New rules designed to tackle farm pollution in Wales are to be reviewed amid a bitter dispute between farmers and the Welsh government over the new pan-Wales nitrate vulnerable zone (NVZ) designation.
Senedd members have backed a joint Welsh Conservative-Plaid Cymru motion which called for the regulations to be reviewed by a Senedd committee.
The new controls came into effect from 1 April 2021, but the industry has since been campaigning to get them scrapped or amended because it considers them excessive.
Cefin Campbell, Plaid Cymru spokesman for agriculture and rural affairs, described the review as a victory for farmers, unions and rural communities.
Member of the Senedd James Evans, who represents the rural constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire, wants a “more flexible, evidence-based policy” to emerge from the review.
“We hope the relevant committee now performs its vital role in ensuring the best legislation possible is put through,” he said.
The consequences of maintaining the NVZ regulations in their current form would be “catastrophic”, Mr Evans added.
“I have heard many farmers say that their cattle will have to go if these regulations are fully implemented.”
Among those farmers are Pembrokeshire milk producers Jeff and Sarah Wheeler.
They have calculated that they would be forced to reduce their cow numbers to “unsustainable levels” because the current rules don’t include a grassland derogation to allow nitrogen to be applied at 250kg/ha instead of 170kg/ha.
“For us that means we’ll only be able to keep about 120 cows and lose a fair bit of our milk income,” said Mr Wheeler, who milks 150 spring-calving cows at Clyngwyn, Efailwen.
A grassland derogation was included in the Welsh government’s draft water resources regulations published in 2020, but it was omitted without explanation from the regulations before they were laid in front of the Senedd in 2021.
Mr Wheeler said this had come “out of the blue”.
“Any other country with such regulations has a derogation on the nitrate limit. If you’re 80% down to grassland, which we are, you can keep more stock in other countries. Why is that not the case here now?”
Legal challenge latest
Meanwhile, NFU Cymru has yet to learn if its application to the High Court for permission to challenge the water quality regulations will be granted.
With no time limit set on the court to consider the application, the union is still awaiting a response.
The union is challenging the government’s decision to not include a grassland derogation and its failure to consider all relevant information when it undertook its regulatory impact assessment before introducing the regulations.