The payment rate of £69/ha on offer to Welsh farmers under the Habitat Wales Scheme (HWS) has been described as an “insult to nature”.
The Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) is the latest body to publicly criticise the HWS, the scheme that will bridge the gap between Glastir and the new Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS).
Its steering group chairman, Carmarthenshire livestock farmer Hywel Morgan, who currently has a Glastir contract, calculates that he stands to lose £3,200/year.
“£69/ha is an insult to nature,” said Mr Morgan, who farms beef and sheep at Esgairllaethdy Myddfai, Llandovery, in Carmarthenshire.
He is not alone. Joint research by NFFN, the Soil Association and other organisations points to “massive reductions” in payments ranging from 47% to more than 90%.
The organisation is now warning that farmers who have done the most for nature will be penalised.
It suggests that the reductions in payments are so severe that some may cease working on their land.
“I’m looking at a fair drop from around £5,000 in payments to about £1,800, while organic farmers are facing a double blow with the end of both organic and Glastir payments,” said Mr Morgan.
“Some farmers who have been organic for years are looking at allowing intensive dairy farming and fertiliser use on their land just to get income in, while others are thinking of planting their whole farm with trees.”
Organic scheme fears
NFFN worries that the loss of a whole-farm organic scheme will lead to farms de-certifying.
Under the current proposals for the HWS, payments will be capped, which means that only the first 200ha of habitat land will be eligible for 100% of the payment rate, according to NFFN.
It will fall to 50% for between 200-400ha and 10% for bigger land areas.
NFFN is now urging the government to extend current Glastir contracts until 2025, when the SFS begins, and offer the HWS payments to new entrants who have not previously been in agri-environment schemes.
It also wants organic support payments to be maintained.
But the Welsh government said it was facing an “incredibly difficult financial situation’’ and had been clear that Glastir could not be extended due to EU funding ending.
“We want all farmers in Wales to have the opportunity to apply for support to protect habitat land and contribute to meeting our climate change and biodiversity commitments ahead of the Sustainable Farming Scheme opening in 2025.
“This is why we have opened the Habitat Wales Scheme for 2024,’’ said a spokesperson.
“Organic farms, especially extensive grassland systems, are well placed to apply for the Habitat Wales Scheme.”