Rhymney Valley sheep farmer expresses concerns about future of agriculture should the UK opt for a ‘Brexit’

In 5 weeks, British citizens will decide by referendum, whether to remain in the European Union.

In light of the upcoming referendum, a sheep farmer from the Rhymney Valley has stepped forward to express his concerns about the future of agriculture, should the UK chose to leave the European Union.

Brian Bowen, who farms 2000 breeding ewes and around 150 suckler cows on the 1250 acre (rented and owned land) Pencoedcae farm, Princetown, Tredegar – at the top end of the Rhymney Valleys bordering on the south side of the Brecon Beacons- explained that for agriculture to survive, the UK is in its strongest position inside the EU.

“This referendum is of monumental importance and is a once-in-a-generation decision.

“There are certain facts that we can’t ignore when we contemplate this big decision.

“I was pleased to hear the European Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan, outlined these in his recent debate in Brecon.

“As farmers here in Wales, first of all we need to acknowledge that Wales is a net beneficiary of EU financial support under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and we receive more in EU funding than we contribute to the EU budget through taxation.

“Around 60,000 people are employed on holdings across Wales. And the food and drink supply chain makes up approximately 18 percent of the total Welsh workforce.

“In the past 8 years alone, EU funds have helped to create over 35,000 jobs and over 12,000 new enterprises in this very country. If we were to lose our access to the CAP – all of this would be put in jeopardy,” said Mr Bowen.

In recent interviews with the Turkish Broadcaster TRT World and German – French Broadcaster ARTE, Mr Bowen further highlighted points made by Commissioner Hogan, in that targeted CAP funding has allowed for the development of many new, vibrant industries within the rural community.

“Those in favour of leaving the EU may argue that the UK can devise a plan for an agricultural policy that serves the interests of both the farming community and society better than the CAP.

“And while this may be true it is an untested theory and there is still no actual plan B in place with flesh on the bones,” added Mr Bowen.

The FUW is aware that some published plans describe a post-Brexit British Agricultural Policy of £2 billion per year.

However, the FUW was not surprised to hear the Commissioner highlight that this would be a third less than the £3 billion we currently receive from the CAP this year, and every year up to 2020.

“What we know for sure is that the CAP provides stability to farmers and agri-businesses. This legally binding contract between the EU and farmers, under the Multiannual Financial Framework, can’t be cut by the Commission or any Government during this current period up to 2020.

“But outside the EU, agricultural spending would be subject to the same annual review by the British Treasury as any other Department .

“I honestly don’t think that Welsh farmers can compete with the city of London, doctors, nurses and schools in such a review,” said Mr Bowen.

This is especially relevant in light of the fact that the DEFRA budget is already down a third since 2010, whilst other Departments such as Health, Education, Defence and Overseas Aid are ring-fenced from cuts.

Those attending the recent debate on the CAP in Brecon, will have heard Commissioner Hogan say that when the major EU sheepmeat producers, including Wales, asked for additional focus on the sector, the Commission established a Sheepmeat Reflection Group to identify the factors which could underpin the sector’s healthy development.

This, Commissioner Hogan said, should prove highly beneficial to Wales and indeed the broader UK, which is Europe’s biggest lamb exporter.

When it comes to the export market into the EU, with the combined strength of 28 Member States and access to 500 million potential customers, the Union has long highlighted the benefits.

“We need to remember when we vote, that the EU is the world’s largest agricultural trader. It offers the world’s largest agri-food markets, with exports exceeding €129 billion in 2015.
“The market for EU produce has continued to expand over the past few years and will continue to do so in the future. All of which has benefited the Welsh economy,” said Mr Bowen.

Thanks to the EU, Welsh farmers now have access to markets in South Korea, Canada, Colombia, Singapore, and Vietnam.

In total, farmers in Wales have the opportunity to capitalise on over 53 trade agreements, which allow for agri-produce to be exported and imported without any red tape.

“We have also heard from Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss, that sheep farming and the British lamb industry would be under threat if the UK left the European Union.

“How can we ignore these warning? Only today Elizabeth Truss warned that outside the EU tariffs could add an additional £155 million to the cost of lamb and mutton exports, making British lamb a less attractive prospect for Europeans compared to New Zealand and Australian competitors.

“British lamb still does not have access to the US and China markets, so the EU is a particularly important export destination.

“For the sake of all our futures, I urge voters to choose carefully when it comes to placing their vote and ensure that they really have considered all of the facts.

“I don’t just say this for the benefit of my own business but for the sake of the industry,” concluded Mr Bowen.

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