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Senedd debates on agriculture reform narrowly fail

29 Feb 2024 6 minute read
Protesting farmers outside the Senedd

Emily Price

The Welsh Government has been accused of not listening to farmers as two debates on agriculture reforms were narrowly defeated on Wednesday evening.

It comes following a mass protest of thousands of farmers in Cardiff Bay against post-Brexit agriculture proposals.

After meeting with frustrated farmers outside the Senedd, the Welsh Conservatives led a debate on new environmental subsidy plans.

The controversial Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) will require farmers to bring their existing tree and woodland cover up to 10% – and earmark another 10% for habitat.

Farmers say this would never be practical whilst running a farm business and unions say the tree cover requirement represents a “major barrier” to scheme entry

The motion called for the government to remove the 10 per cent tree cover requirement and scrap the SFS in its current form.


Opening the debate, Brecon and Radnorshire MS James Evans said: “The environmental actions in the sustainable farming scheme can only be brought about with the co-operation of our farmers.

“It is essential that the Welsh Government work with farmers to make a scheme that is workable, achievable and one that will ensure that our farmers keep farming.”

Cardiff Central MS Jenny Rathbone said despite it appearing as though such a debate is taking place only in Wales, an “equally robust debate” is occurring in England, and more farmers are now joining the English version of a SFS.

The SFS proposals come against a backdrop of continuous bovine tuberculosis (bTB) breakdowns and the slaughtering of thousands of Welsh cattle every year.

Following the Welsh Tories, Paid Cymru led a debate on the eradication of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) calling for the government to make immediate changes to the farm slaughter policy.

Opening the debate Plaid Cymru’s Rural Affairs spokesperson Llyr Gruffydd said: “To effectively combat bovine TB, the Welsh Government has to embrace a holistic approach that acknowledges and addresses the multifaceted nature of this problem.

“That means that urgent action is needed to get to grips with TB in wildlife. We’ve seen the outcomes in England after four years of culling there – a 66 per cent drop in the incidence rate in Gloucestershire, a 37 per cent drop in Somerset. The contrast with Wales surely demands that the Government re-evaluates its approach.”

Mental health

Shadow rural affairs minister, Sam Kurtz said: “How do we allow ourselves to get into a situation where farmers are crying out for mental health support because of a disease that we need to get a grip on?

“How do we allow ourselves to have a blind spot when it comes to welfare because we don’t quite like the way of eradicating it, potentially?

“I agree with Llyr, this isn’t a silver bullet when we talk about the eradication of TB in the wildlife, but what it does is minimises and takes away any other opportunity for that disease to be prevalent in herds and in the wildlife. What we need is a holistic approach.”

The SFS and bTB debates narrowly failed to be voted through with both tied – resulting in the Deputy Presiding Officer exercising his casting vote against the motion.

Despite Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Conservatives appearing to work together during the debates, spats broke out on social media after the vote count.

The Tories have this week been criticised for using the word “coalition” to describe the cooperation agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government.

In a post to Tory MS, Sam Rowalnds, Plaid Cymru leader, Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “Your party and mine cooperated today, Sam. It was appreciated.

“MSs with very distinct politics shared a platform because of common concerns about the impact of Welsh Lab Govt policy on farming. Does that mean we were in coalition today? No. Is this the best you can do?”

Mr Rowlands responded with an image of former Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price and outgoing First Minister Mark Drakeford signing the cooperation agreement.

He wrote: “Agree, good to work together yesterday, but you have to admit, that’s a little different to signing up to 46 agreed policy areas under a WG banner including, as outlined in your agreement document: tree planting, agricultural pollution, sustainable farming scheme.”

Speaking after the debates, Plaid Cymru’s Rural Affairs Spokesperson Llyr Gruffydd MS said: “We supported the proposal today for the Government to take a step back and to review the Sustainable Farming Scheme so that an alternative approach can be developed that works for both farmers and the environment. We voted for action to tackle bovine TB. And we voted for a better future for our rural communities.

“It is bitterly disappointing that despite the clear strength of feeling from a sector under siege, Labour still isn’t listening. Our call for a pause in the process to review the proposed policy has clearly fallen on deaf ears.

“Plaid Cymru will continue to do everything we can to secure a future support scheme that works for everyone. We will also continue to demand a more proportionate approach to the NVZ regulations and for measures to tackle bovine TB in wildlife.

“In the meantime, we urge everyone to respond to the ongoing consultation on the Sustainable Farming Scheme to leave the government in no doubt that the current proposals do not achieve Wales’s climate change ambitions in a way that also delivers a sustainable future for our family farms.”

‘Wrong path’

A Welsh Conservative spokesperson said: “Today, we gave the Labour Government an opportunity to recognise that they are on the wrong path with the Sustainable Farming Scheme.

“Sadly, for farmers and rural Wales, they voted against our proposals and chose not to take that opportunity.”

The Welsh Government has insisted it is listening and has encouraged farmers to take part in the SFS consultation which is in its final days.

24 hours before the debate calling for changes to the government’s bTB policy, the Welsh Government appointed a group to review the current procedures.

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Rob jones
Rob jones
4 months ago

So another labour dictatorship order that must be obeyed

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
4 months ago
Reply to  Rob jones

So democratically elected politicians debate an issue and the vote doesn’t go the way you wanted it to. You have a very strange definition of dictatorship.

4 months ago

This isn’t about sustainability or “Saving the planet”. It’s about destroying buried ancient ruins that prove who the Welsh truly are. Why won’t they dig up the western parts of Caerlleon for example?! There is an entire burial ground for ancient British kings but no one will do any excavations to prove/disprove this.

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
4 months ago
Reply to  Riki


4 months ago
Reply to  Barry Pandy

Ancient texts and burial places in Wales that Cadw and others refuse to excavate. When trees are planted, the roots over time brake up the Buried monuments, to the point where they are no longer recognisable. So planting trees can be used to destroy evidence of a countries ancient history.

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