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What would the Welsh Conservatives do if they were in charge of agriculture reform in Wales

27 Feb 2024 5 minute read
Sam Kurtz MS – Image: Senedd Cymru.

Emily Price

The Welsh Conservatives have been making a lot of noise about the government’s proposed post-Brexit agriculture reforms – but what would they do differently if they were in power?

Over recent weeks, there has been mounting anger and frustration amongst farming communities over the Welsh Government’s Sustainable Farming Scheme.

The scheme has been developed with climate and nature emergencies in mind and will reward farmers who farm sustainably.

It will require farmers to bring their existing tree and woodland cover up to 10% – and earmark another 10% for habitat.

Farmers, unions and opposition politicians say this would never be practical whilst running a farm business in an already struggling sector.

Andrew RT Davies has added the SFS to his ever growing list of things he would scrap – along with the 20mph speed limits and plans for more politicians in Cardiff Bay.

Support

The scheme will be voluntary – but will be the main source of government support for farmers in Wales in future.

The reforms come against a backdrop of continuous bovine TB breakdowns and the slaughtering of thousands of Welsh cattle every year as well as bureaucratic pollution regulations.

It’s also argued that the information the Welsh Government has on farms in Wales is outdated.

A farmer recently voiced his frustrations over one of his grass fields which the Welsh Government had marked as “enclosed wetland”.

But in the absence of previous European Union grant funding, Wales must have some form of agriculture payment scheme in place to help farmers maintain a viable business.

So what would the Welsh Conservatives do differently if they were in power?

We invited shadow rural affairs minister Sam Kurtz to explain what the Welsh Tories would do if they were in charge of agriculture reform in Wales.

Anger

He says if his party was making the decisions in Cardiff Bay, agriculture reform in Wales would not have a one size fits all approach.

The shadow rural affairs minister says farmers would be offered payments to support food production and that a series of calculations would be carried out to determine levels of carbon sequestration.

As farm crops photosynthesise, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and create the oxygen we need to breathe. Through this chemical process carbon is sequestered (stored) in the soil.

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Incentive

Speaking to Nation.Cymru, Mr Kurtz said: “We would ensure a direct farm payment to support food production. Funding would then be available to incentivise farmers into environmental schemes that are tailored for their farm, not a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Calculations would be undertaken to determine the current levels of carbon sequestration on Welsh farms, amongst other environmental and productivity metrics, so that our farm support policy could be measured against this baseline to ensure that Welsh farming continues to make environmental improvements while ensuring food production isn’t jeopardised.”

A previous FoI revealed that the Welsh Government doesn’t hold the information on how much carbon is already sequestered on Welsh farmland.

Mr Kurtz says that although this would take time to get the analysis done – it’s important that the baseline is understood.

Soil health

He said: “There are also calculations around soil health and quality, bio-diversity audits on farms etc. Some of which farms have already undertaken via Farming Connect and other means. But as we saw with the Habitat Wales Scheme, that data can’t be uploaded to the Rural Payments Wales website.

“If we’re looking to get a scheme that is right for farmers and nature – and I don’t believe that is contradictory – then let’s make sure we have all the data available to us to inform good policy.”

The Welsh Conservatives say they would also use legislation to unlock opportunities in agriculture research in order to improve farming practices.

Mr Kurtz said: “We would also incentivise the sector to embrace science and technology as a means of improving productivity sustainably.

“We would look to legislation, such as the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill as a means of unlocking opportunities in agri-research, helping to put Welsh agriculture at the forefront of these advances which would see improvements to farming practices, yields and environmental outcomes.”

In 2022, the Welsh Conservatives launched their alternative vision for the agricultural sector in Wales.

They said their plan would protect, promote, and provide for Welsh agriculture seeking to work with farmers and not against them.

The Bill would focus on food security, enabling Wales to produce more of its own to reduce reliance on imports.

Incentives

The Tories say it would be simple to deliver and sustainable whilst taking into account the relationship between the land and those who work it.

