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Written Statement - Independent review into the resilience of farming in Wales

Alun Davies AM, Minister for Natural Resources and Food

In my written statement on 9 April I announced that I would be commissioning an independent review into the resilience of farming in Wales. I appointed Kevin Roberts former Director General of the NFU in England and Wales, and former Chief Executive of the Meat and Livestock Commission to carry out this review on my behalf.  I have now received a letter from Kevin which outlines his interim findings and initial recommendations.  I have responded to Kevin and I will be making both letters publicly available.

The terms of reference for the review addressed two key areas. The first was to assess the Welsh Government and the agricultural industry’s  response to the adverse weather in March of this year, and to advise on arrangements for handling contingency events in the future. The second part of the  review was to assess the future resilience of farming in Wales with a particular focus on the beef and sheep sectors in the uplands and hills, and to make recommendations as to measures that might be taken to improve their resilience (on a practical and financial level) for the future sustainability of Welsh agriculture.

Kevin has now completed the initial phase of his review, and has made some initial recommendations that I have accepted. He has found that the interventions I put in place during the period of adverse weather were appropriate. He also finds that a number of lessons can be drawn from our experience in relation to immediacy and consistency of response for the future.  He points out that a number of measures could  have been implemented sooner had intelligence from the ground been clearer as to the severity of the situation, particularly in localised areas.

Had this been an outbreak of animal disease, or another whole-of-Wales emergency, well established procedures would have been triggered at the outset of the incident.  However, similar arrangements for a structured response do not exist for very localised situations that are weather-related, or indeed to other types of contingency, event. A key recommendation made within Kevin’s letter is the need to establish a generic Contingency Management Plan (CMP).  He has also brought to my attention a lack of consistency between local authorities in relation to the implementation of the derogation for on-farm burial of fallen stock.

I have asked my officials to develop this CMP in partnership with stakeholders across Wales so that we will be in a position to deliver the structured response if necessary in the future. This plan will also ensure that we get the correct and timely intelligence in order to provide an appropriate and measured response to a developing or changing situation.  I believe it is important moving forward that there is a consistent approach to how these events and guidance is delivered across Wales.

In addition to this, Kevin has highlighted the need to work with insurance companies to explore the potential for “catastrophe cover” for significant losses. I welcome this recommendation, especially since it also relates to the Working Smarter element of the Cost Sharing and Responsibility agenda.

The second phase of the review which will now focus principally on longer term resilience of farming in Wales has begun.  Kevin has already held a number of meetings with farmers and industry stakeholders and makes early recommendations on an integrated package of support for the beef and sheep sectors in the uplands and hills of Wales through the future Rural Development Plan.  This reinforces earlier recommendations made to me by my Uplands Forum, and comes at an important time as I begin to shape my detailed plans for CAP reform in Wales for 2015 onwards.

I wish to thank Kevin for his work to date and I welcome his independent view on the situation in Wales. I have accepted all of the recommendations made in his interim report and look forward to receiving his final report later this year.