Mae'n bleser gennyf ddatgan bod Ffair Aeaf Frenhinol Cymru ar agor.
(I am delighted to declare The Royal Welsh Winter Fair open)

Mae'n bleser o'r mwyaf cael bod yma gyda chi heddiw.
(I could not be more pleased to be with you all today).

I do just want to begin by congratulating The Royal Welsh Agricultural Society on making sure that this event went ahead this year and all of you for turning out today.

I know that this year has probably been the most difficult which farmers in this country have ever faced. Here in Wales you suffered particularly badly from the Foot and Mouth nightmare and I cannot tell you how much I felt for you all.

These were dark days for so many farmers, their families and many more in the wider rural community - and I know that the difficulties for far too many are continuing even now. I did just want to pay a particular tribute to all those who are involved in the rural charities who I know have done so much these last few months. But there are countless other unsung heroes who have been utterly invaluable in holding individuals, families and communities together, and to all of them I want to say a heartfelt thank you.

The show today is a little different to normal. With no cloven-hoofed animals here it does seem somewhat strange for an agricultural show - but the winner has been the Welsh Pony and Cob Society whose members are here in force for the first time.

They have had such a miserable year in which to celebrate their Centenary with all their major events cancelled - but, as their President for this special and historic year, I could not be more pleased to have the chance later today to see some of the finest animals in the Society.

I happen to believe very strongly that today is not for looking backwards. All our energy must now be put towards turning around farming's fortunes and I think that we have a better chance to do this now than ever before. And Wales has so much to offer that, with a little bit of ingenuity, I am sure that she can be ahead of the game.

Already you have the good news that the export markets for Welsh beef, lamb and pork have been reopened.

And only recently the National Assembly published its vision for the future of Welsh farming. If I may say so, I think that many of the ideas in that report are exactly right and will do so much to give new life to Welsh agriculture and to the whole rural community.

I am delighted that it recognises the importance of the family farm and gives high priority to developing high quality produce. And it acknowledges what Foot and Mouth proved so starkly - that agriculture, tourism and the entire rural community are inextricably linked together. If one part suffers, the whole suffers. And that is why a programme of action is required which addresses the issues facing not purely farming, but the environment, wildlife and the entire food chain from the bottom to the very top.

And to me that does seem to be the trick which the Farming Futures Group has tried to achieve. And on top of that, the group has even produced a list of indicators to determine whether or not the policy is working - including, the proportion of farmland under agri-environmental agreements on organic farming!

But it will require farming practices to change and change is never easy, particularly after the sort of stresses and strains which the horrors of the last few months have put on so many.

But if the right support mechanisms can be put in place, I am convinced that farming can make that change so that it moves away from production at all costs to a system which encourages quality above all, which rewards farmers for environmental sensitivity while allowing them to remain first and foremost farmers, and which shortens the food chain so that the farmer can keep more of the final value of his product.

It is worth recalling that, 50 years ago, farmers received between 50 and 60 per cent of that value. Today, that figure is just nine per cent.

I am sure that co-operative working can do much to strengthen the hand of farmers. And not just in marketing - where Welsh Beef and Lamb Promotions are showing the way with 7,500 members - but in buying power for machinery and seed, and why not time too?

In France it is common practice for farmers to work together sharing equipment and manpower. I know that such thoughts are virtually unthinkable for many in farming - there is a fierce independence amongst the farming community and a desire to do everything alone.

But times do change and by coming together you will be stronger and better able to take on the retailing giants. If you wonder how on earth it could work, let me just remind you that in France, the farmer keeps 18 per cent of the food Franc - double the British figure.

That is one of the reasons why, through Business in the Community, I launched a few weeks ago a Local Sourcing Guide to try and bring all parts of the food chain closer together with the aim of helping the British farmer and speciality food producer to find a market for his goods and encourage major retailers, hotel chains and companies to buy locally produced foods first.

Imagine if every local authority insisted on sourcing food locally for every school, every hospital, every prison and every local authority office. What a difference that would make - and not just to the farmer, but probably to the well-being of those eating the food! And why not the same thing for furniture?

Coed Cymru produces outstanding furniture and other wood products from sustainably managed woodlands. It would provide an enormous boost if Welsh business and Welsh government gave them real, practical support by buying their produce. I can vouch for the quality - you should see my kitchen at Highgrove!

But, in so many ways Wales is ahead of the game. There are countless initiatives, and numerous examples of enterprise being shown by all sorts of people throughout the rural economy.

I understand there are 1200 applications currently under consideration for Tir Gofal, in addition to around 1000 agreements which will be signed by March 2002. And I am told that the quality of applications is very good. On top of this, the National Assembly and the Welsh Development Agency have launched Farming Connect to co-ordinate support services for farming families and provide substantial grants for improvements and new enterprises.

I am greatly heartened that my Prince's Trust is working with the Young Farmers Clubs, of which I am proud to say I have asked to become President next year, to help young people in Powys - the area worst affected by Foot and Mouth - to set up in business or reskill.

I am much looking forward to meeting some of these young entrepreneurs later today. And if I tell you that since The Trust and YFC started the Programme in February there have been 66 applications and 32 awards have already been made I think we can safely say that there is no doubt that the enterprise culture is alive and well in Wales today.

In that same spirit it does not surprise me in the least that Wales is so far advanced in its approach to organic farming. I understand that you are well on course to reach the 10 per cent target of Welsh produce being organically produced.

And to all those doubting Thomases who still think that it is a bit of a fad - let me just remind you that consumer demand is growing apace. The United Kingdom remains the fastest growing organic market in Europe to such a degree that about 80 per cent of organic produce is still imported.

But what gives me the greatest possible pleasure is to announce that the Welsh Black Cattle Society, of which I am proud to be the Patron, is launching an Organic Club later today. This shows just how forward-thinking the Society is and how well-suited are both Wales and the Welsh Black to organic farming.

With the remarkable quality of the grassland in Wales coupled with the Welsh Black's natural traits, this has to be a winning formula which could improve family farm incomes and, by coming together in this way, increase the bargaining power of Welsh Black breeders. I do congratulate the Society most warmly on this encouraging initiative which I rather think is a first for a breed society.

Before I declare the Winter Fair open, perhaps I could just offer my heartfelt good wishes to everyone in the Welsh rural community for a happy Christmas and a much more hopeful New Year to come.

Mae'n bleser gennyf ddatgan bod Ffair Aeaf Frenhinol Cymru ar agor.
(I am delighted to declare The Royal Welsh Winter Fair open)