This weeks column is by Sharon Pritchard, County Executive Officer, Farmers’ Union of Wales
The term ‘pincer movement’ is one we have sadly heard repeatedly in recent months in the context of the war in Ukraine, most recently in relation to Russian advances in the Luhansk region of Donbas - Russian gains that increase its control over major food producing areas, massive grain stocks and key ports from which food is normally exported to destinations around the world.
The large reliance of countries across the globe on food from Ukraine, and the knock on effect of the war on global food supplies and prices, has led to food export bans being introduced in more than fifteen countries in order to bolster their food security.
Meanwhile, the European Union recently announced its latest emergency measures aimed at supporting food and farming businesses in order to “...address the market disturbances and thus contribute to global food security”.
By comparison, reactions by UK Governments to the global food emergency have been subtle to say the least. In fact, deliberately or otherwise, the UK Government appears to be operating its very own ‘pincer movement’ against UK farmers and food production.
In recent weeks Gloucester University’s Countryside and Community Research Institute released a report entitled ‘Assessing the impact of Agricultural Transition in Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly, Devon, Dorset and Somerset’, revealing that farms in the area are set to have their support slashed by almost £900 million by the end of 2027, with replacement schemes only able to make up for a small proportion of this loss.
The report finds that non-farming businesses may see a fall in the money they are paid by farmers of between £220 million and £440 million, and that “When a farm business ceases to trade, more than the business is lost as there is a wider impact, like the ripples in the water when a stone hits, across the rural economy.”
Thankfully, the Welsh Government has moved away from implementing similar plans for Welsh farming following robust lobbying by the FUW and others, but the report serves as a stern warning - and there can be little doubt that English farmers are rapidly waking up to the fact that Defra’s reforms represent an attack on their businesses and
Meanwhile, the UK Government recently introduced the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill to the House of Commons, which, if passed, will mark the final sign-off for the trade deals already agreed in principle with Australia and New Zealand - deals that the UK Government’s own figures estimate will reduce the GVA of the UK farming and semi-processed food industries by £450 million as a result of increases in food imports from those countries (which have animal health and welfare and environmental standards that are illegal in the UK).
As if that wasn’t bad enough, in April the UK Parliament passed the Subsidy Control Act, which - unlike in other countries, where they are content to rely on World Trade Organisation rules - severely ties our Governments’ hands when it comes to intervening in food production, including in times of emergency, and may even allow the UK Government to block support for Welsh or Scottish farmers.
The UK Government’s reduction of Wales’ agriculture budget by £250 million might also be cited as part of what some have long suspected is a deliberate pincer movement aimed at undermining UK agriculture and food security on every front.
Even those who have previously defended such policies are at last starting to wonder whether, if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it might just be a duck.