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Farmers protest as Drakeford arrives to open engineering centre

PROTESTS erupted as First Minister Mark Drakeford arrived at Coleg Llandrillo, Rhyl, to inaugurate a new engineering centre. Approximately 200 farmers breached the college gates, marking a significant escalation in their ongoing protests against proposed changes to farming subsidies by the Welsh government.

The confrontation on Wednesday (Feb 21) involved pushing and shoving as the farmers followed Mr. Drakeford into the premises, expressing their discontent over the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) that mandates substantial alterations to their current practices. These changes include dedicating 10% of their land to tree planting and another 10% to wildlife habitats to qualify for governmental support.

This incident follows a contentious encounter earlier that day in Pentraeth, Anglesey, where a farmer confronted the First Minister, who attempted to evade the interaction. The protests are a culmination of growing frustration among the farming community, which has been vocal about the impracticality of the demands being made, especially concerning the running of their businesses and the feared increase in bureaucracy.

The Welsh government has defended its stance, asserting that the proposed changes are essential for both supporting farmers and addressing the escalating climate crisis. Officials argue that adaptation and a proactive role in environmental conservation are necessary conditions for receiving public funds.

Aled Jones, a farmer from Rowen, Conwy county, voiced the collective sentiment of the farming community, stating the necessity of unity to oppose what he perceives as misguided proposals by the First Minister. Similarly, Clare Morrilly from Overton, near Wrexham, highlighted the untenability of expecting farms to cede 20% of their productive capacity without dire consequences.

The protest at Coleg Llandrillo is part of a series of actions taken by farmers across Wales, including a significant disruption caused by a convoy of tractors and pickup trucks in west Wales and a gathering at a Welsh Labour leadership debate.

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In response to the unfolding situation, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, speaking at the House of Commons, criticized the Welsh ministers’ approach, which he described as counterproductive. The Prime Minister emphasized the central government’s commitment to backing rural communities across the UK.

The debate extends into the political arena with Conservative MP for Ynys Môn, Virginia Crosbie, raising concerns over the potential economic impact of the Welsh government’s plans, including job losses and a £200m blow to the Welsh economy. She called for the agricultural budget to be ring-fenced to safeguard farmers and food security.

Cover Photo: Philip Ashe

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