I am staging a debate in the Assembly today where I will be calling on the Welsh Labour Government to take urgent action to help stop the threat to the Welsh lamb industry.
A combination of factors have resulted in Welsh sheep farmers seeing a 56% cut in their income in just a year. In January, the average Welsh auction market lamb price was 140.08p/kg, which is some 63p less than the comparative month in 2012.
Whilst economic factors and rising food costs are making life particularly difficult for farmers, the Welsh Labour Government could be doing a lot more to support the farming industry in Wales.
I have called on this debate to take place as I believe that the Welsh Labour Government is not offering the vital support our farming community desperately needs.
We can all be proud that Welsh lamb is world renowned for being of the highest quality, yet despite this, Welsh farmers are seriously struggling to run at a profit at the moment.
There is a strong feeling amongst the rural community that the Welsh Labour Government doesn’t really ‘get’ rural affairs. Time and time again it has made the wrong decisions, and if ever there was any doubt that Welsh Labour didn’t take farming seriously enough, its decision to downgrade the Rural Affairs portfolio to being a Deputy Minister is proof enough. To this day it has never been clarified why this bizarre decision was taken.
Of course market prices are beyond the control of the Welsh Government, but there are actions they could, but are not, taking. For instance, Wales is now unique in the home nations in not having a LFA (less favoured areas) support scheme, England has one, as does Northern Ireland and England, as does every other EU state, yet still this stubborn Welsh Labour Government has done nothing. Everyone accepts that support for LFA areas is paramount, except for Wales where we have our Deputy Rural Affairs Minister stating he doubts the effectiveness of an LFA scheme.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Welsh Labour Government’s unpopular and bureaucratic Glastir scheme will drastically underspend its £89 million budget. If the Glastir money is unspent, then there is a real danger that it will be lost to the industry for good – this is money that our farming community can ill afford to lose.
It is important for Wales’ food security that the lamb industry has a future. This crisis is bad for producers and consumers alike.