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May 2010 Archives

The Farmers' Union of Wales will be promoting Welsh food and farming during its biggest ever presence at the annual Urdd National Eisteddfod next week (May 31-June 5).

This year's venue - the National Trust's property at Llanerchaeron, near Aberaeron - is a rare example of a self-sufficient 18th-century Welsh farm estate which has survived virtually unaltered.

In a unique link-up with the National Trust, the FUW's new mobile display unit will be located on the Home Farm complex which has an impressive range of traditional, atmospheric outbuildings and is a working organic farm with Welsh Black cattle, Llanwenog sheep and rare Welsh pigs.

The union will also have its traditional stand on the Maes and members are welcome to pop in for a cuppa and a Welsh cake while Ceredigion YFC Federation will be holding various events there throughout the week including, on the opening day, setting a challenge for Wales YFC chairman Tim John to have his legs "waxed" and raise funds for the Kidney Wales Foundation.

A food and farm trail quiz-sheet has been compiled with all the answers available on a gentle stroll from the FUW stand on the Maes to the mobile unit via Llanerchaeron's walled gardens and farmyard.

A hamper of local food and drink will be the main prize for the quiz and a Llanerchaeron meat voucher and piggy banks will be the prizes for the lucky winners of a "guess the weight of three little pigs" competition.

Activities alongside the mobile unit begin on Tuesday with a bee-keeping demonstration by FUW's former Cardiganshire county executive officer Lewis Griffith who will repeat the demonstration on Thursday.

Also on Tuesday popular characters from S4C's Ceredigion-based children's programme Pentre Bach will be available to sign autographs and pose for photographs on the FUW stand between 11am and noon.

On the Wednesday and Thursday there will be intriguing displays at the mobile unit of the work of two Talgarreg rural craft exponents - Grug Jones, who makes unusual and artistic willow sculptures, and retired farmer Lloyd Jones, who has a fascinating collection of rope knots.

Meanwhile, the National Trust will also hold a series of events and talks at the farm complex throughout the week including regular shearing displays of local Llanwenog sheep plus an exhibition of various breeds of poultry.

There will also be an opportunity to visit the unique Geler Jones collection of farm machinery, carts, and rural artefacts housed in a purpose-built shed near the FUW mobile unit.

"The FUW is delighted to work with the National Trust to give visitors to the eisteddfod the chance to discover how a working farm produced enough food to make the estate self-sufficient," said the union's Ceredigion county executive officer Owen Jenkins.

"We sincerely hope that the young and not-so-young visitors will remember what both organisations are attempting to do - educate the public to appreciate that food security is one of today's major worldwide issues."

The Farmers' Union of Wales today warned farmers to double check their Single Application Form (SAF) acknowledgment slips after a series of computer scanning errors had been discovered.

"SAF scanning errors have been discovered by a number of our county executive offices across Wales and had these gone unnoticed our members could have lost significant sums of money," said FUW's Carmarthenshire county executive officer Meinir Bartlett.

"We are particularly concerned at the sheer number of errors that we have noticed on acknowledgement slips sent out by the Assembly Government to our members. Thankfully our staff and members have spotted these by cross-checking them against photocopies of their original SAF forms"

One discrepancy involving a Carmarthenshire FUW member showed a 5.28ha field scanned as 1.00ha, and out of a total of 74 field entries by another member in the county there were 12 scanning errors.

The breakdown of errors is: crosses declaring the intention to claim Single Payment on four fields not scanned; cross declaring the intention to claim Tir Mynydd on one field not scanned; details of field "statuses" not scanned on five occasions; and declaration of an intention to claim Glastir not scanned on two occasions.

"Had these errors by the Welsh Assembly Government not been picked up, they could have led to significant losses for the businesses concerned," said Mrs Bartlett.

"Every year the FUW deals with members who have lost significant sums of money due to minor errors on extremely complicated forms and some end up losing sums that are equivalent to their entire annual incomes.

"Very few of those people get their money back due to the strict enforcement of EU rules relating to obvious errors and exceptional circumstances.

"We fully appreciate that such errors are a part and parcel of normal life and that no system is infallible. But when it comes to farmers making equivalent errors, they have the book thrown at them and can be fined like criminals, even for placing a single tick in the wrong box.

"For those who have lost thousands of pounds and had the viability of their businesses put on the line due to errors that everyone - including officials - agrees were accidental, this will smack of one rule for them and one rule for us.

"But the bottom line is that this is firm evidence of the need to treat errors as errors, and allow them to be corrected without fining people, no matter whether the errors are made by farmers or the Welsh Assembly Government."

THE future of the family farm must be a major priority of a new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), Farmers' Union of Wales president Gareth Vaughan told AMs at the National Assembly today.

Presenting the union's evidence to the Assembly rural development sub-committee's inquiry into reform of the CAP, he said: "I would like to thank you for holding this inquiry into one of the most important issues facing the agricultural industry in Wales over the coming years.

"However, I believe that our evidence shows that the future of the CAP is not just of importance to Welsh agriculture but also to our wider communities - to the very backbone of our rural economy and to every Welsh citizen."

In 2005, the Treasury and Defra published "A Vision for the Common Agricultural Policy", setting out the UK Government''s vision for EU agricultural policy to 2020.

