The Country Land and Business Association found itself under fierce attack at the Welsh Winter Fair, Builth Wells, over a statement it issued about agri-environment payments to farmers.

NFU Cymru and the Farmers Union of Wales accused the CLA of making an irresponsible claim in a bid to gain publicity for its contribution to efforts to stop Tir Gofal payments being cut.

Sue Evans, CLA policy advisor, had announced that lobbying by the organisation had helped produce a better deal for farmers threatened with cuts of up to 30% in their scheme payments.

Ms Evans claimed that Carwyn Jones, the Welsh Assembly’s rural affairs minister, was about to write to Assembly Members asking their approval for a payment strategy which had been put together “with the CLA’s assistance”.

As the strategy would take into account the increased cost of some management requirements, some payments would be marginally higher, while others would be lower, she claimed.

“But the minister has agreed that those who find that their payment has fallen due to the review will be allowed to leave the scheme without any penalty,” Ms Evans said.

They would also be able to join the new entry-level Tir Cynnal scheme without having to wait two years.

Malcolm Thomas, director of NFU Cymru, pointed out that the minister was considering recommendations made by all members of the review working group, which had yet to see the contents of the letter he planned to send to AMs.

“It would have been much more prudent for the CLA to have waited to read what was proposed,” said Mr Thomas.

“Two AMs have already expressed concern to me and I hope that the CLA claim will not prove to be counter productive.”

Rhian Nowell-Phillips, the FUW’s representative on the working group, said the CLA had no right to assume which of group’s recommendations the minister would accept, or to say anything publicly until letters had been sent to AMs.

“The FUW just has to hope that the CLA’s premature claims do not scupper what progress has been made on the crucial issue of agri-environment scheme payments.”

fwnews@rbi.co.uk