ANY QUESTIONS: FUW president Emyr Jones (second from right) chairs the question and answer panel of speakers (from left) James Severn, Duncan Montgomery, Stuart Agnew and Prof Chris Pollock.The uncertain future for farming was compared with the unpredictability of the weather at the Farmers’ Union of Wales’ annual conference held at Aberystwyth yesterday.
YOUNG ENTRANTS: Agriculture students (second row from left) from Gelli Aur College, near Llandeilo, in the conference audience.Setting the scene, FUW president Emyr Jones told delegates: "Our reliance on the weather, and its unpredictability, makes some of us pessimistic, even negligent, about planning for the future.
"If we don’t know whether we can cut hay, spread fertiliser, or drill seeds for days - sometimes hours - before the event, how can we contemplate the next decade?
"At the moment, we have no certainty about the future shape of EU agricultural policy, despite the fact that changes to the policy will have a huge impact on our businesses and that is a very worrying factor for every farmer in Wales.
"If we are to run our businesses effectively, we have to face the future with open eyes. We have to change the ways in which we operate in order to prepare for the future - however uncertain that future is."
"We can be certain there will be more people to feed, and less land on which to produce food to feed them, and we will rely on scientists and policymakers, whether in the UK or Europe, to help agriculture meet those growing needs."
The conference then heard the thoughts of four speakers on how the industry might address these issues.
Aberystwyth University honorary professor Chris Pollock, former chief scientific officer to the First Minister in Wales and chair of the Advisory Committee on Releases into the Environment, dealt with bovine TB and GM crops.
He said bTB is serious, spreading and difficult to manage. "It is spread within herds, via cattle movements and via a third party - badgers. All three elements need to be addressed to solve the problem. You can't pick and choose which one.
"Better testing, rapid removal of reactors and enforced movement controls address the first two elements and - to its eternal credit - the farming industry did this with relatively little criticism."
Referring to the current Welsh Government's bTB policy, Prof Pollock said in areas of high disease incidence vaccination will not prevent infected badgers from infecting cattle.
"Under the previous administration, where localised culling was to be implemented as a pilot, it could be argued that Welsh policy development, implementation and monitoring were strongly evidence-based and dealt as effectively as possible with uncertainty.
"In my opinion, the uncertainties surrounding culling were not sufficient evidence to move to a less effective but politically more acceptable alternative and that is why I fell out with the current administration."
On GM crops, Prof Pollock said there was no scientific evidence that the technology is inherently unsafe and they had a 20-year history of safe use worldwide.
"Faced with the same evidence, Scotland and Wales have chosen - for political reasons - to oppose all GM cultivation although not importation. To its credit the Whitehall administration has consistently voted with the evidence and supported release.
"Is it any wonder that many of us think that evidence-based policy making will generally lose out to policy-based evidence-making?"
James Severn, director of farm business consultants Andersons Northern (England) Ltd, spoke about joint farming ventures and the benefits of working together to become more profitable, sustainable, efficient and competitive.
He outlined four typical "Share to Farm" projects which his firm had been involved with and explained that volatility within the industry was a very real concern and a huge issue facing farmers.
"Output prices and input costs pose a very significant challenge to farming businesses. But working together can offer huge benefits," he added.
East of England UKIP MEP, Norfolk farmer Stuart Agnew, a member of the European Parliament's agriculture and rural development committee, revealed he is often a lone voice speaking up for British farmers and trying to make the committee understand the practical effects of their proposals on farmers in the real world.
He backed many of Prof Pollock's views on GM crops and claimed opposition to them was "fuelled by a hatred of capitalism".
Shrewsbury-based taxation expert Duncan Montgomery, of chartered accountants Whittingham Riddell, delivered a wide-ranging perspective on measures to overcome the barriers to succession for young entrants to farming.
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