The key policy reforms proposed included: alignment of import tariffs for all agricultural sectors with other sectors of the economy; abolition of production subsidies; abolition of price and direct income support measures; and abolition of export subsidies.

Following publication of the policy, the UK Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) was commissioned by the Welsh Assembly Government and other administrations to analyse the impact of these key reform proposals on agriculture in Wales and the other devolved regions. The results, published in July 2009, revealed significant adverse impacts for Welsh agriculture and rural communities.

"To look at the possible worst case outcome of CAP reform for Wales we need look no further than the policies of the previous UK Government and the impact of these as predicted by FAPRI," said Mr Vaughan.

"Their work concludes that scaling down agricultural support and opening up our markets will have dramatic consequences for Welsh agriculture, rural employment and our rural communities.

"Such a watering down of the CAP would also mean abandoning our food security and deconstructing a framework which would otherwise be instrumental in tackling the key challenges of our age - namely, mitigating climate change without undermining food production.

"The FUW believes that to address these issues we need a robust CAP which is funded at a level that reflects the importance of these challenges and above all has the future of the family farm at its core," Mr Vaughan added.

FUW DISCUSSES FUTURE OF FOOD

By Marian Jones on May 19, 10 09:12 AM

The future of food will be the topic for discussion in a question and answer session during the Farmers' Union of Wales' Carmarthenshire county branch's annual general meeting at Cwmcerrig Farm Shop, Gorslas, on Monday June 7 (7.15pm for 7.30).

The panel will consist of Wales's Dairy Development Centre manager John Griffiths, Cwmcerrig Farm Shop director Roland Watkins, Wales YFC rural affairs committee chairman Dylan Jones and FUW senior policy officer Hazel Wright.

FUW Carmarthenshire county executive officer Meinir Bartlett said Cwmcerrig Farm Shop is the ideal venue for the meeting, especially the discussion on the future of food. "I am well aware that the Watkins family is passionate about producing good food.

"Their shop provides an alternative outlet for the pedigree Hereford Beef, Texel lambs, turkeys, chickens, geese, ducks and eggs reared in the traditional way on their family-run farm.

"To get the premium stock desired they had to innovate and that is the reason they built the farm shop. They take a great deal of pride in producing such a wide variety of food within just a few hundred yards of the shop which also stocks many other foods from all parts of Carmarthenshire."

The financial penalties applied to Welsh farmers for minor mistakes while filling in complicated application forms for single farm payments and other EU schemes have shot up by 175% to over £2m a year, the Farmers' Union of Wales has discovered.

Last year, 1,358 farmers in Wales lost a total of £2,156,237 compared to £783,470 by 1,133 farmers in 2008, £1,035,042 by 1,789 farmers in 2007 and £855,398 by 1,923 farmers in 2006.

"We have significant long standing concerns regarding the proportionality and circumstances in which financial penalties are applied to farmers due to mistakes on paperwork or insignificant breaches of EU regulations relating to the Common Agricultural Policy, and the past twelve months has seen a significant escalation in the level of penalties applied," said FUW president Gareth Vaughan today.

In light of these concerns he recently wrote to the National Assembly for Wales's rural development sub-committee chairman Rhodri Glyn Thomas, urging the committee to look into the issue of penalties applied to farmers.

"Examples include families affected by personal tragedies losing significant sums due to minor errors on paperwork, despite these being the direct result of exceptional circumstances, and farmers losing their entire incomes for periods of more than a year due to inadvertent minor errors being made while filling out complex forms," wrote Mr Vaughan.

The FUW also raised its concerns at a meeting with Welsh Assembly Government officials who made it clear that EU auditors had insisted that the level of penalties should be increased.

"It therefore appears that EU auditors are acting disproportionately by failing to allow the Welsh Assembly Government to act reasonably," said Mr Vaughan.

After receiving Mr Vaughan's letter, Mr Thomas wrote to rural affairs minister Elin Jones seeking an explanation. In her reply, she released the latest figures and confirmed "the total cost of penalties has increased significantly in 2009" due to cross-compliance penalties.

She explained the increase results from changes to the Welsh Assembly Government's system following an EC audit in December 2008 which criticised the level of financial reductions for cross-compliance breaches before and including 2008.

"The penalty system now meets the audit and regulatory requirements that, as a general rule, negligent breaches must be penalised at 3%," she added.

Mr Thomas has now told Mr Vaughan the sub-committee will investigate how the application of the rules in Wales compares with other EU national and regional governments.

"If the research shows that the Welsh Government is applying the rules more strictly than other governments, and that farmers in Wales are receiving bigger and more numerous fines than those in other countries, then the sub-committee will consider whether we need to carry out an inquiry into the matter," Mr Thomas added.

Mr Vaughan said: "We are indebted to Mr Thomas and his committee for having taken up this issue and I now look forward to seeing the results of their further inquiries.

"In the meantime, farmers should be under no illusions regarding the financial consequences of even the most minor mistake.

"Check, double check and triple check everything which relates to Cross Compliance and the Single Payment, and do not assume that commonsense or proportionality applies.

"Even the most minor error, such as a tick in the wrong box or being a day late retagging animals, can result in massive financial penalties."

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