Thousands of frustrated Welsh farmers descend on Cardiff

Thousands of frustrated farmers are converging on the Welsh Parliament for a mass peaceful protest against Welsh government policies that jeopardise the future of the farming industry in Wales.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 farmers and those from associated industries are gathering to show solidarity in their campaign to ask the Welsh Labour administration to listen to their concerns about the new Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS).

Farmers are up in arms about government proposals for the scheme, which would require all farms to devote at least 10% of their land to trees, plus a further 10% for wildlife habitat in order to qualify for public funding in the future.

See also: Angry Welsh farmers stage go-slow tractor protest

An impact assessment carried out by Welsh government has revealed that, as it stands, the scheme would result in a 122,000 reduction in Welsh livestock units and an 11% reduction across the national flock – the equivalent of losing 5,500 jobs based on current employment levels.

The two main farming unions in Wales – NFU Cymru and the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) – have said the plans, if introduced, will have a devastating impact on farming incomes in Wales and ruin the farming and ancillary industries.

Farm leaders are also calling for a review of the Welsh government’s bovine TB eradication programme and the implications of a pan-Wales approach to nitrate vulnerable zone (NVZ) regulations, which will place limits in slurry spreading and require farms to invest in expensive slurry infrastructure upgrades.

The farmer-led protests are being organised principally by Stuart Williams, a dairy farmer from Pembrokeshire, and Liam Price, a beef and sheep farmer based near Swansea. Mr Price now runs a mixed farm since he gave up dairying after losing his whole milking herd to TB in April 2022.

‘Largest protest at Senedd’

The protest on Wednesday (28 February) is set to be one of the largest in the history of the Senedd. Convoys of tractors and coaches full of protesters are travelling from across Wales to vent their fury at Welsh government.

A list of speakers, including FUW president Ian Rickman, Ioan Humphreys, a fifth-generation poultry farmer based in Mid Wales, and Gareth Wyn Jones, a hill farmer and social media influencer based in Llanfairfechan, Conwy, north Wales, will address the crowd during two hours of speeches outside the Senedd.

Ahead of the event, Mr Wyn Jones posted a video on X (formerly Twitter). He described the protest as “probably going to be the biggest day that the Welsh agricultural industry has ever seen”.

He said: “We are all going to be here as one. In unity there is strength, and we need to show that strength.

“We’re not here to do any damage, we are here to show our frustrations and our unhappiness of everything that is happening to our industry – from TB, to NVZs, and the SFS. Everybody that understands the stresses and strains of agriculture are going to be here voicing their concerns.”

Mr Wyn Jones pleaded with all attendees to ensure their protests are peaceful and lawful.

“If we don’t be lawful, and peaceful and respectful, we lose all our credibility. We’re not France, we’re not Germany, we are Wales,” he said.

‘Fighting for our future’

Mr Wyn Jones said farmers are fighting for their livelihoods and the future of their families on the land.

He added: “I love Wales, and we need to make a change, and we need to make sure that everybody understands that farmers are there to produce food affordably, sustainably, and in a very environmentally friendly way – and we’re doing it already in Wales.” 

Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh government’s rural affairs secretary, has approached the organisers and invited some of the guest speakers for discussions after the event to talk about their grievances with her in the Senedd. 

Event organisers said South Wales Police have been “incredibly supportive”. However, the force urged farmers not to bring their tractors to the Senedd amid concerns of causing disruption on local roads.

Meanwhile, NFU Cymru has appealed to industry for 5,500 pairs of wellies – a symbol of the number of jobs that could be lost – which will be placed on the Senedd steps on 6 March – the day before the Welsh government’s public consultation on its latest iteration of the SFS closes (7 March).

The Welsh government has stressed that its SFS proposals are at consultation stage and not finalised. 

Farm incomes forecast to fall as inflation bites

Average livestock farm incomes in Wales are expected to fall by more than 30% in the last financial year, with averages for holdings in less favoured areas (LFAs) some 37% down, the latest official projections show.

The Welsh government’s Forecast of farm incomes in Wales provides an annual insight into long-term trends in farm incomes and market performance. Hybu Cig Cymru’s (HCC) – Meat Promotion Wales – February Market Bulletin looks at the results of the publication featuring the 2022-23 financial year in more detail.

The document forecasts average business income for an LFA cattle and sheep farm to have decreased by 37% on the year to £24,300 per farm.

“The notable year-on-year decrease for LFA farms, after three consecutive years of increases, is a result of farm business output falling by an average of 8%, combined with business costs rising by t3%,” said Glesni Phillips, HCC’s intelligence, analysis and business insight executive, who edits Market Bulletin.

The report also forecasts the income for a lowland cattle and sheep farm in Wales at £18,700 for 2022-23 – a 30% decrease on the previous year’s figure.

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