Farming Scheme. Whilst the framework Welsh Government now proposes more closely aligns with that which NFU Cymru has previously set out – most importantly that in return for undertaking a set of universal actions farmers will receive a stability payment – it is imperative that these universal actions are practical and achievable across all sectors and areas of Wales, including for those that farm land they do not own. I would urge Welsh Government to listen and act upon the concerns expressed by the industry, most notably in relation to the 10% tree and habitat cover proposals, prior to consultation on the final proposals next year.

“The Minister’s welcome announcement committing to maintain the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) at current levels for 2023 and also for 2024 (subject to budget availability) has provided much needed stability and certainty to Welsh farming at a time of unprecedented inflationary pressures. We must now make sure that we use the time we have prior to the introduction of the SFS in 2025 to ensure that the new scheme can deliver at least the same level of stability to farming businesses, the supply chain and rural communities whilst meeting our environmental, climate and food security obligations.

“With all Glastir contracts scheduled to end in 2023, we look to the Minister to make an early announcement on the transitional plans for 2024. A cliff edge in agri-environmental delivery in 2024 as a result of Glastir ending without transitional arrangements in place must be avoided at all costs.

“Bovine TB continues to be a deterrent to the industry realising its potential. There are no words to accurately portray the suffering and hardship this cruel disease can impose on Welsh herds and the farming families who live with this disease and whose futures hang in the balance. We need to see this disease eradicated across all its vectors. The industry remains committed to playing its part to eradicate bovine TB and the NFU Cymru TB Focus Group will continue to make the case to the Minister that future bTB policy is accountable to the industry.

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“Welsh Government’s water quality regulations will have a significant effect on how Welsh farming businesses operate in 2023 and beyond. The regulations place a de-facto stocking limit on Welsh agriculture. The introduction of the 170Kg/ha holding organic nitrogen limit has been delayed until April 2023 in order for a consultation to take place on a proposed licensing scheme for a higher limit of up to 250kg/ha, subject to crop need and other legal considerations. It is crucial that everyone within the Welsh farming supply chain contributes to this discussion and responds to the consultation process.

“Despite the challenges, opportunities do exist and our ambitious farmers stand ready to do all they can to prosper in the face of tough market conditions. News this year that PGI Welsh Lamb is now on the plates of American consumers is evidence that we can expand our horizons to new markets and consumers who value our products.

“2022 saw NFU Cymru introduce its third intake of the successful NFU Cymru Next Generation Group programme. Together with the NFU Cymru Student & Young Farmer Ambassadors, these young people have been an inspiration to everyone in the union; their passion and determination is infectious. It is their futures we are fighting for and I and everyone at NFU Cymru are committed to lobbying to ensure that Welsh farmers – young and old – can continue delivering for Wales’ people and communities for generations to come.

“I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2023. Blwyddyn Newydd dda.”