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Welsh Government must balance farming priorities

IN EARLY July, the Welsh Government published its proposals for the Sustainable Farming Scheme.

Robert Dangerfield, Communications Manager for the Country Land Owners and Business Association Cymru, responds.

We are pleased to see the ambition shown within the document to support sustainable and profitable food production alongside addressing the climate and biodiversity emergencies.

The proposals arise after three consultations over five years and reflect the work our members and the CLA team have done with Welsh Government.

We are happy to see considerable detail on what the scheme will pay for, the process for how farmers and landowners can apply, and how the transition from the current landscape of the Basic Payment Scheme and Glastir to the Sustainable Farming Scheme will work.

We do, however, have some specific concerns.

Firstly, the requirements for 10% woodland/forestry cover and a 10% requirement for habitat creation and maintenance may not be suitable for all holdings. The need to balance sustainable food production must be considered further.

Secondly, there are no specific payment rates for the scheme. Welsh Government have explained that this is because the current funding settlement with the UK Government only goes to 2024, so they cannot commit to specific rates. This is disappointing, and we will continue to lobby to ensure future funding matches the commitments within the proposals.

WHAT HAS BEEN PROPOSED?

Despite the concerns highlighted above, there is a fair amount of detail within the document. To summarise, the scheme includes a farm sustainability review that will include farm details (size, sector, livestock), a carbon assessment and a baseline habitat survey.

The review will be digital, where possible, to reduce cost and concentrate resources on scheme delivery.

It will provide entry to the scheme and identify the actions Welsh Government will pay for. These will consist of a mixture of universal activities that all applicants must undertake – for which they will receive a baseline payment via a five-year contract and optional and collaborative actions which will attract additional payments.

The universal actions include:

·        Record of key performance indicators;

·        10% of land for woodland/forestry and 10% for habitat creation/maintenance;

·        Undertake animal health and welfare plan;

·        Undertake a biosecurity plan;

·        Manage areas of cultural/heritage significance;

·        Undertake a five-yearly soil analysis.

The optional and collaborative actions are very wide-ranging and will be able to be tailored for the plethora of different farm types across Wales. One particular area of importance for our membership is access.

The proposal outline that any options relating to access are optional and include:

·        upgrading footpaths to multi-use paths;

·        enhancing existing paths to make them more accessible;

·        establishing joined-up and new access routes and trails;

·        establishing new access;

·        hosting educational and care farm visits.

We will continue to work with the various access fora and the Welsh Government to ensure that any new access is voluntary, incentivised, and permissive.

INITIAL VIEWS

The Royal Welsh Agricultural Show took place a week after the publication of the proposals, providing an ideal opportunity for discussion with lots of different organisations and our members.

Not surprisingly, the “10 and 10 requirements” dominated many meetings and conversations I had.

Some farmers were not concerned as they had already reached these percentages on their holding but were worried about land held under Farm Business Tenancies that often did not include the woodland.

In the short term, there are no quick answers; but the CLA Cymru team will be part of a Welsh Government-organised tenancy working group to discuss the impact of the proposals on landowners and tenants.

Other members outlined their worries that they needed all the productive land they had to go towards feeding their stock or growing their crops. This is a real concern.

For some, the solution will be to sustainably intensify other parts of their farm and become more efficient.

Where this is not possible, the role of exemptions for some farms must be considered by Welsh Government.

AGRICULTURE (WALES) BILL

The Agriculture (Wales) Bill will be published this Autumn.

It will be the legislative mechanism by which Welsh Government can administer the new scheme.

Ministers are confident it will receive Royal Assent by summer 2023, ready to begin testing, trialling, and introducing the new scheme.

We will be working with Members of the Senedd to ensure scrutiny of the Bill and to propose amendments if we see fit.