Lack of consideration for tenants and new entrants under SFS proposals is concerning, says FUW Presidential Policy Team

The lack of consideration of tenant farmers and proper support for new entrants were just some of the key concerns expressed by the Presidential Policy Team of the Farmers’ Union of Wales during a meeting held recently at Builth Wells.

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FUW calls on Welsh Government to rethink the Sustainable Farming Scheme through genuine co-design during emergency talks

During emergency talks held today (19 January) with Minister for Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, and her officials, the Farmers’ Union of Wales called for a rethink of the proposals through genuine co-design.

Speaking immediately after the meeting, FUW President Ian Rickman said: “As farmers, we understand the current strength of feeling and frustration of our members. We expressed these deep concerns and the resentment felt by our members and the wider rural community to the Minister in no uncertain terms today.

“We have called for an independent assessment to take place on the socio-economic impact and bureaucratic burden of Welsh Government agricultural policies, to include the SFS, bovine TB and the Control of Agricultural Pollution ‘NVZ’ regulations.

“This time must also be used for a series of regular meetings involving the Minister for Rural Affairs and her officials with both farming unions to rethink the proposals through genuine co-design. This needs to include an independent panel tasked with looking at alternatives to tree planting so we can work towards net zero in a more sustainable way,” he said.

The FUW has long maintained that the SFS must be accessible for all active farming businesses, and provide long-term stability for such businesses and the wider rural economy that relies upon agriculture. It also needs to provide a meaningful income stream which properly rewards farmers by going beyond costs incurred and income foregone and underpins the importance of a high quality food supply chain in Wales.

“From what we can see, the SFS in its current form will not be sustainable and is clearly not ready, and the Minister repeated her assurances that it wouldn’t be launched until it is.

“The continuation of the Basic Payment Scheme at current rates, until we are confident the SFS is ready, must therefore be considered. Otherwise we risk a repeat of the situation in England with basic payments disappearing and the vast majority of funding available only through the adoption of environmental schemes and actions.

“We welcome the constructive meeting with the Minister and her officials at such a critical time for the industry. However, the ball is now firmly in their court and we sincerely hope they take our requests seriously.

“Finally, I still cannot overstate how important it is for every individual and business that will be affected by these proposals to formally respond to this consultation by the 7th of March. It remains absolutely crucial that we all do so in order to have as great an impact as possible,” added Mr Rickman.

Scottish farm support announcement underlines naivety of Welsh plans, says FUW

The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) says that the Scottish Government’s confirmation that direct farm support will continue in Scotland highlights the fundamental flaws inherent in Wales’ Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) proposals.

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf told NFU Scotland's spring conference on Friday (9th February) that 70% of future support will constitute direct farm payments to support food producers. The remaining 30% will be targeted at environmental measures, a ratio similar to current Scottish arrangements.

“By comparison, the Welsh Government’s proposed SFS, due to be introduced next year, would bring direct farm payments to an end completely while introducing a mountain of costly restrictions and requirements,” said FUW President, Ian Rickman.

“This would mean Welsh farmers competing at a huge disadvantage compared to our counterparts in Scotland, despite both our countries having a similar proportion of disadvantaged land where only livestock farming is possible.”

Around 85% of Scotland is classified as Less Favoured, while the proportion in Wales is 80%. In England it is just 17%.

Mr Yousaf also confirmed that a form of Less Favoured Areas support, which was abandoned in Wales in 2013, would continue in Scotland.

“The Welsh Government’s economic analysis published alongside their SFS consultation paper suggests all the rules and restrictions would lead to an 11% reduction in livestock numbers. It would also see a fall in average Welsh farm incomes of between 25 and 35 percent. This figure would rise to between 48% and 85% in the absence of possible ‘top-up’ payments,” said Mr Rickman.

“Now that we have left the EU, the UK effectively has its own single market but without the common payment rules. If Wales diverges from Scotland in the way proposed by Welsh Government, we would not only be disadvantaging our own farmers by introducing a mountain of rules not present for EU producers, but would also be placing our own industry at a huge competitive disadvantage compared to Scotland and handing business to the Scotts on a plate,” said Mr Rickman.

