Welsh Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths has expressed her ‘disappointment’ that take-up of a new red meat benchmarking initiative was lower than expected.
The scheme, run by Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC), was funded by the Welsh Government’s EU transition fund with the aim of improving farm competitiveness ahead of Brexit.
It was open to 2,000 businesses with breeding ewes and cattle, with participants asked to complete an online questionnaire presenting the financial and physical details of their farms.
In return, they received a detailed analysis of the data, evaluating the performance of their business against others, and £1,000 compensation for their time.
Ms Griffiths told reporters at a media briefing in Cardiff on Tuesday (January 22) she was ‘unsure’ why only 1,600 farmers had decided to take part, pointing out a similar initiative in the dairy sector had been more popular.
“I was disappointed it was not oversubscribed in the way I thought it would be,” she said.
“Maybe farmers are doing it anyway, but I am a bit concerned that others are not and I wonder if they have their heads buried in the sand a little bit around Brexit.”
Earlier on Tuesday morning, in a speech at the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) farmhouse breakfast, she said the low take-up suggested that Government, the farming unions and others who had a role in providing leadership to the sector ‘still have much work to do in highlighting the major challenges which lie ahead as a result of Brexit’.
But both NFU Cymru and the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) pointed to data protection concerns as the reason for the low take-up and highlighted the work they had done to secure improvements on confidentiality.
Dr Nick Fenwick, FUW head of policy, said: “The main feedback we received was people were concerned about data protection.
“Given what has happened in the past year in terms of data misuse scandals, it is perhaps hardly surprising there was so much caution, so perhaps we should be celebrating hitting 80 per cent of the target within a limited timeframe.”
NFU Cymru livestock board chairman Wyn Evans added: “As an industry in Wales, we now have a valuable database of information that we otherwise would not have had.
“This data will help identify the sector’s overall strengths and weaknesses and support us in identifying the best way forward as we consider how best to tackle the challenges posed by Brexit.”