WELSH FARMING organisations have said they are optimistic after the first meeting of a working group examining changes to the Tir Gofal agri-environment scheme payments.
The group was set up after protests about planned cuts of 30% to offset alleged double payments for environmental work following the switch to single farm payments.
“We received more complaints about the proposed reduction than anything else in the last year,” said Rhian Nowell-Philips, the FUW’s senior policy adviser.
“Fortunately Carwyn Jones, the minister responsible, recognised that if the proposal had gone ahead, it would have seriously damaged Tir Gofal, which he claimed is Europe’s flagship agri-environment scheme.”
Farmers had taken a business decision when they signed up to the scheme, but the proposed recalculation of payments would make participation economically unviable.
“The cost of maintaining habitats has gone up and this has to be taken into account. We hope that four working group meetings will produce a formula that will let farmers stay on board until the whole scheme has to be revised.”
Jonathan Andrews, CLA south Wales regional director, said his organisation had tabled a well received formula for recalculating the payments. “The point is that this has to be looked at as a completely new system,” Mr Andrews said.
The old system of calculating was based on the former subsidy geared system, and the assembly needed to take into account changes made because of the SFP.
In future, subsidy forgone could not be the basis for the calculation, so it was necessary for payments to acknowledge the actual cost involved in protecting the environment.
“The assembly has agreed to cost out the payments in terms of supplementary feeding, purchased additional fodder and the control of undesirable plant species. They are going to look at each individual payment to assess the additional costs generated and then factor them in.”
Mary James, NFU Cymru deputy director, said she did not accept the claim that without change farmers could be paid twice for the same thing.
The assembly was very conscious of the strength of farmer reaction to the proposed payment cuts, which could seriously undermine Tir Gofal.
But she warned that tinkering around the edges of the scheme could make things worse. The working group had to come up with proposals for revamping the scheme that satisfied farmers and the EU.