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Serious questions raised about Welsh Government support for farmers

29 Nov 2023 6 minute read
Fears have been raised by farmers over government funding.

Emily Price

Serious questions have been asked about Welsh Government support for farmers and the future of the agricultural industry in Wales.

In October crisis cuts were made by the Welsh Government in order to maintain health and rail services in Wales amid “unprecedented” financial pressures.

Rural Affairs was given £482m which is only about 2% of the Welsh Government’s total budget.

Concerns have since been raised by farmers that there will be less government funding available to them.

A National Farmers Union poll has revealed that 90% of farmers felt that the Welsh Government’s actions on Bovine TB were poor or very poor.

Questions have also been raised on tree planting targets which could potentially lead to the loss of productive land.

In addition, the Welsh Government has been criticised for its roll out of the new agri-environment payment scheme for farmers – the Habitat Wales Scheme.

The scheme intends to bridge the gap between previous Glastir contracts which will end on on 31 December and the new Sustainable Farming Scheme which will be rolled out in 2025.

There are around 17,000 registered farms in Wales and 3000 of them are Glastir contract holders.

So far there have been 3200 applications for the Habitat Wales Scheme but the Welsh Government has not yet announced a budget for it.

The campaign group Wales Environment Link criticised the interim scheme saying it will offer 45% less compared to habitat payments in Glastir Advanced and will offer no support for whole-farm organic management.

Lessons

During FMQ’s on Tuesday (November 28) Leader of Plaid Cymru, Rhun ap Iorwerth asked the First Minister to provide an assurance that the draft budget will not have a detrimental impact on agriculture in Wales.

He said: “I know how much the First Minister loves my five-point plans, but let me limit things today to just three actions that Government could take to show its support.

“How about showing, firstly, that it’s learnt the lessons from the Habitat Wales scheme? Secondly, it could commit to acting on concerns that tree planting could potentially lead to the loss of productive land.

“Thirdly and I invite the First Minister himself to add points 4, 5 and 6, if he so wishes it would give a longstanding commitment that agriculture is not only a viable industry today, but that its foundations can and must be firm and solid for tomorrow.

“Winter can be a pretty tough time for farming at the best of times, but the right messages now, especially around financial certainty, could make a difference. And remember, for every £1 that goes into agriculture, £9 is generated for the economy.

“So, will the First Minister agree with me that farming is not a loss leader, but rather, an industry that generates a dividend from investment, and will he take that into account when balancing competing priorities in his budget?”

The First Minister said there was no special case to be made for farming as the Welsh Government lost £0.25 billion-worth of funding as a result of Brexit.

Responding to Mr ap Iorwerth, he said: “I think that the farming sector, the agricultural sector in Wales is vitally important. I think the work that it does is of advantage to Wales.

“I think the fact that it supports the culture, the language, the way of life—all that matters to us on this side of the Chamber, but none of that can simply wipe away the challenges that we face in setting our budget.

“And what I want to do this afternoon is just to be clear with people. People around this Chamber, week after week, stand up and ask me to spend more on this, more on that, more on something else.

“There’s always a strong case when people do, these are not frivolous things that people ask for, they’re making serious cases in important areas. In the end, what the Welsh Government has to do is to weigh up all those competing priorities.

“And all I’m saying to the Member this afternoon is that, despite the value that we attach to everything that goes on in the Welsh countryside and those who work in it, there are no special cases to be made at a time when you have to find the level of reductions in our capacity to be able to invest in everything that matters to people in every part of our country.”

This week, Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, Samuel Kurtz MS attended the Royal Welsh Winter Fair and met with farmers and farming unions.

He said the agriculture community in Wales is facing serious mental health issues at a time when farmers are uncertain as to what financial support the Welsh Government is going to provide.

Future

Mr Kurtz said: “Amongst all the festivities at this year’s winter fair, there was a clear cloud over the future of farming and rural communities in Wales following the Welsh Government slashing the rural budget over the summer and no guarantee that next year’s BPS will be spent in full on supporting farmers.

“It is evidently clear that the Labour Government is letting down our fantastic farming industry. I challenge anybody to find a better return on public investment than in Welsh agriculture, where for every £1 spent supporting our farmers, is worth £9 to the wider Welsh economy.

“It is simply not fair on our rural communities that still, at the eleventh hour, we are unsure about what financial support will be made available to our farmers from January. The Labour Government need to be honest to the farming community and tell us what that budget is going to be.”

Difficult decisions

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We have been very clear we are facing an extremely challenging financial situation, the toughest since devolution.  We know there are difficult decisions to be made across Welsh Government.

“Despite these challenges, we remain absolutely committed to supporting farmers and rural communities throughout Wales,  for example, we have prioritised the BPS 2023 budget, which remains at £238m, and advance payments are being made as usual.

“As the EU funded Glastir scheme finally draws to a close next month, farmers asked us for an interim scheme until the start of the Sustainable Farming Scheme. We have listened and have delivered, while engaging regularly with the unions and others in this challenging financial context.

“The Habitat Wales scheme allows more farmers to apply and over 3200 have done so, many of whom were not part of previous agri-environment schemes.  We look forward to publishing contract details soon which will highlight what this scheme can achieve.  We will confirm the budget prior to the issuing of contracts.

“This has been delivered while also dealing with the impact of leaving the EU.  Everyone must remember rural affairs has lost £243m of replacement EU funding as a result of the UK Government deducting any forecasted EU spend from what they consider to be full replacement funding.”


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