Hundreds of farmers unite in anger at Welsh SFS proposals

Hundreds of farmers have come together for a crunch meeting to discuss the future of farming in Wales amid intensifying anger against Welsh government policy plans.

Organisers said about 1,100 Welsh and English farmers attended the 90-minute meeting at Welshpool Livestock Market, Powys, on Thursday evening (1 February).

The meeting was held against a backdrop of mass protests by farmers in France, Belgium and other EU countries against “anti-farming” government policies.

See also: European farmer protests place focus on British farming concerns

Many Welsh farmers are furious with the Labour-led Welsh Assembly Government over its future farming policy plans for the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS), which will replace the CAP and is due to start in 2025.

There are growing calls from within the farming industry for Welsh farmers to mount their own protests, with Cardiff Bay being suggested as a possible location.

Three main concerns

Farmers meeting in Welshpool vented their anger and frustration about three main issues, which they consider to be a threat to their livelihoods and future generations. These were:

1) Proposals for the SFS, including the requirement for all farms to allocate at least 10% of land to trees and an additional 10% of land to semi-natural habitat, and the effect this will have on vital food production.

2) Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) regulations – Welsh government plans to introduce restrictions on storing and spreading manure and slurry to tackle air and water pollution.

3) Bovine TB – the failure of the Welsh government to tackle disease in wildlife.

Farmers also hit out at the introduction of 20mph speed limits on most residential roads across Wales.

Well-known Welsh farmer Gareth Wyn Jones, who runs a hill farm in Llanfairfechan, North Wales, was at the Welshpool meeting. He told Farmers Weekly the future of the Welsh farming industry is at stake.

“Farmers are very concerned about some of the proposals in the Sustainable Farming Scheme which one study has shown could cost 5,500 jobs and an 11% drop in livestock numbers – how is that ‘sustainable’?” he asked.

Mr Wyn Jones warned policies that lead to a downsizing of the Welsh agricultural sector and the rural economy will have a “ripple effect” on ancillary industries, including feed companies, farm machinery businesses, food processing firms, transport and tourism.

“There are three main industries left in Wales – steel, tourism and farming – and every one of them has been hit by the Welsh government,” he said.

“We are fighting for our children’s futures; there is no doubt… to keep the Welsh language and to keep farmers farming.”

Mr Wyn Jones said mental health among farmers was as bad as he had ever known it. “There were grown men with tears in their eyes at the meeting.

“These are big farmers with strong characters. They are at the end of their tether. It is time for change.”

Mr Wyn Jones predicted the withdrawal of direct support for farmers will also have a knock-on effect on food prices for consumers.

“Farmers are paid support payments to help us produce affordable food. Once that’s gone, that affordable food will not be there anymore,” he said. “Food prices will have to go up. The people who already cannot afford to pay for food will suffer more.”

Discussions were held at the meeting about the possibility of farmers launching protests. The consensus was that if protests were to take place, they must not disrupt the daily activities of the public.

One source said: “We are not the French. We are not the Germans. We are the Welsh. If we do it, we will do it our own way.”

Another farmer at the meeting, who asked not to be named, said: “If we do not stand up now, my children will not have the opportunity to farm the land like I do and produce food because there will not be any jobs left.”

‘Temperature gauge’

One of the meeting’s organisers, Gwyn Edwards, a beef and sheep farmer from North Wales, said: “The meeting was not about organising a protest, but about gauging the temperature in the room.

“The general feeling is that the new SFS is totally unworkable. The NVZ rules and regulations are not something that farmers can work around. Bovine TB is not being properly addressed; we have the same test since the ’70s and it is not working.

“If these policies are pushed through, farmers will be squeezed. The decline in livestock numbers in rural Wales will drop so dramatically that the price of food will seriously escalate. We need the general public to understand what is coming as things stand.”

Mr Edwards also spoke of his frustration over businesses and investors buying land in Wales to offset carbon, on land “that should be used to produce food for the nation”.  

Carmarthen meeting 

A separate group of farmers is due to hold a further meeting in Carmarthen, South Wales, next week to discuss these issues.

The Welsh government and the NFU are holding consultations throughout Wales on the SFS and future farming policy. The government’s consultation on the SFS closes on 7 March.

NFU Cymru has spoken to more than 1,000 farmers about their views on the SFS consultation during regional roadshows and there are still a few left to do.

Abi Reader, deputy president of NFU Cymru, said: “Our members have been telling us very plainly about their frustrations and not just with the current proposals.

“This is a cumulative effect of the huge pressures they are under across many areas, including bovine TB, NVZs and supply chain issues.

“The frustrations that were demonstrated in Welshpool are all felt here as well.”

The Welsh government says it is committed to the agricultural sector and it has protected the BPS budget at £238m for 2024, the same level as 2023.

A government spokesman said: “This is an extremely challenging time across all sectors, with our overall budget worth £1.3bn less in real terms than in 2021.

“We also continue to feel the impact of decisions taken by the UK government which mean we have lost £243m in replacement EU funding.”

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