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Wales ‘risks hundreds of sustainable firms’ by scrapping organic farming support

THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has come under fire for its plans to withdraw support for organic farming, posing an “existential threat” to hundreds of sustainable food and farming businesses.

In a post-Brexit overhaul of farm support intended to bolster sustainable farming, £3.1 million of support is being withdrawn from Wales’ nature-friendly farming pioneers – according to the Welsh Organic Forum.

Funding that organic farmers currently receive for delivering environmental benefits is due to end at the end of 2023, and the interim Agri-Environment Scheme for 2024 has no provision to replicate this support.

When farmers are already struggling with rising costs and low farm gate prices due to the cost-of-living crisis, the forum has warned the Welsh First Minister that the move could put hundreds of organic businesses at risk of collapse.

They say it will throw Wales behind England, Scotland, and other EU countries where organic farming is being recognised and supported – and with 50% more wildlife and less energy used on organic farms, the decision is also at odds with the Welsh government’s climate and nature goals.

Open letter to the First Minister

An open letter to the First Minister Mark Drakeford, signed by the Welsh Organic Forum and alarmed businesses and organisations, said: “We are shocked that the Welsh Government looks set to reject a globally recognised beacon of sustainable farming. A withdrawal of support for organic farming will have serious economic and environmental consequences in Wales.

“The decision poses an existential risk to the Welsh food and farming sector’s ability to deliver to our climate, nature and food security obligations. It is likely to precipitate a mass exodus of organic farmers, inflicting long lasting damage on the sector.”

For decades Wales has led the UK in the development of the organic farming movement – Wales currently has the highest proportion of land area certified as organic in the UK.

Scotland is aiming to double its organic farmland by 2030, while the EU is aiming for 25% of all land to be organic by the same deadline. Westminster has committed to delivering an organic standard next year in its new Environmental Land Management Scheme, and to maintaining current funding for organic.

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And despite the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis and the pandemic, the organic market in the UK has seen growth for 11 consecutive years.

The forum points out that other nations would be “more than happy to supply our markets” – albeit with risk and disruption to UK businesses who currently rely on Welsh organic produce.

Decades of investment set to be squandered

Welsh organic dairy farmer Haydn Evans, who is chair of the Welsh Organic Forum and Soil Association Cymru’s Head of Farming, said: “It is astounding that the Welsh Government is considering such a short-sighted cost saving exercise when organic farmers have been leading the way in sustainable farming for decades. Decades of the government’s own investment in healthy soils, nature-rich farms and pioneering food businesses now looks set to squandered.

“It’s simply irrational for ministers to turn their back on organic farming in Wales when we only have a few years to turn the tide on catastrophic climate change and nature loss. We urge the Welsh Government to consider the long-term costs to all of us if we lose this important sector that is delivering so much good for wildlife, people, and planet.”

Patrick Holden, Welsh organic dairy farmer and chief executive of the Sustainable Food Trust, said: “As one of Wales’s longest established organic farmers, having just celebrated our 50th anniversary of farming using organic principles and practices, I believe that the decision to withdraw support payments will inflict long-term damage, not just on the organic sector but on Welsh agricultural community as a whole. I suspect that the view taken by the minister, namely “don’t let the best be the enemy of the good” although no doubt well-intentioned, did not take account of the fact that for the last couple of years, organic producers have been really struggling. This decision may represent the final straw for a number of small family dairy farms”.

The forum has called for an urgent meeting with Welsh Government, offering to work with Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths to secure a future for organic to renew their previous longstanding commitment to the sector.