Mr Kurtz said: “Our farm support policy would recognise the role farmers are already playing in food production and how they are doing so sustainably, whilst incentivising the sector to move forwards in a way that is collaborative and meaningful.

“The three Ps – Protect, Promote, Provide, were the basis of our Alternative Agriculture Bill and that would be the ethos for our farm support too.”

Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths says the Welsh Government has had a seven-year conversation with farmers to design future farming support and is committed to continuing to working with farmers.

The consultation on the final proposals for the scheme will end on March 7 and farmers are urged to take part.

Alterations are expected to be made to the scheme before it is rolled out next year.


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Paul ap Gareth
Paul ap Gareth
1 month ago

So the Conservatives in Wales will pay farmers to grow food. Does this actually happen in the English scheme the Conservatives created?

Can nation.cymru now do a comparison between the scheme in England compared to the proposed scheme in Wales?

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
1 month ago

Seeing it’s the Welsh Conservatives who with their English puppet master in London persuaded Welsh farmers to leave the EU with Brexit, their biggest trading partner, that’s brought so much chaos not only to Welsh Agriculture with tariffs & red tape, but Welsh economy and democracy as a whole, not forgetting the trade deals his Conservative Government signed with Australia & New Zealand allowing unfettered access to our market, meaning tons of cheaper lamb products flooding Wales & Britain, Andrew RT Davies has the bloody nerve to say what he would do in charge if ever, god forbid, he got… Read more »

Jon Coles
Jon Coles
1 month ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

Look at all those industrial and post-industrial areas in which people would (and do) vote for a donkey wearing a red rosette. They all voted for Brexit. But lazily blame farmers, why don’t you?

Ap Kenneth
1 month ago

What is interesting in all this is the total lack of awareness, on all sides, on how technology could make a lot of farming even more economically unviable. Precision fermentation may well be able to supply, say whey proteins, at far lower cost than a dairy farm. If the technology gains traction then in as little as 10-15 years farms could be bankrupt if they only produce food.

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

wait what? More crops under that plan means more non edibles plowed under (hedgerows and copse etc.) , and GM crops and we pay the farmers to buy our food back.

Got it.

Gareth
Gareth
1 month ago

Meanwhile in England , the following is take from UK Gov doc ” path to sustainable farming” it says ” between 2021 and 2027 we will gradually reduce and then stop untargeted direct payments ” same as our Gov, it goes on to say ” we will pay farmers to improve the environment, animal welfare, and reduce carbon emissions “. Both Gov are on the same course, but Sunak and the Torys in Cymru are only against it here it would seem. Strange indeed. Also our Gov have said it is willing to listen and change.

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
1 month ago
Reply to  Gareth

Too true, perhaps the Welsh government should adopt the English government’s scheme, the Welsh farmers and tories wouldn’t know what to do with themselves then would they?

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago

Sequestered carbon isn’t the panacea to mitigate climate change. It is labour intensive, requires major soil testing and has the possibility of releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than is stored. The carbon is within organic matter, which gets broken down over time by soil bacteria then enters the atmosphere. Planting trees is still far better.

https://www.csis.org/analysis/soil-carbon-sequestration-myths-realities-and-biden-administrations-proposals

Last edited 1 month ago by Richard Davies
CapM
CapM
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

Temperate permanent pasture grasslands in areas of highish rainfall seem to sequester more or significantly more Carbon than other types of agricultural land. Long term I don’t know how they compare with woodland. But neither accumulate carbon without end which is what we really need to happen unless they are under conditions where peat is formed. We have quite a lot of peat soils, once were peat soils and potential new peat soils in Cymru. Such grasslands also provide other environmental benefits such as flood amelioration. Trees are part of the response but it might be that farmers should raise… Read more »

David
David
1 month ago

If an upland farm has say 50 acres of peat bog. What payment should they receive for the storage of carbon? What happens if a foreign company wants to site wind turbines on this land? Who gets the government money?

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