The FUW was a principled opponent of Brexit and after the vote to leave in 2016, argued for a robust replacement for the Common Agricultural Policy that minimised such unfair competition between UK nations. This was apparent in our comprehensive Filling the Void paper published in July 2018.

“This very sensible and economically advantageous move by the Scottish Government needs to be reflected by the Welsh Government when it considers the vast number of improvements that must be made to its current SFS proposals. What is proposed at present is destructive and economically naive, and would be a massive own goal for Wales’ farms, society, culture and economy.

“As we predicted, Brexit has failed Welsh farmers on many levels and the Welsh Government’s plans would merely add to the challenges we have faced since 2016,” he added. 

The importance of getting the Sustainable Farming Scheme right cannot be underestimated, says FUW President

Farmers’ Union of Wales President, Ian Rickman, has written to all members urging individuals and businesses to formally respond to the Welsh Government’s Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) consultation and to make their voices heard. 

“We need only look at the statistics from the Farm Business Survey to understand the significance of agricultural and rural development funding to our food supply chains and the wider rural economy.

“This is the third and final consultation on the SFS proposals and the importance of getting it right cannot be underestimated.

“We have already spoken directly with over 1500 farmers at our local county meetings across Wales in recent weeks, and our team of farming experts have been pushing for changes and amendments to the Welsh Government’s plans over a number of years. This is a crucial juncture for Welsh agriculture and its future

Modelling on the potential economic effects of the Sustainable Farming Scheme published alongside the consultation suggests:

  • a reduction in farm business income of up to £199 million
  • a reduction in farm output of £125 million
  • 122,000 fewer livestock units
  • an 11% decline in on-farm labour requirements.

“The reality is that if the scheme remains in its current form, and if the modelling report is correct, farmers uptake will be minimal and everyone will lose out - Welsh farmers, the environment, the public and ultimately the Welsh Government.

“There is a real worry that even under a scenario where scheme payments come nowhere near to compensating for the loss of the Basic Payment Scheme, there will be some farm businesses that will have no choice other than to participate in the SFS. This will, no doubt, place further pressure on farmers’ workload and mental health.

“The Sustainable Farming Scheme must be accessible by all, and provide long-term stability for farming businesses and the wider rural economy that relies upon agriculture. The SFS needs to provide a meaningful income stream which properly rewards farmers and underpins the importance of a high quality food supply chain, produced here in Wales” said Mr Rickman.

The uncertainty around the future of agricultural support in Wales comes against a backdrop of continuous bovine TB breakdowns and the slaughtering of thousands of Welsh cattle every year. This is in addition to an all-Wales approach to bureaucratic pollution regulations which will cost the industry in excess of £400 million to comply with.

“The recent meetings at Welshpool and Carmarthen livestock markets made a clear statement about the frustration felt by many farmers. It illustrated the groundswell of concern with regards to the current situation and future direction of agricultural policy here in Wales.

“As a farmer myself I fully understand and comprehend the frustrations of many at these meetings. We need to ensure that we work together and that the voice of Welsh farmers is being heard by decision makers in Wales and Westminster. Both farming unions will be meeting with Minister for Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, to discuss the way forward.

“I cannot, however, overstate how important it is for every individual and business that will be affected by these proposals to formally respond to this consultation by the 7th of March. It is absolutely crucial that we all do so.

“I would also ask you to contact your local elected representatives at every opportunity, whether they are county councillors, local and/or regional Members of the Senedd or Members of Parliament at Westminster.

“We need to ensure that they also hear your voice and your concerns in order to ensure that we can continue to bring pressure on the Welsh Government to revise the scheme in a way that promotes a sustainable agriculture industry in Wales and safeguards it for the future.”

Respond to the Sustainable Farming Scheme consultation here:

English: https://www.fuw.org.uk/index.php/en/sfs-consultation

Welsh: https://www.fuw.org.uk/index.php/en/sfs-consultation-cy

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