President Emyr Jones's Speech to FUW AGM on 22 June 2012
Well good morning, and welcome, Deputy Minister, ladies and gentlemen to Aberystwyth and to the Farmers’ Union of Wales’ 2012 Annual General Meeting.
It is now almost exactly twelve months since I was honoured to be elected FUW President, and I can honestly say that I have enjoyed my first term immensely, although I’m sure I have a fair few more grey hairs than I had this time last year.
Some of those grey hairs might be down to the Welsh Government, but I think others are down to trying to work out the map of the London and Brussels underground systems.
But I am finding my feet, and I certainly know my way around the EU Parliament and Commission buildings better than I did a year ago. The only problem is being away from home so much – last week I had to phone Lyn to come and fetch me. I was lost in the bottom fields at Rhiwaedog!
Well, I’ve mentioned my greying hairs, but I’m pleased to say that the process has slowed down over recent weeks thanks to the release of the Welsh Government’s CAP Reform position statement, made in response to what is the most important debate at the moment for the farming industry.
If anyone doubts the importance of the CAP to Wales’ economy, or the Welsh Government’s recognition of this, then they should read this document.
Not only does it highlight the problems our economy would face in the absence of CAP funds, but it also calls for an increase in Pillar 2 funding to avoid voluntary modulation and place us on an even playing field with our main competitors overseas – points raised by the FUW again and again over many years.
And when it comes to the finer details of the Welsh Government proposals, the majority of these also reflect the views put forward by the FUW, showing the value of the many meetings we’ve had with the Deputy Minister and officials, and of working together to find common ground.
And that common ground will no doubt be a key focus when we meet with Commissioner Dacian Ciolos at the Royal Welsh Show.
Of course, if the FUW was to agree with the Government on everything then there would be something very wrong, and there is one difference of opinion over the past year which sticks out more than any other: The U-turn over a badger cull in north Pembrokeshire.
For years we have been saying that half the problem – TB in badgers – is being ignored.
In evidence provided to the Welsh Government we were finally given a figure by the scientists for how many confirmed outbreaks are likely to be caused by badgers in TB hotspots. And guess what that figure was?
50 percent! And what did the government decide to do? Ignore the 50 percent and vaccinate the rest.
And in the run up to its decision the government had to wait five months for the TB science review group to produce a report telling us exactly what we knew on the day the report was commissioned. FIVE MONTHS for a THIRTEEN PAGE summary of what we already knew. I can tell you now that if the FUW’s Policy Department took more than a few days to produce such a document there would be trouble.
And so, how can we possibly agree with the reversal of a policy for which our members, both inside the IAA and across Wales, have paid, and will pay, so dearly, and which all the evidence tells us will mean more of our members’ cattle being slaughtered? Of course, we cannot.
Similarly, how could we ever support the previous coalition government’s decision, upheld by the current government, to scrap Tir Mynydd? What farming organisation in its right mind would support the loss of £25 million to the uplands of Wales?
So, such differences are hardly surprising, and the FUW is duty bound to raise concerns and lobby where such differences exist.
However, these differences should not be allowed to eclipse all those common objectives that we share, and the importance of government and the FUW working together was highlighted again and again in Gareth Williams’ Working Smarter report, which recognises the invaluable expertise and depth of knowledge gathered by the FUW over its 57 years of existence.
The danger of ignoring this expertise is demonstrated regularly through the outcome of appeals, Ombudsman rulings, and even court cases.
And also in terms of Glastir, since the latest incarnation of the scheme – and I urge those who have not looked at it recently to do so – includes numerous improvements proposed in last year’s Rees Roberts review which were in fact being argued for by the Union years earlier!
In simple terms, while Glastir may not be perfect, there is no doubt that nowhere near as many people would have entered the scheme, were it not for the FUW. Yes, we would like Tir Mynydd back, but we also want Glastir to be as accessible as possible so that our members CAN get in to it, CAN benefit the environment more, and CAN do this without it having a negative effect on the productivity and profitability of their farms.
While such improvements are things that the FUW and government can work together on – sometimes during what are difficult discussions – there are others which are beyond our control; the future of the exchange rate, for example, is something we cannot influence, but has a significant impact on the amount of money flowing into rural Wales through the single payment and the sale of our produce.
What the ultimate impact of the turmoil in the Euro zone will be is impossible to predict, but it could be severe, and this means that it is especially important that we do all we can to protect the CAP budget and Pillar 1 payments.
DEFRA Minister Jim Paice recently reiterated the UK Government’s view that CAP spending should be reduced and more money moved – without domestic co-financing – from direct payments to Pillar 2.
Well, I know that our keynote speaker today, Deputy Minister Alun Davies, is in regular contact with Mr Paice, so I hope that Mr Davies can reassure us that when he next meets Mr Paice he will make the Welsh position, as reflected in the Welsh Government’s Pillar 1 document, clear.
Ladies and gentlemen, Deputy Minister Alun Davies.
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