I have attended the show for many years and it never ceases to amaze me that so much can be on offer on one site, and how many people, of all ages and from all walks of life flock to the show every year.
The success of the show is a sign of the economic health of the farming industry in Wales and, as my role is based within the wider Business, Economy, Technology and Science portfolio, this is where the main focus of my work will be. I want to work with the farming industry to create the right conditions for farmers to make money, including reducing the burden of bureaucracy. Making money is the key thing as it not only benefits farmers but also filters through local communities, via shops, restaurants, village pubs and other suppliers of goods and services.
I have been busy meeting with farmers, food producers and farming unions, finding out at first hand the issues that matter to them. The show is another opportunity for us to get together and I will have several meetings with unions, representative bodies and other organisations. More important for me, however will be the chance to meet the rural community and to find out more about the issues that people feel affect them and their communities.
I’ve also been to London to meet with the UK Minister for Agriculture and Food, and all the UK administrations to discuss the EU budget negotiations, as well as going to Brussels to meet with European Officials and Welsh MEPs, as so much of what we do in Wales is linked to the wider European rural agenda, in particular the CAP. The CAP is vitally important to the future of Welsh farming, providing over £350m every year that keeps businesses afloat and thousands of people in work, so I am determined that the Welsh voice will be heard both within the UK and in Europe right from the outset.
This year, the main focus at the Welsh Government pavilion will be ‘Supporting Rural Businesses and Communities’. Our exhibition will include information about the support packages we offer for farmers, such as Farming Connect, the Young Entrants’ Support Scheme and Glastir, as well as schemes to help the wider rural community such as the Broadband Support Scheme, the Rural Development Plan and our new Gwlad online publications. Popping in to the pavilion is an ideal way to learn more about these initiatives and how they can help you, your businesses and your communities.
I hope that the Broadband Support scheme in particular will be something that both the farmers and rural communities in general can benefit from. This scheme helps those in areas where installing broadband is particularly difficult and expensive by subsidising the cost of connection. In this increasingly digital age, with more application forms moving online, including plans for the Single Application Form in 2014, and new online business opportunities developing, this scheme will help to make getting connected as simple as possible.
With responsibility for food falling in my portfolio, the food hall will also be another important focus for me. Events like the Royal Welsh Show give us an ideal opportunity to show just how good the food and drink we produce is, so I am hoping to see a real feast of different products on display. Food isn’t just an essential sector in the economy of Wales, it’s a fundamental part of this country’s DNA and culture and it compliments other sectors of the economy such as the tourism, leisure and retail industries so helping the industry to grow and flourish and to get the best possible economic return is one of my main priorities.
My first official visit to the Royal Welsh as Deputy Minister for Agriculture will, however, be tinged with some sadness, as this is also the first show since the passing of my fellow AM and good friend, Brynle Williams. I know how much Brynle enjoyed the show and how honoured he was to be asked to judge the Supreme In-hand horse Championship last year. It is very appropriate therefore that we will be marking Brynle’s commitment to agriculture by unveiling an award in his honour during the show. I hope this will prove to be a fitting memorial to Brynle and his love of rural Wales and that he would approve of the award we have chosen to dedicate to his memory.
During my time at the show I will be aiming to visit as many of the stands and exhibitions as I can, and speaking to as many farmers as possible, in between the meetings and events I’ll be attending. I hope that the weather will be kind to us all and that this year’s Royal Welsh will be one to remember.