Last month the Welsh government launched perhaps its most important consultation paper since devolution – Brexit and our Land: Securing the Future of Welsh Farming. Having now read through it several times, I’m cautiously optimistic.
Yes, it’s a bit long-winded, but show me a political document that isn’t and I’ll introduce you to a farmer that never complains about the weather.
Firstly, there’s the title, which, unlike the airy-fairy Health and Harmony, which came out from Defra earlier this year, does exactly what it says on the tin.
It’s a practical paper that takes extremely seriously the impact that Brexit will have on Welsh agriculture and those of us involved.
It also makes proposals as to how we can not only keep farmers on the land, but also increase productivity and significantly improve our businesses to keep apace with world competition.
Take a drive through vast swathes of our country and there isn’t much else there apart from agriculture.
The paper goes to great lengths to acknowledge the multi-faceted role that farmers in Wales play, not only as food producers but also as shapers of our unique landscape and social anchors of rural communities.
The Welsh government is to begin the five-year transition away from the Basic Payments Scheme in 2020, towards two new overarching schemes.
The first, the Economic Resilience Scheme, will provide targeted investment to farmers to support food production. The second, the Public Goods Scheme, will financially reward farmers for the environmental and public goods that we already provide.
Welsh agriculture goes hand-in-hand with tourism, with our world-famous landscape attracting visitors from all over the globe, and farmers have a vitally important part to play in building a bigger and better than ever before “Brand Wales”.
However, perhaps what I’m most pleased about is the acknowledgement of the ridiculous amount of red tape we face as farmers with existing government schemes.
Speaking to our rural affairs secretary, Lesley Griffiths, last week, she clearly stated that if they can’t reform the current regulatory burden for the new system, they will have failed. Whether they can do this remains to be seen. It’s a sizeable challenge, but we can certainly all get behind the idea.
The consultation lasts for 16 weeks, with a welcome understanding that this time of year is incredibly busy for farmers. I would urge each and every one of you involved in Welsh agriculture that may be reading this to respond individually to the paper if you can.
If you don’t agree with any of the proposals, tell them, because they want to know. Similarly, if you have better ideas as to how the new system could work, or are concerned about the lack of volatility measures in the paper, put it in your response.
Wales has a vibrant and greatly diverse agricultural sector, and with the right government support system in place, we could be world leaders.
Whether you voted for Brexit or not doesn’t matter any more. It’s happening and we now have a chance to help shape a better future for the next generation of Welsh farmers. It’s absolutely vital that we make our collective voices heard.