15 September 2000

Agri-environment scheme shortfall

By Robert Davies

THE new Welsh agri-environment scheme Tir Gofal needs much more cash if the achievements of the previous scheme are to be sustained.

During a farm walk at Bryncelynog, Trawsfynydd, Farmers Union of Wales members from Meirionydd saw how the Huws family had used money from the pilot Tir Cymen scheme to rebuild stone walls, plant hedges and protect valuable habitats.

But they heard there was no guarantee that the family would get into the new Tir Gofal scheme when their current 10-year agreement ends in 2002. The same was true of the other 350 farmers in the Tir Cymen area who had put 58,000ha (139,000 acres) of land into the scheme.

"The benefits of the pilot scheme are clear to anyone travelling up this valley," said project officer Arfon Griffiths. "You can see the walling, the hedges, the re-roofed buildings, improved managed access for walkers on 66% of the area and the protection of important features like semi-natural grassland."

What visitors could not see were gains such as the jobs created by the substantial injection of cash into the local economy. But limited funding meant that half of the first year applicants for Tir Gofal had been rejected, and no promises could be made to the 86 farmers whose existing agreements would end in 2001.

Dylan Huws, who farms the unit with his mother, father and wife, said the fall in livestock prices and rising production costs meant the loss of the agri-environment income would be devastating to the business.

Stocking rate had been reduced to comply with the Tir Cymen rules and he was trying to improve the quality of his stock to meet market demand. But without the current whole farm annual payments, output would have to be increased, unimproved grazings would have to be pepped up and the environmental gains of the past eight years would be threatened.

FUW president Bob Parry said changes to the hill livestock support system, crippling cost increases, bureaucracy and under-funding of agri-environment schemes were also combining to threaten the futures of hundreds of upland family farms. &#42

Dylan Huws reckons environmental gains could be threatened.