The Welsh government has doubled down on plans requiring every farm in the country to have at least 10% of tree cover to be eligible for payments.
NFU Cymru said it was “extremely concerned and disappointed” by the plans, which would require all farms in Wales to plant at least 10% of their acreage in trees to qualify for public funding.
The union was responding to Welsh rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths’ statement to the Senedd on Tuesday (11 July) on the development of the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS), which is set to replace the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Glastir from 2025.
The Welsh government has a target to plant 86 million trees on 43,000ha of new woodland by 2030 as part of Wales’ climate goals. And the minister has been clear that the 10% tree cover target will be included within the universal tier of the proposed scheme in return for payments from the SFS.
NFU Cymru president Aled Jones warned the trees target “presents a very real barrier” to farmer participation in the scheme.
“Farmers will be prepared to plant hedges, shelterbelts, streamside corridors and field corners on appropriate areas of their farm, but will not plant trees on their productive land,” said Mr Jones.
“It will also be vital that the final consultation provides more detail on what exactly farmers will need to do and crucially what they can expect to be paid.”
The Welsh government is proposing the 10% tree cover requirement would include existing tree cover, but it has suggested it will use flexibility in scenarios where tree planting is not possible.
“Changes are being explored so the planting action is not 10% of the entire holding, but 10% of the remaining area once unsuitable areas have been identified,” said the statement.
Farmers’ Union of Wales president Ian Rickman welcomed the acknowledgement, but said further concessions would be needed to avoid requiring farmland that is important for food production being planted with trees.
“We’ve been clear from the outset that food production and economic viability have to be considered equally to the environmental aspects of this scheme,” he said.
The last consultation on the SFS is due to be published later this year, with the final scheme announced in 2024 for implementation in 2025.