Welsh rural affairs minister Carwyn Jones has invited opposition party representatives to discuss the deepening crisis over his plan to scrap targeted support for less favoured areas.
The move follows a demonstration by almost 250 farmers outside the assembly building in Cardiff (News, 10 March) and the submission of a strongly worded document on the Tir Mynydd support scheme.
“He has been astonished by the industry’s response because I don’t think he really understands the impact that scrapping Tir Mynydd will have on farmers and the whole rural economy,” said Brynle Williams, the Conservative AM whose family farms in Clwyd.
“He says he cannot go on defending the scheme, but I want to know who is attacking it.
The EU might be unhappy about continuing socio-economic schemes, but ministers have not been told to close them down.
“Mr Jones is wrong to put farming businesses at risk by pre-empting what the EU might do.”
This week the minister told an NFU Cymru delegation that maintaining the status quo was not an option.
He promised less favoured area farmers a “soft landing” when the scheme was dismantled, but did not tell the union how farmers would be able to gain access to all or part of the 36m/year currently paid out through Tir Mynydd.
“He insisted he was determined that Welsh LFA farmers would not be placed in a worse position than in those in the rest of the UK, where there are no plans to kill similar support schemes,” said Mary James, NFU Cymru deputy Wales director.
“But he put nothing tangible on the table.
There was talk about the money going to sustainable land management schemes, but it seemed to us that there is no clear thinking about what will replace Tir Mynydd.”
Around 80% of 2500 farmers who had signed up to the main agri-environment scheme were in LFAs and these would find it very difficult to recover lost Tir Mynydd payments.
Alun Edwards, chairman of Merionnydd FUW branch, was one of the Cardiff protesters the minister agreed to meet.
Later he admitted that Mr Jones remained adamant that the scheme must end soon to avoid Welsh farmers being left in limbo when the EU ordered it, and other socio-economic schemes, to close.
“I told him that my profit was about £11,000 last year after getting a £10,400 Tir Mynydd payment, and asked him what sort of alternative scheme he could come up with to keep me in business,” said Mr Edwards.