Article by Anthea McIntyre MEP.

I am currently working on a new report on the future of horticulture in the EU – a sector which has been neglected at EU level.  The sector is a vital part of European agriculture but the committee has never reported on it before, even though it has specific challenges and great opportunities for growth.

To put the sector into context, fruit and vegetables represent 3% of the EU’s cultivated area but 17% of its agricultural production. The total production value is estimated to be more than 50 billion euros.

My report, A future for Europe’s horticulture sector – strategies for growth, will cover edible, ornamental and other non-food crops and will include a look at the barriers to the industry’s economic growth and competitiveness and the changes in policies required to help it overcome them.

I would welcome comments and views from any growers or grower organisations – ideally by the end of June – so that I have a ‘bank’ of  practical  examples of the issues facing this sector  that I can cite as necessary.  I shall have a stand at ‘Fruit Focus’ on 24th July in East Malling and will be delighted to see any SWVA members there too and, although very late, will try to incorporate any crucial points into the report.

The timetable sees the publication of my draft report in August followed by a period for consideration of amendments culminating in the formal presentation and adoption of the report by the Agriculture Committee in October and by the whole EU Parliament in November.

I hope this will be a real opportunity for the industry, particularly in the UK, to influence EU policies that affect it.

EU Agriculture Committee to visit UK vineyard

I am delighted to have arranged for members of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee to visit the West Midlands in July.  Their visit will take in Three Choirs Vineyard at Newent.

I wanted to include Three Choirs in the programme for this visit as it gives us the opportunity to showcase another aspect of our diverse and thriving Region and will, in part, help inform members of the committee about some of the issues that will be addressed in the report mentioned above.

I am determined that my colleagues understand the importance of horticulture, viniculture, livestock and other agricultural sectors to the West Midlands and UK economies.

Planting Restrictions

It has long been the position of UK grape growers and wine makers that the industry should be constrained only by regulations to protect consumers and the environment – measures such as Planting Restrictions and subsidies to growers merely distort the market and provide an excuse for potential export markets to apply tariffs to ‘compensate’ for the subsidies. 

At the moment, the UK has a temporary exemption from the Planting Restriction rules but their existence and their impact on the free operation of the market cannot be ignored.

The British Government and Conservative members of the European Parliament, working alongside our colleagues from Denmark and Sweden, are actively pursuing an end to the Planting Restrictions as a part of the overall reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).  It is worth remembering that Planting Restrictions were originally introduced in 1976 as a short-term measure and were due to expire in 1978 but have subsequently been extended ten times!

Like much European regulation, the current system seeks to distort the market because it is not based on the needs of consumers (allowing them access to wines they choose to buy at a price that is determined by the market) but rather seeks to protect some “traditional” producers who offer wine that nobody wants to buy.

The current position (as at early May 2013) is that the European Commission had recommended that Planting Restrictions should end on 31st December 2015 and the European Parliament (driven by the demands of Europe’s large wine-producing nations) counter-proposed that they should remain until 2030.  Faced with this counter-proposal, the Commission voted in favour of a new ‘authorisations’ system to replace Planting restrictions.  Such authorisations would be time limited, have a potential increase of 1% each year – which could be a slight opening of the market – and would come into effect from 1st January 2019. The scheme would run until 2024, at which point it would either fall or be extended, based on a Commission report and proposal.

If agreed, this would be a tiny step forward but fails to address the real issue – why are regulations in place that distort the market? 

The answer to that question is (inevitably) complex but perhaps can be summarised as existing to protect the long-established wine producing nations against competition from the New World producers and smaller European producers such as the UK. 

The relative decline in wine-consumption in southern Europe is counter-balanced by growing consumption in northern Europe and, most excitingly for UK producers, in export markets such as China, Brazil and North America.

One thing that these protracted and, as yet, unresolved negotiations prove beyond doubt – once you create a system that includes subsidies and restrictions on free-trade then the process of dismantling them will be lengthy and painful. 

 

All too often we take grass for granted – it’s just ‘there’ and it grows, gets mowed, trampled, sat on, used as the setting for us to score the winning goal or hit the ball out of the ground.

But for farmers and those who wish to enhance our environment grass is much more.

West Midlands MEP Anthea McIntyre visited Inkberrow-based DLF Trifolium, the UK’s largest and fastest growing grass seed company, at one of their plant breeding stations at Hailes Farm near Didbrook to see for herself the work being done to improve the seeds for agricultural, amenity and domestic use.

 “I knew that some grasses were more hard-wearing than others and that some grew faster than others but I was staggered to learn so much more about grass and the huge amount of science that lies behind the seeds available.  I was astonished to learn that it can take up to 18 years to breed a single new strain of grass.”

“From special mixes for cattle or sheep to Game Cover, Root Crops and Mixtures and Stewardship Mixtures - the range is comprehensive and includes products for Green Manuring and much more.

“The work done by DLF Trifolium is amazing and I am very grateful to Laurence Scowen, the MD of DLF Trifolium and all his staff for showing me a little about this important but oft-overlooked aspect of the UK’s agricultural industry.”

