NFU Cymru has written to politicians in Westminster and Cardiff Bay to assure them that Wales’ farmers are fully committed to keeping the nation fed, amid the increased consumer demand for food during the Coronavirus pandemic.
NFU Cymru President John Davies has written to AMs and Welsh MPs to reiterate that Welsh farmers will continue to ‘rise to the challenges’ that lie ahead, as food retailers continue to see stock fly off their shelves during this current global health crisis.
Mr Davies also used his letter to underline some of the current and future challenges facing the industry at this unprecedented time.
In his letter, Mr Davies said: “I want to take the opportunity to assure you that Wales’ farmers, who are first and foremost food producers, are doing their utmost to keep the nation fed. Wales’ farmers are proud of their role as food producers and stand ready to do whatever is needed to keep our food processing sector supplied with the raw materials that it needs to keep the nation fed.
“Our supply chains are, however, highly complex and vulnerable to disruption. At present they are in the process of adjusting to changing consumer demand, as they orientate away from the foodservice sector and towards the somewhat differing needs of retail outlets. This is likely to continue to cause some considerable difficulties in the short to medium term but should not unfairly impact on the farm gate price.
“As primary producers we rely not only on having an outlet for what we produce, but also on the ability to bring essential inputs onto farm, such as fuel, fertiliser, veterinary supplies and animal feed. If our ability to bring any of these key inputs onto farm is disrupted, then it goes without saying that this will have an impact on our ability to produce outputs such as milk, livestock and crops.”
In his letter to AMs and MPs, Mr Davies provided examples of issues in the dairy and livestock sectors that are causing concern for NFU Cymru’s members.
He said: “The UK liquid milk market is equally split between the proportion of milk which goes into the retail sector and the proportion which goes into food service. The first two weeks of March saw retail demand increase by 15-20%, whilst the food service sector saw a 70% drop in demand as consumers stayed away from cafes and restaurants. The increased demand in the retail sector was not, unfortunately, sufficient to offset the decreased demand from the food service sector.
“At the beginning of this week we saw prices received by farmers for their lambs fall significantly, as buyers become increasingly concerned about consumer demand and the ability to get product into export markets. Our livestock markets have introduced stringent new protocols to ensure social distancing, it is vital that we keep our livestock marketing options open.
“Production cycles in agriculture are of course long and complex and cannot be adjusted easily or quickly in response to rapidly changing demand, something which makes our sector especially exposed to such a volatile marketplace.”
He concluded: “At NFU Cymru we are working closely with both the UK and Welsh Governments in order to ensure that as primary producers we are able to obtain what we need in order to keep producing food, and to ensure that our outputs can be collected from farm in order to keep the supermarket shelves full and to maintain our members’ cashflow. There are however some considerable challenges that we need to overcome now and into the future, during a crisis which has no obvious endpoint.
“We have asked Welsh Government that they prioritise the delivery of all outstanding Direct Support and Rural Development plan payments to help ease cash flow pressures on farm. For our arable farmers we continue to press Welsh Government to introduce a blanket derogation to the Crop diversification three crop rule to help our arable sector deal with the challenge of overcoming the wet weather and now the impact of Covid 19.
“We believe that the UK and Welsh Government have taken some sensible and welcome steps to address some of the considerable challenges that we all face. Last week the Welsh Government announced that £100m of grants would be made available for small businesses who are not eligible for business rates relief. We are urgently pursuing clarification from Welsh Government as to whether farm businesses (which are often diversified into areas such as tourism, hospitality or retail), would be eligible to access support from this new grant scheme at this difficult time.
“Like everyone else, NFU Cymru is very grateful to those who are working so hard at the front line of dealing with this unfolding situation –especially those in the NHS and the social care sector. The events of the last few days mean that Welsh agriculture is facing some very considerable challenges, which may before long require unprecedented levels of intervention.
“Once again, as President of NFU Cymru, I want to assure you of our sector’s readiness to rise to the challenges that lie ahead, whatever they might be.”