Addressing the Annual Harvest Conference at Llysfasi Agricultural College, Mr Jones said that Welsh farmers in particular need the support of the public following the dreadful events of 2007.
Wales produces world-class food and we should be proud of the environmentally-friendly methods used by our farmers.
But Foot and Mouth, Bluetongue and Avian Flu have all conspired to give our farmers a terrible beating. None of the blame for these diseases can be laid at the door of Welsh farmers, although they are paying the price.
Rising feed and fuel prices are adding to their misery.
But it’s now time for us to concentrate on the positives. Welsh farmers and food processors produce some of the most imaginative, high-quality and tasty food on the shelves – and we should not be shy about shouting it from the rooftops.
Just last week, the True Taste of Wales awards were held in Cardiff, which attracted more than 500 entries encompassing the vast range of food and drink produced in Wales.
I’m proud to say the event is organised by the Assembly Government and is always a success. This year was no exception, with a range of delicious and exotic foods produced on our own doorstep that would delight the most discerning palate.
The Deputy First Minster said the Government’s One Wales document set out the aim of supporting local food producers.
It’s clear that consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about where their food comes from and are keen to buy local products. This provides a significant opportunity for farmers, processors and retailers. There are substantial markets here in Wales that we can serve, and we need to assess and meet that demand.
Wales is renowned world wide for its quality of food and drink. While there are clear economic benefits in serving more lucrative markets – and many of our producers are already established as quality suppliers across the globe – there are also economic and environmental benefits to be gained from delivering in local markets.
The Deputy First Minister said work had started on a Local Sourcing Strategic Action Plan to support the development of local markets, which should go out to consultation in the new year.
Funding will also be available for a variety of activity under the new Rural Development Plan. This includes grant support for local food processing facilities, support for the formation of collaborative ventures and assistance for achieving quality accreditations.
We also intend supporting the further development of farmers’ markets, which are becoming increasingly popular outlets for buying local food by people from all walks of life.
The promotion and purchase of local food has many benefits, he said.
For example, distribution costs are kept to the minimum, you are in close contact with your customers, supply chains are shortened, food miles are reduced thereby reducing climate change impacts, food is fresher and more nutritious and the money is kept in rural communities.
He also emphasised the importance of public sector procurement, and highlighted the success of the meat and dairy sector in supplying their products to schools and hospitals.
The industry has an opportunity to respond to the need for other products which are not produced in great quantities in Wales. I am thinking in particular of fruit and vegetables as much of this is sourced outside Wales.
Climate change and CAP reform can provide the catalyst for farm diversification into horticulture.
We are facing some tough challenges, but I hope that the sector will look at these challenges as opportunities. More collaborative working could also help in accessing new markets and achieving a greater return for farm businesses.
The Assembly Government is determined to give you the support you need to develop your businesses to meet changing consumer expectations. We have to work together in partnership to meet the challenges and improve life for all those living and working in rural Wales.
November 22, 2007