Welsh rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths has been urged to pause a consultation on the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS), the future farm support framework for Wales, which farmers have branded as “unworkable”.
There are just 30 days left before the Welsh government’s consultation on the SFS closes on 7 March.
The shadow rural affairs minister, Conservative MS Samuel Kurtz, has written to Mrs Griffiths, urging her to consider pausing the consultation on the SFS.
The Welsh government plans to introduce the scheme from 2025 to replace the old EU Common Agricultural Policy, which had paid farmers in Wales more than £300m a year in direct support.
The SFS will reward farmers for managing their land in an environmentally sustainable way. Farmers will be paid an annual universal baseline payment to achieve a set of universal actions.
However, the most controversial universal action needed to join the scheme requires each farm to have 10% tree cover, excluding hedgerows, plus 10% habitat.
Call for a pause
Mr Kurtz told Farmers Weekly: “Welsh agriculture has been put under increasing pressure by the Welsh Labour government.
“The cumulative effect of the all-Wales NVZ [nitrate vulnerable zone], failure on Bovine TB eradication, cuts to the Rural Affairs budget and now the Sustainable Farming Scheme and what it’s asking farmers to do around tree planting specifically, has led many to say ‘enough is enough’.”
More than 1,000 farmers attended a crunch meeting in Welshpool, Powys, on Thursday 1 February to discuss the SFS and other key issues affecting Welsh agriculture.
Farmers are due to hold a second meeting at Carmarthen mart this Thursday (8 February) where they will discuss the possibility of staging a demonstration against the Welsh government.
Mr Kurtz warned that if the government persisted with its plans for an “unworkable” scheme, farmers “will inevitably make their voices heard”.
North Wales hill farmer Gareth Wyn Jones said: “A lot of farmers are unhappy with the Welsh government’s proposals in the SFS. They should pause the consultation and take a breath.
“We don’t need to rush this through. A study has shown the plans could devastate our farming industry and result in the loss of 5,500 jobs – that’s almost twice the jobs expected to be lost with the closure of the Tata Steel works in Port Talbot.”
Welsh government view
Mrs Griffiths said that in the face of many challenges, including the climate and nature emergency which has seen an increase in extreme weather events, the SFS had been designed to ensure Welsh farmers were resilient and able to produce food sustainably in the future.
“The scheme has been designed to provide a clear long-term structure with which we can all become familiar, but one which continues to evolve in a changing world,” she added.
“In getting to this point with the SFS, we have never engaged so thoroughly with our farmers and stakeholders.
“We still want to hear their views, and I would encourage everyone to take part in this important consultation. No final decision will be taken on the SFS until after this consultation has taken place and the responses considered.”