(Photograph shows Anthea McIntyre MEP (right) with (l to r) Dr Penny Mapleston, Chief Executive of the British Society of Plant Breeders Ltd (BSPB), Tony Strickland (UK Technical Manager and Plant Breeder) and Laurence Scowen (Managing Director) looking at trail beds at DLF Trifolium)

One of the UK farming industry’s largest sectors is poultry – the sector employs around 55,000 people in all aspects of the business and half of the meals with meat we eat involve chicken, turkey, duck or goose.

As a part of her on-going ‘Farm to Fork’ initiative, West Midlands MEP, Anthea McIntyre visited one of the region’s farmers raising chickens and then went on to a Hereford-based leading supplier of poultry products.

The first visit was to Stuart Perkins of Upper House Farm, Moreton-on-Lugg.  Stuart and his team raise 265,000 chickens approximately every 40 days. 

As they grow, the birds are free to roam and forage throughout the rearing house, eating and drinking as they wish. The birds are given a healthy, scientifically formulated diet, clean water, a comfortable temperature and fresh air in well lit surroundings, with good space for movement, all of which benefit their welfare.

Good stockmanship is fundamental. Trained personnel inspect the birds in the house every day, usually checking two or three times. They walk the entire length of the floor, up and down, inspecting the birds in all parts of the house, using their training and experience to pick out any birds which require attention.

Strict hygiene control (biosecurity) is a key part of all poultry farming with stringent procedures in place throughout the life of the flock to prevent or control any disease entering the flock (see photo 1 below).

Once at the optimum weight, the chickens are taken to Hereford-based Cargill Meats Europe, a major buyer of poultry products raised in the county and surrounding areas.

Cargill’s offer their clients both primary and further processing facilities and employ the latest techniques to ensure the quality and traceability of the food-stuffs they provide.

“Seeing each stage of the process, from the rearing through to processed meat ready for sale was fascinating and I am particularly grateful to John Reed, Agricultural Director of the British Poultry Council for arranging these two visits for me.

“Herefordshire’s diverse farming and food processing sectors are critically important and these visits once again demonstrated the care taken to ensure the highest welfare standards at every stage of the cycle.”  

(Photograph shows (l to r) John Reed (Agricultural Director of the British Poultry Council), Anthea McIntyre MEP and Ian Marshall (Production Manager, Cargill’s Hereford).)

Blending care for the environment with commercial farming was the topic under discussion at the latest meeting of the Herefordshire Conservative Business Forum.

Meeting at the Pengethley Manor Hotel, members and guests of HCBF heard from Patrick Wrixon, the recently-elected President of EISA (the European Initiative for Sustainable Development in Agriculture).

Drawing on his near-40 year experience of farming at Devereux Wootton, Mr Wrixon explained how every facet of his business is underpinned by his interest in biodiversity and conservation and he went on to talk about the range of alternative energy projects that the farm incorporates.  The farm now boasts an eight-kilometre permissive access path, enjoyed by walkers and riders alike; 130 acres of land are given over to environmental measures including an area of wetlands and has been adopted by Natural England as an exemplar to demonstrate and promote the Higher Level Stewardship scheme to other farmers.

“The vast majority of framers and growers have long-recognised their responsibilities as stewards of the land and our flora and fauna.  Nowadays more and more consumers are expressing their support by deciding to buy foodstuffs produced by agri-environmental businesses,” said HCBF Chairman and MEP, Anthea McIntyre.

“I am delighted that Patrick was able to share his practical experiences with our members and to show that caring for the environment is not only the right thing to do but makes good commercial sense as well .”

(Photograph shows  (l to r) Patrick Wrixon, Anthea McIntyre MEP and David Price from the CLA.)

Students undertaking Business Studies courses at Dudley College got the chance to quiz a panel of politicians and others on a wide range of issues on Friday, 22nd March 2013.

The panel included Anthea McIntyre MEP, the Conservative Employment Spokesman in Europe, and local MP, Ian Austin.

The fifty students at the event were particular interested to explore how politicians and their decisions affect businesses.  The range of questions encompassed many topics with particular emphasis on how more businesses could emulate the success of Jaguar Land Rover, barriers to employment such as the Working Time Directive, and the business-friendly measures in the Budget.

“The Chancellor’s decision to reduce the Employer’s National Insurance Contribution by £2,000 should encourage many more firms to take on additional staff.” said Miss McIntyre.

“It has been estimated that this one measure could lead to the creation of many thousands of new jobs and, alongside other announcements such as the scrapping of the 3p fuel duty increase, show that the Government is pulling out all the stops to get the British economy moving.”

The event, organised by Business Studies Tutor, Michael Bickley, was a great success and likely to become an annual event.

“I am always delighted to take part in events of this type and to hear from those who will, in the future, be running Britain’s businesses, large and small.” Commented Miss McIntyre.

(Photograph shows Anthea McIntyre MEP with Michael Bickley of Dudley College.)