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‘Disproportionate’ NVZ agriculture pollution regulations ‘wrong answer to the right question’

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Opposition parties and farming unions says Welsh Government’s agricultural pollution solution will cause more harm, with Plaid’s Llŷr Gruffydd calling plans the ‘wrong answer to the right question’.

Welsh Conservative, Janet Finch-Saunders said ‘farmers will be bitterly disappointed’ after the Labour-LibDem Government reneged on promises not to introduce Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ’s) during the pandemic.

Farmers Union of Wales say tenants, young farmers, new entrants and small and medium family farms will go out of business in huge numbers as a result of the new water regulations.

Llŷr Gruffydd MS

The Welsh Government’s regulations to control agricultural pollution in Welsh waterways have been challenged by Plaid Cymru’s Llŷr Gruffydd as the “wrong answer to the right question.”

Mr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for the Environment and Rural Affairs, has proposed a motion to the Senedd that the regulations should be annulled, with the final vote to be held this Wednesday (3 March 2021).

In an open letter to fellow Members of the Senedd, Mr Gruffydd outlines the reasons why the controversial Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) regulations should be annulled.

The letter explains that Natural Resources Wales recommends that 8% of Wales should be placed in NVZ’s up from the current 2% to target problem areas. The Welsh Government instead plan to introduce the NVZ regulations to 100% of Wales.

These regulations, says Mr Gruffydd, are “disproportionate, they will have unintended consequences for the environment, and they will undermine the viability of many Welsh farms.”

One such example of how the regulations could cause more harm is the farming-by-calendar approach. Mr Gruffydd points out that using calendar dates rather than weather conditions to dictate when slurry can be spread is an “absurd proposition.” There will be times during the open period where slurry spreading could have serious consequences for the environment. Farmers all over Wales will be emptying their overflowing stores simultaneously at the end of closed periods. This will cause huge spikes in nitrate levels, risking pollution in areas that have not experienced previous problems.

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Opposition parties criticise the implementation of NVZ’s across the whole of Wales as disproportionate

Mr Gruffydd fears that the desire to “rush” these regulations through in the final days of the current Senedd term will cause “significant unintended environmental, economic and social consequences”. 

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for the Environment and Rural Affairs, Llŷr Gruffydd MS said: “Plaid Cymru supports regulating on river pollution. The issue is that the regulations proposed by the Welsh Government are the wrong answer to the right question.

“Notwithstanding the Minister’s broken promise that these regulations would not be introduced in the middle of a pandemic, they are disproportionate. Natural Resources Wales has recommended that 8% of Wales should be designated as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones. It is extremely disappointing that the Labour Welsh Government has ignored their advice by bringing in a blanket approach covering 100% of the country.

“The adverse impact to the environment that cannot be overstated. The farming-by-calendar approach will see farmers clearing their slurry stores immediately before and after the closed periods. This risks creating new pollution issues even in areas where there are no problems currently.

“The capital investment required to meet these regulations will drive many out of cattle farming. The subsequent loss of cattle from the uplands will undermine the controlled grazing that has contributed so much to improving habitats and restoring biodiversity.

“I oppose these regulations not because there is no water quality problem in some parts of Wales – rather, these are impractical regulations. They will cause significant unintended environmental, economic and social consequences, and they must not be rushed through in the final days of this Senedd.”

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Opposition parties claim Natural Resources Wales recommendations that just 8% of Wales should be placed in NVZ’s up from the current 2% to target problem areas has been ignored.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales’ Milk and Dairy Produce committee says tenants, young farmers, new entrants and small and medium family farms will go out of business in huge numbers as a result of new water regulations, while industrial scale dairy farming will be boosted.

The conclusion came during a virtual meeting of the union’s Milk and Dairy Produce Committee on Wednesday 24 February.

Dai Miles, Farmers Union of Wales Milk and Dairy Produce committee Chairman

Speaking after the meeting, FUW Milk and Dairy Produce committee Chairman Dai Miles said: “These regulations will have massive financial and production impacts for dairy farms of all size and type, but the overwhelming view of the committee was that it will be tenants and the small and medium family dairy farms that will be most likely to go out of production as a result of these regulations.

