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Concern over timeframe for changes to controversial farm subsidy scheme

12 Mar 2024 5 minute read
Wellies lined up outside the Senedd in Cardiff Bay.

Emily Price

A farming union has raised concerns over the timeframe to make changes to the Welsh Government’s new farm subsidy reforms in order to ensure they are fit for purpose before rollout next year.

The warning came from the Farmers’ Union of Wales in its response to the Welsh Government’s Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) consultation which closed last week.

The controversial scheme will require farmers to bring their existing tree and woodland cover up to 10%, and earmark another 10% for habitat.

In February, thousands of farmers arrived in Cardiff Bay to protest the plans which farmers have branded “unworkable”.

Farming leaders say the scheme could result in 5,500 job losses and wellies representing those jobs were lined up outside the Senedd earlier this month.

The Welsh Government has insisted it is listening to farmers’ concerns and say changes to the SFS will be made before it’s rolled out in 2025.

Meetings

The FUW’s response was compiled following discussions with members and sector representatives at thirteen regional meetings across Wales.

Those meetings, attended by hundreds of members, as well as others who have a direct or indirect interest in the agricultural industry, helped in compiling the union’s response.

Engagement also took place at twelve FUW County Executive meetings and meetings of the Union’s ten Standing Committees.

FUW President Ian Rickman said: “The Union’s response to this final consultation on the Sustainable Farming Scheme provides a comprehensive insight into the views and concerns of our members.

“Firstly, we believe the overarching objectives of the scheme must be revised so that they align with the Welsh Way Forward principles and the nine objectives that underpin the current EU CAP framework, such as minimising adverse economic impacts and disruption for businesses, sectors and regions.

“At the very least, the SFS must provide meaningful support and income to active farmers in Wales for producing sustainable food in line with the first Sustainable Land Management objective.”

The FUW’s response also calls for the establishment of a small, focussed SFS design stakeholder group that includes the farming unions to consider the changes to the SFS and associated payment rates.

The union says there should be an option to create sub-groups or panels that consider the details of different elements of the SFS – for example, in relation to broad policy areas such as woodlands.

‘Re-design’

Mr Rickman said: “It is imperative that we use the next few months effectively to re-design elements of the scheme in collaboration with the Welsh Government and other key stakeholders.

“This includes ensuring that the scheme payment rates are calculated in agreement with farming unions by using evidence gathered from economic impact assessments and farm business data.

“This would ensure payments go beyond income foregone and costs incurred so that the scheme is economically sustainable for farm businesses.

“It also includes the need to ensure that all Universal Actions and scheme rules are accessible and achievable by all and do not represent barriers to scheme entry.”

The FUW says such a group should also assess the overall budget required to deliver different versions of the SFS, so that a case can be made to the UK Government for adequate funding.

Changes could then be made to the final scheme if that funding falls short of what is required.

Mr Rickman added: “The current and incoming Welsh Government must now seriously consider every single one of the thousands of responses to the consultation and work with the industry to design a scheme that is genuinely fit for purpose.

“On a final note, I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to the Union staff and to everyone who attended our SFS county meetings and contributed to the final FUW response.”

Analysis and a summary of the responses to the SFS consultation will be published by the Welsh Government later in the spring.

Changes

In a statement announcing the end of the SFS consultation, minister for rural affairs Lesley Griffiths said: “Every consultation response received, and the issues raised and discussed at the 10 Welsh Government Roadshow events during the consultation period, will be analysed and properly considered.

“I have been clear I expect changes to be made to the proposals as a result of the consultation so that we can most effectively support a transition to more sustainable farming in Wales, as our present circumstances demand.

“No decision will be taken on any of the proposals, including how we achieve the requirement for habitat and trees, until a full analysis of the responses has been carried out.

“Our aim is to secure a successful future for Wales and for our farmers. We want them to continue producing food sustainably into the future, in ways that we know many farmers already practice right across Wales.

“Sustainable food production delivers additional benefits such as improvements to business efficiency, water quality and biodiversity, which in turn ensure that food production can continue for generations to come.

“These are benefits to wider society and we continue to believe that public funding for farming is well justified on the basis of the kind of social value farmers provide.

“I’d like to assure everyone who has taken part in the consultation – we are listening and we will take all views into account. We have to get this right, the future of food production in Wales depends on it.”


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Teilo Colley
Teilo Colley
1 month ago

I’m not sure the scheme necessarily requires 10 per cent tree cover plus another 10 per cent habitat.
https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/press-centre/2024/02/welsh-farm-tree-cover-requirement/

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