19 July 2002

Figures make some grim reading

There is general agreement among Welsh farmers that,

after foot-and-mouth disease last year, things will never

be the same again. Producers know that they will have to

become increasingly dependent on agri-environment

schemes and alternative enterprises as the shift away from

production based support gathers pace. But while there is

widespread fear of the shift our focus shows that plenty

of resilient and adaptable farmers are determined to fight

for their futures in the industry. Robert Davies reports

FIGURES from the Institute of Chartered Accountants paint a grim picture of the state of Welsh farming.

They show that 15% of producers made a loss in 2001/02, compared with 12% the previous year. Of the surveyed farms that were in the red, the average loss was £5500. But five holdings lost over £20,000.

The immediate reaction of farming union leaders was to ask Mike German, the new Welsh Assembly minister for rural development, what he planned to do about the worsening situation.

Already concerned that the duties of "minister responsible for Wales abroad" had been added to the rural portfolio, they warned that he would need to dedicate most of his time to tackling the agricultural incomes crisis.

"These disappointing figures underline that he has far more work to do to revive the rural economy on his doorstep than in other countries," said Bob Parry, president of the Farmers Union of Wales.

The first priority must be to get Mr Germans commitment to the assemblys published vision of the way ahead for farming in the principality. After a year of consultation, its principle conclusion is that Welsh farmers have to compete on quality rather than price to stay in business.

The Farming for the Future blueprint insists that there is no other realistic option for an industry that was in long-term decline even before recent disease crises.

It says the fundamental choice facing the Welsh industry is whether to continue trying to compete in the market for basic agriculture and food commodities, where competition is on price, or to collaborate with others to add value.

The document calls for a much more integrated Welsh agri-food industry, in which farmers and food processors work together to deliver food products that particular groups of consumers want, and for which they are prepared to pay premium prices.

But it also emphasises that environmental and food safety considerations must be integral parts of animal and land management, and that agricultural production needs to be very efficient and, where possible, combined with other income generating non-farming options like tourism.

Whatever enterprises are chosen profitability will depend on how the industry is perceived. Standards must be high, and the countryside has to be visually attractive and rich in biodiversity, archaeology, history and culture.

The blueprint pledges that the assembly government will work inside and outside Wales to create conditions that will help the whole industry adapt in ways that will raise the incomes of farming families.

This includes securing the right trading and subsidy framework for Wales, providing advice through the Farming Connect network and taking a fresh look at planning regulations.

But former minister Carwyn Jones acknowledged that turning the vision into reality would not be easy. He admitted that much would depend on how Welsh farmers and processors respond. &#42