“For many family farms this will be the end of production, as the level of investment needed will be the final straw. These regulations will decimate the tenanted dairy sector and scupper the plans of many young farmers and farmworkers who want to get a foothold on the dairying career ladder. Senedd Members need to understand that when they vote on this issue on the 3 March.”

Mr Miles said that while the Union was certainly not opposed to those who had decided to expand their herds, and that those large herds would also struggle with the impacts of the regulations – and some may even go out of business – Senedd members needed to understand how the regulations were likely to impact the structure of Wales’ dairy industry and rural communities.

“The average dairy business will not be able to afford the extra land and infrastructure needed and will likely be taken over by large companies operating mega dairies that can afford slurry treatment plants and use the redundant small farms as dumping ground for the treated manure.

“A number of Senedd Members have spoken out against large herds and ‘super dairies’, and those individuals need to fully understand the implications of supporting these regulations. The knock on effect to large parts of the rural economy will be even more dramatic and the effect on suppliers and those other up-stream industries will have far reaching consequences,” he said.

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Mr Miles said that the FUW has been calling for the Welsh Government to find more effective, more targeted approaches, as was proposed by the industry and environmental groups in a detailed report given to Minister Lesley Griffiths almost three years ago.

“Advice from experts and results from other NVZ areas conclude that there will be no improvement in water quality in many areas and a number of problems are likely to get worse, so why are they doing this?”

A scientific analysis of areas designated as NVZs for between 12 and 15 years showed that 69% of NVZs showed no significant improvement in surface water concentrations even after 15 years and that compared to a control (non-NVZ) area, 29% of NVZs showed a significant improvement but 31% showed a significant worsening.

Mr Miles added that the Welsh Government had yet to respond to the 45 recommendations in the report, despite having had 34 months to do so and questioned the motives behind the regulations.

Janet Finch-Saunders MS

Meanwhile, Janet Finch-Saunders MS, the Conservative Shadow Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, launched a broadside against Labour and the Lib Dems, after they voted against or abstained in the Welsh Conservative debate on reversing the blanket nitrate-vulnerable zone (NVZ) ruling for Wales, saying: “Farmers across Wales will be bitterly disappointed with the actions of Labour and the LibDems. 

“On numerous occasions in the Chamber, Labour’s minister said that NVZs would not be introduced in Wales while the pandemic continues, but has reneged on that promise.

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“We called that a betrayal of Welsh farmers by the Labour Minister, but her party, propped up by the LibDems, have now clearly abandoned our farming industry, which will cost jobs, livelihoods, and farms.

“Labour and the Lib Dems are guilty of an astounding dereliction of duty to our farmers, and those involved in agriculture in Wales and the thousands more who see the incredible contribution the sector makes to our economy, will remember this at the ballot box in May.”


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Food & Drink

Swansea to host major international conference on sustainable approach to food pest control

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Feeding a growing population while reducing the environmental impact is an urgent challenge, but a major international conference at Swansea University will help by bringing together experts in integrated pest management.

They will discuss new approaches to managing insect pests which will cut reliance on harmful chemical insecticides.

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Pests destroy up to 40 per cent of global crops and cost $220 billion in losses, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. Climate change increases the threat further as it makes it more likely that invasive pests can move into new territory.

Integrated pest management (IPM) is based on the principle that environmental issues and food production are inextricably linked.

It aims to encourage healthy crops with the least possible disruption to agricultural ecosystems. It focuses on natural pest control mechanisms and involves biological, cultural, physical and chemical tools being used together in a way that minimises economic, health and environmental risks.

To be effective, IPM also requires different sectors to work together, especially industry, academia and regulatory authorities.

Technology has transformed the field of pest control in recent years. Drones, electronic sensors, robotic crop inspectors and satellite imagery are becoming widely used to protect crops.

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Against this background, the Swansea event could not be more timely. The aim is to bring together everybody involved in the agribusiness chain, to present and discuss new innovations and how they are being implemented in crop protection.

