With just three months to go until the UK is expected to leave the European Union – with or without a deal – farmers across the country are getting increasingly concerned about their future as food producers.
But it’s not just Brexit that has them worried. Untimely changes to farming policies, which would make life on farm more difficult and introduce more burdensome regulations, also add to their woes.
Livestock farmers Cheryl and Jeff James of Cefn Eithin Farm, Clydach, Swansea, are concerned about the new agricultural pollution regulations due to be introduced in January 2020 as they will adversely affect their farm.
The couple who farm suckler cattle and sheep over 345 acres of owned land, fear that unless the introduction of pan-Wales land management regulations are opposed, the impact on farm businesses like theirs would be significant.
Under the new regulations the James’ would not be able to spread slurry according to the weather and ground conditions and would be restricted by calendar dates stipulated in the closed period under the new regulations. This they say, will incur extra feed costs for the livestock as grass growth would be affected .
And when it comes to extra slurry storage to comply with yet more burdensome rules, the family feel they would not be able to justify or afford the investment for all the required storage equipment on the farm.
“What this means for us is that rearing suckler cows will become unaffordable. Welsh Government should be supporting this type of farming. Suckler herds are a really natural way to rear cattle – the calves spend 10 months with their mother at the farm and then two years on the grassland with no routine antibiotic or hormone treatments. What we produce is natural Welsh beef and these regulations will only push the intensive beef farming systems that we don’t want to see,” added Jeff James.
Cheryl and Jeff have previously written to their Assembly Member, Rebecca Evans, to express their concerns about the proposals and to show the AM how they would affect them and invited the former deputy Minister for agriculture to the farm to discuss the issue further.
Speaking on farm, Jeff James said: “As farmers we take the issue of agricultural pollution very seriously and we know how important it is to tackle problems where they exist. The thing is, we are dealing with so many uncertainties already that the added pressure from such plans is becoming very hard to handle.
“We support the work that has already been done by NRW and the Wales Land Management Forum sub-group, which identified targeted and proportionate approaches to solve problems. A joined up approach, working with the industry, would be a sensible way forward.
“What is sad is that the recommendations of the Forum have practically been ignored by Welsh Government and rather than work with us they are looking at introducing complex and costly rules and restrictions which currently only apply in areas where there is a nitrate pollution problem.”
FUW policy officer Bernard Griffiths, who has been heavily involved in formulating the proposals put forward to Welsh Government as part of the Land Management Forum sub-group, said: “The current proposals by Welsh Government will increase the number of holdings subject to complex rules in Wales from around 600 to more than 24,000 despite the latest evidence showing less than 1% of all Welsh farms suffer confirmed pollution incident every year.
“Given the uncertainty our industry is already facing due to Brexit, the FUW has urged the Welsh Government to support the recommendations that have already been made and put a stop the draconian untimely proposals.”
Highlighting the positive work already carried out by farmers, Cheryl James explained that the use of nitrogen based manufactured fertilisers fell by 45% between 1990 and 2013 and that pesticide use is precisely managed, with 50% less active ingredient applied to crops since 1990.
She said: “These rules, which previously were generally only applied to intensively farmed areas, will now apply on Wales’ most remote hill farms. These rules will also have far-reaching repercussions for dairy farmers across Wales, and could result in a fall in Welsh beef production in particular due to increased costs and reductions in profitability.”
During the visit Cheryl and James also highlighted that farmers are mindful of the environment and are continuously working with the environment.
Jeff added: “We have a 12 acre stock excluded woodland on our farm that we have chosen to maintain in this way to encourage biodiversity on the farm. As farmers we try our hardest to look after the environment and add positively to nature. No farmer purposely damages the environment and the fact that the use of fertilisers and pesticides has already been reduced, shows that we are willing to do our bit.”
During the visit, Union officials further stressed that the draconian blanket approach, which is due to come into force next year, goes against the Welsh Government’s commitment in December 2017 to strike ‘the right balance of comprehensive regulatory measures, voluntary measures and investment’ and ‘…explore further options to provide land managers with flexibility, where these would achieve the same or better outcomes than a regulatory approach.
FUW Vice President Ian Rickman added: “We take the need to tackle agricultural pollution extremely seriously, and will continue to fight to ensure this is done in a way which is both proportionate and targeted, and reflects the local and national evidence base.
“The plans as they are now have, to all intents and purposes, failed to acknowledge the 114 page report and 45 recommendations aimed at tackling agricultural pollution submitted by industry and government bodies six months prior to the announcement.
“Our whole industry will be affected by this, dairy farmers, beef and sheep farmers – everyone. Also, tenant farmers would find it particularly difficult to comply with rules that would require significant investment on tenanted land, not to mention the obstacles of having to seek planning permission.”