NFU Cymru has expressed concerns that the timing of Welsh Government’s ‘Sustainable Farming and our Land’ consultation, which sets out revised proposals for how it intends to support farmers after Brexit, is misjudged.
Given the increasing threat of a cliff edge Brexit, NFU Cymru initially wrote to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths AM, at the end of June asking for Welsh Government to seriously consider its planned timetable for issuing consultations and progressing other work streams over the summer to ensure that all efforts could be focussed on avoiding a ‘No deal’ Brexit.
Commenting after a joint meeting of the Unions’ Rural Affairs and LFA Boards earlier this week, NFU Cymru LFA Board Chair Richard Tudor said: “Welsh farming is currently operating in a period of profound uncertainty. At this moment in time we have absolutely no clarity as to what our future trading relationships will be, and there is the very real threat of leaving the EU with ‘No deal’ on 31st October.”
He added: “Against this backdrop it is impossible for farmers to properly consider revised proposals for future policy and we strongly believe the consultation should be delayed. The focus of our government should be on providing as much stability and certainty as possible to Welsh farm businesses.”
Welsh Government proposals include replacing the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Glastir with a Sustainable Farming Scheme. This will comprise of two elements – business support with a focus on advice, capital investment and skills development and the Sustainable Farming Payment, which will reward farmers for the delivery of mainly environmental outcomes. An adviser-led approach to scheme implementation is proposed.
Members at the meeting learned how Welsh Government plans, through business support, to build on the existing offer of financial and practical support for business development, which is currently delivered through Farming Connect, Farm Business Grant and the Sustainable Production Grant, funded via the Rural Development Programme (RDP).
NFU Cymru Rural Affairs Board Chair, Hedd Pugh said: “With Welsh Government planning to end BPS, all the proposed replacement mechanisms broadly replicate measures in the current RDP or Pillar 2. This will not fill farmers with confidence. Our experience of Welsh Government’s implementation and delivery of the current RDP has not been altogether positive. Up to the end of May 2019, RDP spend stands at just 39% for the programme period 2014-2020. The slow rate of roll-out means that Welsh farm businesses are not receiving the support promised at the time of the pillar transfer in 2013.
“Opportunities to access RDP funds have been limited for farming businesses, application windows have been sporadic and often under-resourced with applicants turned away. The application and claim process has been complex and costly, with many farmers having to resort to paying advisers and consultants to assist. These are implementation issues that are all firmly under the control of Welsh Government.”
He added: “Whilst the Welsh Government consultation provides significant analysis on the case for ending BPS, it is astonishing that no objective analysis has been provided on the effectiveness of the current RDP, and how similar measures can deliver in the absence of BPS. The full cost of the advisor-led approach to the proposed Sustainable Farming Payment must also be properly understood. An advisor-led approach should not be used to remedy an over-complex scheme design.”
Mr Pugh concluded: “Under Welsh Government proposals, the business support will be operating in the absence of BPS or any form of stability support mechanism. Welsh Government, therefore, needs to demonstrate that the new package of measures proposed can deliver £7.40 or more return for the £1 invested by Government that is achieved currently, otherwise jobs will be lost from farming and the allied industries and our rural communities will be poorer. That is why our Boards have called for a comprehensive review of RDP delivery as a matter of urgency.”