Entitled “New IPM: A Modern and Multidisciplinary approach to Crop Protection”, the conference runs from 12-14 September. It is being hosted and organised by Swansea University in partnership with the International BioControl Manufacturers Association UK.

Amongst the topics that will feature are:

• Pest and disease monitoring
• Increasing plant growth and resilience
• Biopesticides – natural alternatives to chemical pesticides
• How different natural pest control measures can work together for greater impact
• Strains of microbes that have been identified but not yet fully assessed for their potential
• Networking and funding opportunities

The main conference programme runs on 12th and 13th September. This is followed on 14th by a networking event, organised by Swansea University’s Research and Innovation Services, which will be an opportunity for academics and businesses to forge links, with sessions on funding opportunities from UK and EU sources.

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Professor Tariq Butt of Swansea University, who is organising the event, said: “IPM is essential if we are to protect our food supply and our environment, which are two sides of the same coin.

“The problem is that too often IPM discussions focus on individual elements, such as the role of beneficial species or biopesticides, rather than the whole picture.

“At a practical level implementation of IPM relies on a whole set of accurate, timely and appropriate information, passed to a properly trained decision-maker who, ultimately, has access to a pest-management toolkit that is fit-for-purpose.

“To make all of this happen, it requires a combined effort and the collaboration of industry, academia and the regulatory authorities.

“This conference will provide an opportunity for representatives from all of these stakeholders to communicate and build productive relationships. This will help us develop a new approach to IPM, which is essential if we are to succeed in protecting our food and our environment.

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“We will also be revealing plans for the region’s first Natural Products BioHUB, a collaboration between industry and academia to develop new natural products and businesses, creating jobs and training opportunities.”

Dr Ian Baxter of the International Biocontrol Manufacturers Association UK (IBMA UK) said: “IBMA UK is delighted to be co-organising this event with Swansea University. The last two years have been particularly challenging for all of us, but this has not been reflected in a slow-down in the rate of technology adoption by growers – if anything, it has been expedited by the obvious pressures on resources.

“This is a perfect moment to get together and exchange information on the latest advances in New IPM.”

(Lead image: Swansea University)

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Tourism

Farming union urges Welsh Government to grant holiday let exemptions to diversified farm businesses

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The Farmers’ Union of Wales has written to Welsh Minister for Finance and Local Government, Rebecca Evans MS urging the Welsh Government to seriously consider an exemption from the revised letting criteria for diversified farm businesses.

In his letter, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “To date, the FUW strongly believes that the implications for diversified farm businesses have not been fully considered while making the decision to increase the number of days a property is actually let from 70 to 182 days during any 12 month period to be eligible for business rates.

“It should be remembered that the Welsh Government has encouraged farmers to diversify over recent years to make farm businesses more resilient in light of future changes to agricultural support policies, and that in what is believed to be the vast majority of cases, the conversion of farm buildings into dwellings has only been possible for self-catered accommodation purposes under Section 106 conditions.”

FUW say that it is clearly understood from its members that for many diversified farm businesses, actually letting self-catered accommodation units for at least 182 days per year will be practically impossible given the nature of farming – which generates the largest proportion of income for such businesses – and the sheer competitiveness of the holiday let market.

“In light of the above and given that farmers who have genuinely diversified into on-farm accommodation provide the same type of accommodation as speculators from urban areas who invest in properties to let them out, and people wanting a second home who subsidise payments by letting it out as an AirBnB or something similar without reducing Welsh housing stocks or causing house prices to rise, such businesses must be supported in light of current and future challenges rather than being burdened with further barriers and stricter thresholds,” he said.

“Therefore, now that the Welsh Government has decided to increase the letting criteria to 182 days, the FUW would stress the need for self-catering accommodation units which are located on agricultural holdings or subject to Section 106 conditions to be exempt from such changes.

“I urge you as Minister for Finance and Local Government to seriously consider the above as you keep measures to address the impacts associated with second homes and short-term holiday lets under review and seek to avoid any unintended consequences,” he added.

