Alan Davies AM, Minister for Natural Resources and Food
Over the last week I have continued to work to address and to resolve the pressures faced by farmers who are still experiencing problems in recovering fallen stock, especially in those areas where the snow has only recently thawed and the fallen stock is now being exposed. While I appreciate there are other areas of Wales where fallen stock are still being dealt with, I also recognise that it was particularly difficult for those who could not even locate their fallen stock, let alone try to recover them. My officials have worked closely with the local authority trading standards officers in the areas included in the burial derogation areas and will continue to do so to ensure that this difficult process of dealing with fallen stock is concluded as soon as possible.
In view of the continuing pressures I have decided to extend the burial derogation for a further and final week from midnight tonight. This derogation will continue to apply to the area designated last week and details are available on the Welsh Government website.
I am aware of delays in the collection of carcasses in some cases, and in one particular area covered by the derogation. My officials have sought and obtained agreement via the National Fallen Stock Collection Company (NFSCo) that collectors outside the normal postcode of those areas may contact other collectors as a matter of urgency. The guidance on our website will be updated to include the contact number for NFSCo who will provide an alternative collector should delays be encountered. It is essential that any farmers experiencing delays who are members of NFSCo contact them directly in order for them to assist. Officials have urged NFSCo to ensure their members charge fairer prices for these alternative services. I will be monitoring this situation and will do everything I can to prevent any suggestion of undue gains being made in resolving this situation.
A significant part of the problem in relation to collections has been the availability of drivers and appropriate wagons for this type of work. My officials have been in discussion with the UK Department for Transport (DfT). DfT have agreed that, where hours of service remain an issue, fallen stock collection should be covered by a national exemption to the EU rules covering “vehicles used for carrying animal waste or carcasses which are not intended for human consumption”. Therefore, in accordance with the rules applied by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), with whom my officials have also been liaising, relevant fallen stock disposal companies can extend their normal hours of operation to ensure collection of carcases from within Wales is facilitated in a timely manner. This change will apply until midnight on 7 May 2013, one week after the end of the derogation permitting burial in certain circumstances.
My officials will continue to work with local authorities to ensure there is consistency in the interpretation and application of the derogation for on-farm burial guidance. The key issues currently being raised by local authorities are in relation to the finding and condition of the carcasses along with delays in collection. I have agreed that local authorities should deal with these queries on a case by case basis and, as long as all the requirements have been adhered to, then a sympathetic view will be given to the situation faced by farmers.
In relation to the granting of derogation for burial referred to in Article 19(1)(c) of Regulation (EC) No 1069/2009 this is the responsibility of the competent authority of the Member States. My officials have contacted DG SANCO in the European Commission who have responded that they expect that U.K, competent authorities, of which the Welsh Government is one, to grant this derogation within the spirit of EU legislation and in a way that cannot be challenged from a legal point of view. Our approach has been to ensure that all interested parties are protected from being challenged on the implementation of the burial derogation. The records kept by both local authorities, and farmers themselves, will ensure any future challenges can be properly addressed with accurate supporting documentation. This has been and remains an essential element of our approach in maintaining the derogation.
The weather has continued to improve in the last week with milder temperatures across the country. My officials have continued their discussions with feed companies and these discussions suggest that bulk supplies of concentrate are now largely keeping pace with demand, even if part loads are being used in some cases to keep farms going for now. In addition, bagged supplies and deliveries of fodder are still subject to some delays, but the expectation is that within a fortnight, supply arrangements for feed should be largely back to normal. I have witnessed a strong team effort from these feed companies working closely with their customers, and I hope that others will join me in thanking them for their commitment to keeping the supplies moving in some very difficult circumstances.
I have already made a statement on the support and advice that we and partners have been making available to help those farm businesses facing difficulties in cash flow. As part of this process I will be meeting with the banks tomorrow (Wednesday 24th) to discuss what they can do to support their clients through this period. I will also seek to address a number of specific issues that have been raised by partners and others dealing with the situation on ground.
My officials have today also met again with those farming charities to whom I awarded financial support last week. We have now finalised the details of the support that they will be offering the farming community who have suffered during this period. I am especially concerned to ensure that the charities can provide pastoral help to meet the human and emotional needs of farming families and I urge all those farmers and family members who require support to contact them directly.
I am aware that there are a number of farmers facing difficulties in meeting their agri-environment obligations. Those farmers experiencing problems in establishing their crops by the deadlines set out within their Tir Gofal or Glastir contracts are able to request a derogation via their Divisional Office to establish their crops by the end of May. This will allow farmers to better manage their pasture before closing off the arable fields. If any farmer has any additional issues with an agri-environmental contract then I would ask them to contact their Divisional Office where officials will consider the issues raised and where possible provide derogations to resolve their difficulties.
I will be writing again in the next week to all farms in those areas most affected, setting out additional information on the range of support and advice available to them.
Looking to the future, I have asked Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC) to assess and consider the detailed implications of the severe weather for this year’s lamb crop, the national breeding flock, and the wider red meat supply chain, and to provide advice. I have had initial discussions with Kevin Roberts about his review of the resilience of the industry and preparedness of Government for these sorts of contingencies, and of the robustness of the underpinning business models in our farm sectors. Kevin has already begun work and I will make a further statement about his terms of reference, and other matters relating to his review. We are the only country in the UK to have commissioned such a review and I am already in discussion with the UK Government about the potential wider application of this work.
Unless the situation changes markedly in the coming days, this will be the last of my weekly statements on this episode of severe weather. I will continue to keep the situation under close review, and will report to the National Assembly on specific matters, including on the work that Kevin Roberts and HCC respectively will be taking forward. I have thanked the farming community for the way in which it has responded to this situation. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Welsh Government officials who have worked hard under some considerable pressures to help deal with theses issues over the last few weeks.