Welsh Government launches pivotal consultation on future of Sustainable Farming Scheme
The Welsh Government has launched a pivotal consultation on a scheme which will provide Welsh farmers with support from 2025 onwards.
The Sustainable Farming Scheme will aim to secure food production systems, keep farmers farming the land, safeguard the environment, and address the urgent call of the climate and nature emergency.
The Welsh Government says it will support farmers to become more efficient and resilient, enabling them to respond to changing consumer demands and compete in a decarbonising global economy.
The proposals have been shaped by feedback received from farmers and the wider industry over three consultations and two phases of co-design.
No final decision on the scheme will be taken until after this consultation.
The Farmers’ Union of Wales has urged its members to engage with the latest proposals, stating it’s the most important change to Welsh agricultural policy since the genesis of the Common Agricultural Policy in 1962.
Welsh Conservative Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Samuel Kurtz MS said the scheme must be backed up by a sufficient budget – something the Welsh Government so far has not announced.
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.
Mr Kurtz said: “The Sustainable Farming Scheme will be the single largest change to agricultural support in Wales for decades, so it must be thought through properly and deliverable for our farmers. Sadly, the lack of financial detail is conspicuous in its absence.
“As with all Welsh Government consultations, I hope that this isn’t simply a box-ticking exercise and that they will listen to the views of farmers to ensure that this future scheme delivers for our food producers and our environment.
“The scheme must be backed up with a sufficient budget. If it isn’t, that will be a failure by this Welsh Government to support our farmers.”
Changes in the scheme in response to feedback include the adoption of a longer-term transition period, a commitment for stability payments during this time, along with better recognition of the particular circumstances of tenant farmers.
The Welsh Government will also phase the introduction of the Collaborative and Optional actions and ensure actions are proportionate and appropriate to farming in Wales.
This includes adjustments to the proposal for requirements for minimum 10 per cent tree cover and land for biodiversity.
While the consultation does not include payment rates it proposes to provide a Universal Baseline Payment to farmers for carrying out the Universal Actions, which can be delivered by farms across Wales.
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, Llyr Gruffydd MS raised concerns about 10% tree cover proposals branding the plan a “mistake”.
He said: “Plaid Cymru still has fundamental concerns about Labour’s stance on the arbitrary 10% tree cover proposal. We’ve been consistent on this since the start.
“Whilst recognising that the Government at last accepts that exemption is possible under certain circumstances, this doesn’t go far enough. As it stands the scheme remains unworkable and unviable for many farm businesses.
“Just this week I challenged the Minister on how farmers will be recompensed for any devaluation of their land as a result of tree planting. She failed to answer. If this isn’t addressed it will drive farmers away from entering the scheme, undermining what it could achieve.
“It’s also disappointing that the Minister still cannot provide any detail on the scheme’s budget and payment rates. Without this information it’s difficult to provide a meaningful response on how the different proposed actions will affect the industry.
“These proposals will introduce the biggest change to farm support seen in Wales in a generation and I urge everyone to make their voice heard by responding to the consultation.”
Speaking in response to the announcement on Thursday (December 15), FUW President Ian Rickman said: “We have repeatedly consulted with our members on several versions of this scheme since 2018 and are now at the most critical stage of its development.
“While we have been successful in lobbying for certain crucial changes to the scheme since its inception, including the provision of a baseline payment, a number of significant barriers and questions around certain details remain.”
“In response to the initial Brexit and Our Land Consultation, the FUW maintained that any future payment scheme based on environmental and public goods outcomes must also protect family farms, support rural communities and Welsh jobs and ensure that agriculture is both sustainable and rewarding.
“To fail to do so would most likely lead to serious damage to Wales’ family farms and the role they play in Wales’ economy, society, culture and landscape.
“These policy priorities continue to underpin our key asks in relation to the Sustainable Farming Scheme – this scheme must be practical for all farmers in Wales and deliver on our economic, environmental and social sustainability.
“We will be thoroughly dissecting the consultation document and will consult with members in detail on the proposals. This consultation outlines the most important change to Welsh agricultural policy since the genesis of the Common Agricultural Policy in 1962 and I therefore urge every member to engage and contribute to the Union’s response.”
Minister for Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths said: “We face many challenges including a difficult financial landscape, the climate and nature emergency and its profound impact on our vital food production.
“The urgency of the climate and nature emergency cannot be overstated. We have seen first hand the impact of extreme weather patterns such as drought and floods on farming. These events will only increase in frequency and are the biggest threat to sustainable food production.
“That is why we must ensure future support for the industry addresses this issue, so Wales’ farmers are resilient and able to continue to produce food sustainably.
To be resilient and sustainable means to be able to adapt to new evidence, new priorities and new challenges. The Scheme has been designed to provide a clear long term structure with which we can all become familiar, but one which continues to evolve in a changing world.
“In getting to this point with the SFS, we have never engaged so thoroughly with our farmers and stakeholders. We still want to hear their views and I would encourage everyone to take part in this important consultation. No final decision will be taken on the SFS until after this consultation has taken place and the responses considered.”
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