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Rural Affairs Secretary shares new timeframe for the Sustainable Farming Scheme

14 May 2024 5 minute read
Farmers protest in Cardiff. Photo Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Emily Price

A new timeframe for introducing a controversial overhaul of farm subsidies in Wales has been confirmed today by the Climate Change and Rural Affairs Secretary.

The news comes on World Farming Day – a day to remind people of the importance of the farming profession.

The Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) will replace grants once received when Wales was part of the European Union.

But initial proposals were branded “unworkable” because it required 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 and a consultation on the scheme was launched shortly after.

Both Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Conservatives have called for changes to be made to the scheme before it’s rolled out.

‘Meaningful engagement’

Speaking at a press conference at Sealands Farm in Bridgend on Tuesday (May 14), Huw Irranca-Davies said that the change of timings was part of his “commitment to meaningful engagement with the farming sector”.

He said: “Since the first day of taking up this role I have been out and about meeting and listening to our farmers, hearing their views and taking on board what they have to say.

“My commitment to meaningful engagement with the farming sector, Plaid Cymru colleagues under the Cooperation Agreement and other stakeholders on the changes needed will necessitate a change in the implementation timetable.

“We have always said the scheme would not be introduced until it is ready and I stand by that.”

Transition period

He then confirmed that the Basic Payment Scheme would continue to be available in 2025, with the proposed SFS transition period starting from 2026, with an announcement to follow on the BPS ceiling.

Existing rural investment schemes, such as the small grants schemes, will continue to support infrastructure changes.

The Welsh Government will also work on a new landscape scale scheme which will build on the experience of previous collaboration schemes.

The government says the new timeframe will give the opportunity to work through a number of important aspects.

The Cabinet Secretary said: “Together we can create a future where our farmers produce the very best of Welsh food to the highest standards, while safeguarding our precious environment.

“We are listening and will continue to listen. We must continue to work in partnership to finalise a scheme that works long-term. This is the next step in making that happen.”

The Welsh Government is expected to make further announcements later today during the Cabinet Secretary’s future of farming Wales statement.

Shadow Rural Affairs Minister James Evans said he welcomed the news on the timeframe for the scheme but was keen hear Mr Irranca-Davies’ further statement this afternoon.

He said: “I welcome the initial statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs this morning on the sustainable farming scheme. It is encouraging that he has listened to the concerns I have raised with him on the future of farming support in Wales.

“It’s a positive step to see that the Minister has listened to the industry, the unions, and all those thousands of people who responded to the consultation by delaying the implementation of the SFS, and committing to rolling forward BPS until 2025.

“However, what we need to see is real change to SFS in its current form. The farmers I speak to have major concerns about tree planting, common land, tenant farmers, and we need to have more detail from the cabinet secretary over amendments he is going to make to the scheme to make sure we have something that works for our farmers, and not against them, and safeguards the future of the industry.”

Responding to the news, Plaid Cymru’s Rural Affairs spokesperson Llyr Gruffydd MS, said: “I’m glad that through Plaid Cymru’s co-operation agreement with the Welsh Government we have secured more time to get the Sustainable Farming Scheme right.

“I’ve long argued that rushing headlong into a scheme that will impact generations of farming is both irresponsible and foolish. We now have an opportunity to take a step back and make the necessary changes that will ensure both buy-in from the industry and a more sustainable scheme for farming and for nature.

“I’ve been consistent from day one that achieving all the changes set out by the Government in the time scale provided was unrealistic, especially with the need to listen and respond to the concerns of farmers. The delay of a year is much needed and will be of relief to many.

“I’m pleased that today we’ve seen the Cabinet Secretary take a pragmatic and sensible approach to the Sustainable Farming Scheme, and that many of Plaid Cymru’s calls have not just been listened to but have been delivered.”

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7 days ago

Tragically misguided. We are going to achieve nothing going down this road. Sheep farming in Wales has been unsustainable financially and environmentally for some time and this was an attempt to help diversify farms’ incomes and ecology. Populist fear-mongering has won again and I’m sad to see Plaid cheering it on.

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