Motion to protect funding for farming support scheme voted down
Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter
An opposition motion urging Welsh ministers to protect funding for a farming support scheme was voted down in the Senedd.
Samuel Kurtz led a Conservative debate which called on the Welsh Government to maintain the basic payment scheme (BPS) budget in 2024.
Mr Kurtz, who grew up on a family farm in Pembrokeshire, raised Wales’ rich agricultural heritage, with farmers cultivating the land and herding animals for more than 4,000 years.
He told the Senedd that Welsh farmers earn the lowest profit of all four UK countries.
The Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MS said, on average, two thirds of Welsh farm income comes from subsidies.
Mr Kurtz said the £238m given to farmers in support though the basic payment scheme in 2022 generated more than £2bn – “a staggering nine-to-one return on public investment”.
He described uncertainty surrounding the forthcoming budget as deeply concerning for farmers and environmentalists.
“This is essential not only for our food, farmers and rural communities but also for our history, our culture and our economy,” Mr Kurtz told the chamber.
The shadow rural affairs minister pointed out that the rural affairs portfolio has seen an in-year cut to its budget worth £37.5m.
Llŷr Gruffydd said Plaid Cymru would back the motion to protect basic payments next year.
The party’s shadow minister described next week’s draft budget as a litmus test, setting the tone for the Welsh Government’s forthcoming post-Brexit sustainable farming scheme.
“As a minimum the government should be looking to protect basic payments,” he said.
Janet Finch-Saunders criticised the Welsh Government’s “delete-all” amendment, which removed the central purpose of the Conservatives’ motion.
The Aberconwy MS reiterated her proposal for a local food charter which would provide a “scores on the doors”-style rating for businesses that sell Welsh produce.
Jenny Rathbone, a Labour backbencher, who represents Cardiff Central, said sustainable farming practices must include action to enhance soil health.
She warned: “No change is not an option. We cannot go on the way we have been before.”
Peter Fox, who declared an interest as an active farmer, raised concerns about ever-increasing levels of bureaucracy, leading to stress and anxiety.
He said: “The work is hard, the returns are small, and the expectation on our farmers is huge already, but is increasing, as they are expected to continually do more.”
The Conservative told MSs this year’s £37.5m cut to rural affairs amounts to almost 8% of a budget that has not seen an increase for a decade.
Plaid Cymru’s Cefin Campbell said: “It bears repeating that were it not for Brexit, we would not be having a discussion now about a post-Brexit funding squeeze on Welsh farmers.
“That would have come automatically, as it had for many, many years.”
He added that trade deals with Australia and New Zealand saw lamb imports rise by 17% in late 2022, while the price paid to domestic producers fell.
‘Hand to mouth’
Huw Irranca-Davies, the Labour MS for Ogmore, described calls to protect basic payments as divorced from the reality of the financial pressures on the Welsh Government.
Mr Irranca-Davies, who was a junior Defra minister in Gordon Brown’s government during his time as an MP, pointed out that EU agricultural support provided certainty.
“We’re living hand to mouth from year to year not knowing,” he said.
Lesley Griffiths also criticised the UK Government for subjecting farm funding to annual uncertainty, claiming that Wales lost out on £243m over the past two years.
The rural affairs minister told the chamber the Welsh Government protected financial support in 2023, while farmers in England received payments up to 55% lower.
She said: “We do not believe the Conservative approach of land sparing, in which farmers are moved off the land, would be right for Wales.”
With the vote tied at 26-26 after the debate on Wednesday December 13, Elin Jones used her casting vote against the motion in line with convention.
The motion as amended by the Welsh Government was agreed.
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