Raising the rafters at the Royal Welsh Show!

CLA members enjoyed a classic Show week combining deep dive into serious farming issues and some serious socialising.
RWAS political breakfast panel 2023
Eclectic, expert line-up: our panel for our political breakfast event at the Royal Welsh Show on Tuesday 25th July. Top-left: CLA Cymru Chair, Iain Hill Trevor. From left: Jyoti Banerjee, Helen Bailey, Prof Iain Donnison, Derek Walker, Future Generations Commissioner, Andrew Richards, Rachel Gwynon, Hannah Thomas and former CLA Cymru Director, Nigel Hollett.

CLA members and visitors hailed this year’s event among the best they had attended in recent times. We hear the week’s gate-figures topped the 200,000-mark – franchises and trade units enjoyed strong business. Conditions for harvesting and silage-cutting were not ideal to keep farmers in the field, and favourably pleasant temperatures encouraged many to attend who may not have following recent years’ heat. Equally, the Welsh Government’s announcement of an interim scheme to plug the Glastir gap shortly before the Show certainly brought heads together both cautiously to welcome continuity provided by the measure, but also to debate the status quo.

Events in the CLA pavilion and marquee were well-attended – the feedback we received was that they offered good quality experts willing to express their views, and good opportunity for attendees to contribute.

“I’ve never seen anything like it!”

Interim Director, Derek Keeble says, “We always aim for the right balance of serious political engagement, opportunities for members to meet us to gain advice and discuss their own business, and to provide a perfect home for members to meet-up, restore, relax and recreate.”

“ITV Coast & Country presenter, Sean Fletcher offered us a great insight into his world of rural broadcasting and his sensitive focus on mental health and the countryside community. But it was Welsh tenor, Aled Wynn Davies who raised the rafters with his trio of songs – climaxing with the anthem Yma o Hyd. The marquee was packed – people were singing and waving their arms – I’ve never seen anything like it! – I’m very grateful to both for making a terrific and very memorable evening.”

Aled Wynn Davies at RWAS 2023
Welsh tenor led members and guests raise the rafters at our members' reception.

“But the Show has an important job to do in the agricultural calendar. As CLA President, Mark Tufnell commented: the presence of the UK Defra Secretary, Thérèse Coffey MP, and Welsh Secretary, David T.C. Davies MP signalled the importance of current developments the sector. CLA Cymru hosted the Secretaries of State press-huddle (their words) – and subsequently their sector round-table with the farming unions and other stakeholders. Here they were challenged about the devolutionary exigencies of the industry, the two separate schemes in England and Wales and how 650 cross-border farms will manage, markets and international trade deals, and Wales’ budget for agricultural support. Welsh press reporters were eager to boil-down the ongoing issues raised about tree-planting and food production in the developing Sustainable Farming Scheme. The Show presented us the opportunity to share our own views on this with the agricultural trade press.”

Tree-planting was also an important theme explored by the Senedd Economy, Trade & Rural Affairs (ETRA) Committee. Here Wales’ Shadow Ministers for Rural Affairs and the Economy respectively were joined by Labour MS, Sarah Murphy. How this can work alongside the primary focus on food production, and how it can be practicable and viable on many farms remains a concern for many. One prominent CLA member expressed how this has been at the heart of the issue for too long, calling for greater attention to it and transparency from the Welsh Government.”

SoS4Wales, Defra Secretary & Mark Tufnell, RWAS 2023
CLA President, Mark Tufnell (left) with Secretary of State for Wales, Rt Hon David T.C.Davies MP, and Secretary of State for Defra, Rt Hon Thérèse Coffey MP.

I know our President, Mark Tufnell raised these issues directly with the Welsh Government Minister for Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths MS. She and her government remain focused on the net-zero targets – which means planting some 43,000 ha more trees. She’s still open to suggestions and the CLA will continue to address the challenge.

Derek continues, “Our headline event is our Tuesday morning political breakfast. This year, anchored by ITV Wales’ rural affairs correspondent, Hannah Thomas, we enjoyed hearing from an eclectic and expert panel: Wales’ Future Generations Commissioner, Derek Walker, Rachel Gwynon from the UK Department of Business & Trade, Wales Transition Lab’s Joyoti Banerjee, Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute for Biological, Environmental Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, Food & Drink Federation’s Andy Richardson and CLA member and business-leader, Helen Bailey. Debating farming, food production and innovation, attendees heard good news about some international markets, the impact of new technology, changing consumer demand and new processes. However – encouraged by probing questions from the floor – the panel expressed concern about sourcing long-running investment, the apparent reduction in consumer appetite for home-grown produce and the incompatibility of farm profitability, cheap food, and high environmental standards.

“This year’s Royal Welsh Show success really demonstrates the ongoing appetite for the event to remain the pinnacle of the farming calendar.” Derek says, “By the time the Show starts next year, the Agriculture (Wales) Act will be part of legislative history and we’ll be in physical transition into the new Sustainable Farming Scheme.