Welsh farming unions urge against NRW licence fee hikes

Farming unions have joined forces to urge Wales’ environmental regulator to drop plans for substantial hikes in the cost of fees charged to farmers for compulsory licences and inspections.

NFU Cymru and the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) have issued a statement in conjunction with the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) that describes fee increases proposed by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) as “unacceptable”.

They warn that they will further force food prices upwards by adding further costs on to the supply chain.

See also: Welsh farmers shocked by planned rises in environmental charges

Although they insist the farming community understands that costs need to reflect inflation, they have described it as “highly irresponsible” for a Welsh government agency to put businesses at risk without properly considering cost savings and efficiencies in their processes to reduce costs.

Under the fee increase proposals set out in an NRW consultation, applications for spreading sheep dip on land will be up to 20 times more expensive.

As these licences and others are obligatory for “necessary and unavoidable operations”, the three organisations say they are unfair.

They are calling on NRW to revisit the proposals in what they describe as “the context of unprecedented uncertainty in Welsh agriculture”.

NRW is responsible for industry regulation, waste management, water quality and resources and reservoir compliance in Wales.

The fees it charges cover the cost of licences for water abstraction, for disposing of sheep, the handling of by-products and compliance.

Greater flexibility needed

“Farmers have few options about managing these, there’s little flexibility in the regulatory agency’s approach and no process for appeal,” the statement says.

Where dramatic changes are to be introduced, they need to be graduated, with greater flexibility introduced for new entrants, it insists.

“NRW’s charges are obligatory costs that have to be met by farmers to continue to produce our food. One way or another the cost must be absorbed in the supply chain, affecting competitiveness and opening the door to low-cost imports.

“As the cost-of-living crisis continues NRW needs to urgently reconsider the proposals put forward that only add further costs to food production in Wales.”

However, NRW has described its proposed new system as “fairer and simpler”.

The consultation closes on 6 January 2023. The intention is to introduce the proposed charges in April 2023, subject to ministerial approval.