The Welsh Winter Fair comes at the end of a year which has seen the industry under severe pressure. Farmers Guardian asked key industry figures for their hopes for 2016.
This year will be my second Winter Fair as Deputy Minister and I am looking forward to it.
The fair provides an excellent opportunity to speak to farmers face-to-face about current challenges and to discuss the opportunities which are out there to be grasped.
Earlier this year, I received the industry’s principles paper which set out clear and helpful views on how the new Rural Development Programme might be used to support the industry to modernise and become more resilient.
The paper gave us a foundation for working together to develop our shared long-term vision and a Strategic Framework for Welsh Agriculture.
Sharing the stage at the Wales Farming Conference with the presidents of NFU Cymru and the FUW, I hope we sent an important and clear industry message about our vision, and willingness to work together for the benefit of individual farmers, the wider agriculture industry and, ultimately, for Wales.
I will be outlining the findings of the Strategic Framework consultation, as well as progress towards establishing a Partnership Group to lead this work, at the Winter Fair.
IT has become a tradition at the Winter Fair for the Welsh Government to announce what percentage of support payments is being paid in the early days of the payment window, starting on December 1.
This year the challenges of the new Basic Payment Scheme mean the Deputy Minister’s words on the timing will be listened to more closely than usual.
It has been clear for some time payments under the new scheme will be paid in two instalments, with about 20 per cent being paid next spring to allow the calculation of full entitlement values.
While we hope the initial 80 per cent partial payment will be made as soon as possible, it would be prudent to plan for the possibility of payments coming later than for previous years.
Regrettably, many farmers also have to plan for payments being smaller than before – partly due to the less favourable exchange rate and partly because of the move to the area-based system.
While support payments are an undeniably important component of farming income, it is also one of the elements which farmers have the least control over.
The best farmers recognise it is best to focus on those areas over which they can exert influence.
At HSBC we remain confident the Welsh farming industry has an excellent future.
In the agricultural industry we know only too well of the turbulence created by living and working in the global marketplace.
This year, exchange rates have acted against us, imports have become cheaper and the export prices of our own products have become more expensive.
It is clear the volatility in the red meat global market will remain for the foreseeable future, while prices at home will continue to be heavily dependent on exchange rates and international supply.
So, what can we do as an industry to turn the tide? In Wales, we have three weapons to help keep prices stable and work towards long-term sustainability.
We produce premium lamb which competes with any in the world because of the resilience, experience and diligence of our farmers.
HCC’s export work is also crucial to achieving broader sustainability. Servicing the existing customer base and delivering new markets around the world helps increase consumer demand and underpin domestic prices.
It is a simple mathematical equation. Without the industry’s export work over the last decade, Welsh Lamb prices would have been substantially lower.
The third factor is unity. When times are hard, it is easy for one part of the supply chain to turn on another and risk the dislocation of the great strength we hold from effective collective activity.
Collective responsibility for delivery is the only way forward and it is vital our local butchers and supermarket outlets step up to the plate to promote and sell our protected geographical indication-branded products.
There is a great deal more than just farm incomes riding on the release of payments and the industry’s long-term prosperity. The need for political recognition of this will be the focus of the FUW’s 2016 election manifesto being launched at the fair.
While there will be an understandable focus on the release of payments, it is essential those advocating or accepting without question changes which will impact on agriculture fully understand the wider long-term impacts.
On a domestic level, numerous rules currently being consulted on and discussed in Cardiff Bay have the potential to reduce farm incomes while, at the other end of the spectrum, exit from the EU would change agriculture beyond recognition.
Despite this being apparent to many of us, the lack of data on Welsh rural economies and agriculture’s place in them is lamentable, meaning politicians who advocate or accept unquestioningly changes which impact on agriculture do so without any real understanding of the wider implications.
This is why our manifesto calls for detailed work to identify the full impacts of changes. Then, our politicians will at least have some idea of the number of secondary and tertiary businesses, and the number of employees and contractors etc., which would disappear without farmers.
Among the campaign messages on NFU Cymru’s Royal Welsh Winter Fair stand will be our vision for a productive, profitable and progressive agricultural industry in Wales.
It is a vision we shared with Deputy Minister Rebecca Evans at the Wales Farming Conference and discussed with EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan.
While it may have got blurred during recent months with discussions largely around the cashflow crisis every sector is suffering, we stand by our vision.
This is why we have spent the last couple of months meeting major retailers to discuss what support they can give the farming industry to make this vision become a reality.
Lamb has been a particular concern throughout the year and our key issues to retailers have focused on:
Working through our office in Brussels we are also pressing for the EU Commission to review the quota of New Zealand imports.
We believe the move from frozen to fresh and from carcase to bone-in cuts represents a substantive change since the original 1980s agreement and is having an effect on the UK and EU sheep market.