Importance of protecting food supplies and rural communities highlighted in letter to governments

The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) has written to the UK and Welsh governments calling for action to protect food producers and rural communities in light of the current Coronavirus pandemic.

In letters to UK Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice and Welsh Government Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths, FUW President Glyn Roberts highlighted a range of concerns, including the need to protect UK food security and primary producers, as well as concerns over access to the countryside.

The pandemic has had a varied impact on food supply chains, with panic buying and other factors lead to shortages of certain foodstuffs, while sales of produce through cafes and other outlets have plummeted - factors that have increased market volatility and already led to price cuts for many milk producers.

“With such impacts likely to continue for many months at a time when the importance of maintaining UK food security has rapidly been brought into sharp focus, we believe it is essential that those businesses producing what is, next to water, our most essential commodity should be supported,” wrote Mr Roberts.

In light of such concerns, Mr Roberts said a range of interventions should be considered, including forms of direct support for those suffering significant price drops, tax concessions and other possible measures that protect the viability of those businesses that feed our nation.

The letter also highlights the need to ensure food supply chains can continue to provide food to the nation, stating “ this end we would emphasise the importance of allowing milk collectors, livestock markets, slaughterhouses and others to continue to operate while observing appropriate biosecurity rules.”

Emphasising growing concerns within rural communities about the risk posed by the movement of people from areas where the virus may be prevalent, Mr Roberts said: “It is understandable why visitor numbers to rural areas have increased significantly over recent days, but the risk that visitors from areas where coronavirus is more prevalent are introducing the virus to such areas is raising considerable concern amongst our membership and in the rural population as a whole.”

Mr Roberts said that the increase had been accompanied by a growth in the numbers using Public Rights of Way, and that while the risk this poses may be lower than if large numbers were to use urban streets, this is not necessarily the case on busy and popular paths and where large numbers of people are coming into contact where they open and close gates or climb over styles.

“Naturally, for those farmers who must use such access to go about their daily business, such contact is a major concern, especially where pathways lead through farmyards or close to houses,” Mr Roberts writes.

“In light of this, we would ask you to urgently review the current policy in terms of access to the countryside and the advice given to those using our Public Rights of Way in terms of minimising the risk of transmission.”

Following numerous emergency meetings with officials over the past week, Mr Roberts also took the opportunity to reiterate the need for Governments to act proportionately in terms of scheme and works deadlines and other requirements that may not be met as a result of the virus, and would normally lead to farm penalties, highlighting that “ penalise individuals under such circumstances would be unacceptable, and every effort must therefore be made to recognise Force Majeure/exceptional circumstances.”

“The most significant deadline for the farming community at this time is that relating to the submission of the Single Application Form - which is also the time at which farmers are most at risk of suffering major financial penalties due to minor errors on the form,” said Mr Roberts.

The FUW last week asked officials to consider means by which the deadline for SAF submission could be extended, and have since welcomed the European Commission’s announcement that a month’s extension to the deadline for data relating to schemes which still fall under the Common Agricultural Policy can be sought. 

“We would naturally ask that the domestic regulations relating to the Basic Payment Scheme submission deadline also be extended, while ensuring that Force Majeure/exceptional circumstances are fully recognised,” adds Mr Roberts.