Ahead of the New Year on Sunday, January 1, 2023, farming unions from across the UK have called for change. From the implementing of schemes to enhancing food security, the unions have outlined what they want to see from the next 12 months.

The vice-president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), David Exwood, said the Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes have reached a critical point of delivery and 2023, specifically the month of January, will be crucial for the future of the schemes.

“It has been a frustrating time trying to get certainty from Defra [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] on the scope of the offer and the all-important financial elements in place,” Exwood said.

“It seems that the log jam of political decision-making is finally being lifted and all eyes now are on what seems to be a series of announcements in January.

“We really hope for ELM schemes that we see as much detail as possible in the coming weeks and that 2023 is truly the year of delivering the policies.

“We will hold Defra to account on ensuring that the schemes remain simple to operate on farm.

“It was encouraging to hear that Defra [has] a plan and much is promised in the new year. Communication of the detail to members is so critical, this has to be done by mail shotting every farmer in the country.”

Basic Payment Scheme

Exwood said a “critical concern” of his is the transition from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) to the new de-linked payment, with 2023 being the last year BPS will operate.

“Defra must help to avoid cliff edges in support that some could face, which I believe was never the vision when it came to the seven-year transition away from direct payments,” he said.

“The rolling out of the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway annual vet visits is mooted to be from January 2023. Like SFI [Sustainable Farming Incentive], it is being rolled out in a managed way.

“I would encourage all livestock farmers to have a look at this development as well as the grants that are also in the pipeline.”

President of the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW), Glyn Roberts, said he was grateful for the Welsh government’s commitment to “moving away from the English policies it had originally parroted, slowing down and placing family farms, rural economics and culture and food production on the agenda”.

“As we look over the border to England – where basic payments were slashed by more than 20% in 2022 but no coherent replacement scheme is in sight, and English NFU officials have warned of severe impacts for English farmers and food production – we can be thankful that the Welsh Government has listened to the FUW’s vociferous and robust lobbying,” he said.

Food security

Roberts said that the New Year provides governments with the chance to prioritise the right things, especially issues relating to food security and supply.

“In 2023 our politicians have the opportunity to reverse the trend of belittling the importance of UK food security and undermining the family farms that are the backbone of domestic food production,” he said.

“They now know that even a relatively mild pandemic can rapidly threaten local and global supply chains for key products, and that sudden extreme local events, such as attacks on major food-producing counties, can lead to global shortages of essential commodities that directly or indirectly feed our population and keep the heat and lights on.

“Whatever form new schemes in Wales (or for that matter, the rest of the UK) take, critical to the delivery of scheme objectives and the sustenance of family farms and food production, will be the budget made available by the UK and Welsh governments.”

HCC chair, Catherine Smith

Chair of Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), Catherine Smith, shared the concerns of Roberts, adding that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine played a major role in the further de-stabilising of food security in the UK.

“As well as the profound human cost, a war on the European continent has highlighted the fragility of global food systems; the loss of so much Ukrainian grain and other produce has had a serious impact far beyond its borders,” she said.

“It [has] compelled us as a nation to look with fresh eyes at how we can ensure that consumers here can have a dependable supply of affordable, quality food, and how we need to support our farmers.”

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) called for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to implement “an agriculture policy which has a resilient food supply chain at its heart” in the New Year.

UFU president, David Brown, said: “The next 12 months could lay the foundations for a thriving food and farming sector where we are competitive both at home and abroad.

“We cannot ignore the challenges of this year, if we do, we will miss the opportunities of the next one.

“The government needs to continue to take action to prevent a situation where British food is replaced by food imports – imports which could fall way below our own highly valued standards of animal health and welfare and environmental protection.”

Bovine tuberculosis

UFU president, David Brown

Brown said the biggest threat to the agricultural sector and its ambitions for 2023 is bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and the “stranglehold” that it has on the Northern Ireland herd and farming families.

“I have lost count of the number of farming families I have met who have seen the future of their businesses thrown into turmoil, and in some cases, decimated by this awful disease ravaging through their herd,” he said.

“Words cannot do justice to the impact that the emotional strain caused by bTB has had on these individuals, to see their ambitions thwarted and much-loved animals culled because of the disease.

“It is utterly heart-breaking. The UFU will continue to put pressure on government to act upon the science and to fully implement its bTB strategy.”