Catherine Smith, the chair of Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has issued an upbeat New Year message to the food and farming sector, but warned that the impact of labour shortages and new trade deals would need to be watched carefully.
One year ago, Welsh sheep and beef farmers were breathing a sigh of relief that the newly-signed deal with the EU meant avoiding the prospect of massive tariffs on exports.
In the past 12 months, strong domestic retail demand for lamb and beef has helped to boost farm-gate prices.
Smith emphasised though that a balance of domestic and export markets was the key to long-term prosperity, and that the sector needed to be wary of any Free Trade Agreements which allowed products farmed to lower standards into the UK.
“After four years of Brexit uncertainty, farmers and processors have been able to plan ahead in the past 12 months, and are looking to 2022 with some confidence despite the continuing Covid pandemic,” said Smith.
Exports are lower than usual, with the overall value of UK lamb exports down around 16% and beef by 10%, but the reasons for this are quite complex.
“Yes, Brexit has added administrative burdens on exporters, and has been one of the factors behind labour shortages in food processing and haulage.
"But importantly, strong domestic demand has meant that less product has been available for export, which has undoubtedly impacted the figures. Covid has also interrupted trade with the foodservice industry.”
Smith emphasised that the long-term prosperity of the Welsh beef and lamb sectors depended on a healthy balance of home and export consumption.
“UK retail consumers have shown great support for Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef over the past two years, which has helped alleviate the uncertainty in the market due to external factors,” she said.
As shopping patterns return closer to pre-Covid norms, we have to make sure we’re in a position to take full advantage of both domestic and overseas opportunities.
“HCC has exciting plans in 2022 to support the foodservice sector as it hopefully returns closer to normality, both at home and abroad,” she said.
“Our latest market research has showed that our Welsh red meat brands are well-regarded both for quality and the sustainability of our farming methods,” explained Smith.
However she added:
In the rush to sign trade deals, we have to ensure that there are proper protections for our farmers and consumers.
"We have some of the best welfare and environmental standards in the world here; allowing unfair competition from abroad is bad for the customer and bad for the environment.”