PROTECTING rural agriculture from the impacts of Brexit was the hot topic when Tim Farron dropped in on a Montgomeryshire farm this week.
The Liberal Democrat leader spent Tuesday evening at the Williams’ family farm in Forden, sharing his views on how the industry needs to be safeguarded.
Making the appearance two days before polling, Mr Farron also shared his optimism on reclaiming the traditional Liberal Democrat stronghold back from the Conservatives’ Glyn Davies, who has held the seat since 2010.
They key message Mr Farron was plugging was his party’s pledge to protect ‘Pillar One’ farm subsidies, which are currently EU-funded, something he said the other parties were not offering.
He said: “The Liberal Democrats are determined to defend what we refer to as Pillar One, the direct payments to farmers, and both Labour and the Conservatives have failed to make that commitment. That worries me deeply.
“We know that the Westminster government is going to fight against Pillar One.
“That is why the Liberal Democrats fighting for those direct payments makes us unique among the UK-wide parties, and why winning in places like Montgomeryshire is essential for farming.”
Arriving on his ‘battle bus’, Mr Farron’s visit began with a tour of Mark and Helen Williams’ Pen y Derw Farm, which is expanding into poultry to broaden its market in the uncertainty of Brexit.
Showing off the newly-completed poultry shed and existing beef and sheep units, Mr Williams said: “We have diversified a bit into poultry. We started planning in 2015 and Brexit overtook us.
“The pound devalued, but we were too far committed at that point. A lot of the equipment has come in from Europe, and it has come in for tens of thousands more than we budgeted for.”
He also voiced concerns over what the introduction of tariffs would mean for UK farmers, who could see themselves priced out of the EU market.
“When I go to the abattoir, they were telling me just last week they have just had a big order in from Germany. It is a country that wants a high quality free range product and we have got that with Welsh lamb.
“The PGI status, people recognise that brand but we are in danger of losing that.
“We have many businesses that thrive off the agriculture community, any direct changes that need to be done need to be over as long a period as possible to allow us time to adapt.”
Sparing UK farmers from the potentially crippling tariffs is a priority for the Liberal Democrats, said Mr Farron, who stressed his party’s commitment to keeping the UK in the single market.
“The farming industry as a whole I think has been massively overlooked by this government with an assumption that farmers are just going to vote Conservative,” he said.
“I think that’s an insult, and also demonstrates the lack of empathy for what the next years will mean for farmers.
“Three quarters of all agricultural exports across the UK go into the single market - that is tariff-free. If we have no deal, the tariffs could be 30 to 40 per cent, maybe even higher.
“That is absolutely the death knell for family farming in Wales and other parts of the UK as well. We must stay in the single market, only the Liberal Democrats are fighting for that.”
More on Mr Farron's visit in this week's County Times.
See full story in the County Times