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Written Statement - Addressing the impact of severe weather on the farming community

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Farming Connect … helping you drive your business forward.
Alun Davies AM, Minister for Natural Resources and Food

All members will have been greatly moved by the situation that some hill farmers have faced over the past few weeks due to the severe weather. I have already made two written statements outlining the continuing support that the Welsh Government is providing to those farmers and farming families who have been affected by severe weather. I have continued to visit farms and meet with farmers, their families and their representatives to discuss the situation in certain parts of Wales. 

In the last week, the weather has continued to improve with a noticeable difference in the quantity of snow remaining in those affected areas. Whilst we cannot yet fully qualify the damage done to the industry I am under no illusion that the impact on farm businesses in some areas remains significant. My officials are continuing to work hard to fully understand the dimensions of the difficulties created by the severe weather. I have asked officials to verify the numbers of farms affected; the total numbers of stock lost and the potential damage to the infrastructure of the industry. In addition to this I have asked HCC to continue to assess the wider potential impact on the red meat industry as a whole as well as my own review of the impact on individual farm businesses.

In the meantime, I have extended the current derogation for on-farm burial for a further seven days until midnight on 23 April 2013. I am also making changes to the areas that will now be covered by this derogation. My officials will be issuing new guidance on this derogation to reflect the improvement in the weather and, in parallel, I have asked for a review of the counties and specific parishes that have been worst affected and which continue to be affected. Those wishing to access the latest Welsh Government guidance and details of the derogation should go the website.

The changes made to the areas covered by the derogation have been the result of information received from local authorities and mean that the derogation will now target those areas most affected by the recent weather. Local authorities are refining their data to reflect this information at a county parish level and the early indication is that this will include no more than 100 parishes out of a total of 1046 across Wales. I have asked officials to further explore how many individual farm businesses have been affected.

I am grateful to the local authority personnel in all affected areas for managing this process in a focussed and measured way. I am mindful that some of these are only just beginning to assess the level of the situation as the thaw continues and therefore I am prepared to make changes to this designation if necessary.

A number of questions have been raised regarding farmers experiencing delays in the collection of fallen stock. Initially this was as a result of the snow, however, due to the increased demand for the service these delays continue to be an issue.  I have asked the Chief Veterinary Officer to report back to me regarding reported delays to the collection of fallen stock in some areas and she has asked the Chair of the National Fallen Stock Company to keep her updated on the situation.   Advice regarding the use of alternative collectors is contained within the guidance and local authorities in the areas affected have contact numbers available

My officials have been liaising with all public sector departments to ensure that a combined and consistent approach has been in place to manage the animal health and welfare concerns for the farming industry in Wales. Delivery authorities such as the relevant local authorities, Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency and Natural Resource Wales are applying a pragmatic approach to enforcement and animal welfare investigations are being treated on a case-by-case basis. Officials continue to meet with stakeholders and remain informed of the issues affecting the industry so that I am able to respond effectively to the situation. In particular, representatives from feed mills and hauliers have notified us of the difficulty in meeting the demand for animal feed. There are also logistical issues surrounding the collection of fallen stock.  I am seeking further derogations on lorry drivers’ hours, and will be monitoring this situation closely

I have personally written to all farmers in the affected areas to notify them of the advice and guidance offered by the Farm Liaison Service and I encourage all farmers to engage with that service to ensure we can offer practical support to the industry. Farming Connect continue to offer direct support to farmers and applications from farmers for one-to-one support via the Whole Farm Plan will continue to be prioritised. I encourage those farmers interested in the service to contact the Farming Connect service centre directly. Further information and guidance for farmers can be found on both the Welsh Government and Farming Connect websites. There is also the Farming Connect Service Centre, (Contact 08456 000 813) and I urge farmers to take advantage of this to ensure they are receiving the best advice possible in these difficult circumstances

Last week I asked my officials to investigate how we could provide further support for farm businesses experiencing difficulties in cash flow. I have now agreed to seek authorisation from the European Commission to bring forward 2013 CAP Single Farm Payments for those affected to mid-October – the earliest possible point at which we can make those payments.   As indicated above, this measure will apply to those farming businesses in the new derogation zone that have been hardest hit by the severe weather. I will also be meeting the agriculture managers of the main clearing banks in Wales to discuss what further assistance they may be able to provide to their agricultural clients at the present time

As well as addressing the needs of individual farm businesses I am also acutely aware of the human impact on farming families. This is a significant concern to myself and the Welsh Government. I have therefore asked my officials to work closely with the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI), Farm Community Network (FCN) and the Addington Trust to decide how best the Government can support their work.

Following discussions yesterday, I intend to make a total of £500,000 available to those charities to help them with their work in the short term.   This aid will be targeted at those areas which have suffered the worst of the severe weather.   I will be offering £100,000 to the FCN and £150,000 to RABI to assist them with their pastoral and advice-related work, and direct support to the most hard-pressed families.  Given the general shortage and increased costs of animal feed across most of the country as a consequence of the poor weather, and in order to help address animal welfare and financial difficulties facing, I will also making £250,000 available to the Addington Trust to help them provide short-term support to those families in Wales who are least able to meet these costs

Looking to the future, I am meeting Kevin Roberts this afternoon, to discuss how he takes forward his review into the medium and long-term resilience of the industry that I announced last week.  I will make a further statement on that review within the next fortnight

Taken together this represents a further strengthening of a balanced package of support for farming businesses and farming families. This package has been developed to provide a proportionate response to the developing situation, targeted at those who most need the Government’s and the charitable sector’s assistance.  I have made clear that further subsidies are not the way forward for the industry either in the short-term or the long-term. This package therefore seeks to address the human and business impact of the severe weather. For the long-term resilience of the industry it needs to move away from a dependence on public support and to become more market-facing and more market-orientated

I am grateful to all those families who have invited me into their homes and farms at this difficult time and have helped to develop this package of support. I will continue to monitor the situation for those areas still affected by the adverse weather, and I remain fully committed to working with the industry in Wales through this difficult time.