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(Lead image: FUW)

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Food & Drink

Welsh food supplier and contract caterer launch ‘sustainable food chain’ collaboration

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Castell Howell Foods is collaborating with Wales’ largest independent contract caterer, Just Perfect Catering Ltd, to devise a lower carbon menu – and create a sustainability blueprint for suppliers and customers.

Working with Castell Howell suppliers – Authentic Curry, Llaeth Y Llan, Radnor Hills and Celtic Pride Premium Beef – the initiatve will also focus on other elements of sustainability in the supply chain, such as biodiversity and nature stewardship, community engagement and reduction of plastics.

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The need to rise to these challenges has been recognised by the Welsh Government, which in 2020 launched the Food & Drink Wales Sustainability Cluster. The Cluster supports and helps develop sustainable business practices across Wales’ agri-food industry and aims ‘To make Welsh Food & Drink the most sustainably produced in the world, and shout about it.’

Likewise, agricultural industry stakeholders are focussing more on sustainability themes, including NFU Cymru Net Zero 2040 commitment and Hybu Cig Cymru- Meat Promotion Wales’ environmental blueprint for the livestock sector (The Welsh Way).

The partnership wants to integrate the supply chain, whereby suppliers, stakeholders, intermediaries and caterers’ targets are aligned in a structured programme. Several of Castell Howells’ suppliers and customers are already on a journey to build sustainability into their businesses. Moving forward with this aim, the partnership with Just Perfect creates a blueprint for suppliers undertaking such steps.

Kathryn Jones, Sales Director at Castell Howell Foods, said “The sustainable food movement has become a driving factor in consumers’ decisions to ensure that our resources can continue to provide food to feed the growing population today and in the future.

“The food and beverage industry faces unique challenges regarding sustainability. We look forward to collaborating to address these issues.”

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Established in 2009, Bridgend-based Just Perfect contract Catering have become the market leaders in operating and supplying workplace contract catering service to many of the largest and most prestigious worldwide brands and clients across Wales.

Louise Owens, Director at Just Perfect Catering, said “Since the inception of Just Perfect Catering, our focus has been on how sourcing food from Wales impacts the local economy and communities. Also, how this translates to an assurance of high quality, fully traceable food for our customers.

“This underpinning ethos, with an unrivalled commitment to using Welsh produce, has ensured that we continue to lead in our industry.

“Over 90% of our produce comes directly from Welsh suppliers, and we’re excited to be expanding this further by strengthening our partnership with Castell Howell and their network of Welsh suppliers.”

The first phase of the Castell Howell supply chain initiative includes working with the Rees family at Bryn Helygan Farm, Pendoylan, as they work towards the NFU’s Net Zero 2040 target.

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The Vale of Glamorgan farm has been a Celtic Pride Premium Beef supplier for several years, and farmer Ed Rees said, “’We believe that Welsh farming is one of the most sustainable systems in the world. Our cattle are extensively reared, and we manage some 50 acres of woodland and extensive hedgerows.

“Measuring our environmental impact and understanding how to manage and reduce works towards NFU Cymru’s Net Zero 2040 target. We look forward to seeing how this will be communicated to the end-user.”

Simultaneous work with Authentic Curry Company, Llaeth Y Llan, and Radnor Hills will aim to establish a responsible supply chain and promote these benefits on menus developed by Just Perfect Catering.

Business in the Community (BITC) will deliver the scheme’s training and monitoring.

Sue Husband, Director BITC Cymru, said, “We are pleased to be working collaboratively with Castell Howell Foods to deliver social and environmental benefits at scale while creating business value. Together we are working with Castell Howell’s supply chain to equip them with information and support to help them make more sustainable choices.

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“Responsible businesses across Wales could follow the example of Castell Howell and use their purchasing power to select and engage suppliers and business partners to foster local economic growth while driving resilience and environmental sustainability.”

Lead image: (Left to right) Ed Rees (Bryn Helygan Farm), Edward Morgan (Castell Howell Foods), Louise Owens (Just Perfect Catering), Tony Lyon (Just Perfect Catering), Peter Barnwell (Castell Howell Foods). (Image: Nick Treharne)

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