NFU Cymru has called on Welsh Government to recognise its role in providing stability and certainty to Welsh farmers at a time of profound uncertainty for the industry.
In its response to the Sustainable Farming and our Land consultation, NFU Cymru emphasised the need for Welsh Government to be careful, considered and measured and develop future policy through a process of evolution rather than revolution.
The consultation sets out revised proposals for how Welsh Government intends to support farmers after Brexit, including replacing the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Glastir with a Sustainable Farming Scheme. This will comprise two elements: business support with a focus on advice, capital investment and skills development; and the Sustainable Farming Payment which will reward farmers for mainly environmental outcomes. An adviser-led approach to scheme implementation is proposed.
Commenting, NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “At this stage we still do not know whether we will leave the EU with a deal, ‘No deal’, or whether there won’t be a Brexit at all. We do not know what our future trading relationship will be with Europe and the rest of the world. NFU Cymru is very much of the view that this delicate situation calls for a cautious and restrained approach from Welsh Government when it comes to developing future policy.
"Whilst we recognise many factors behind this current level of uncertainty are completely outside the control of devolved government, we are clear Welsh Government can, through their devolved powers, continue to provide a level of stability and certainty to the food and farming industry through the continuity of domestic agricultural policy. In the short term Welsh Government should continue to operate the Basic Payment Scheme unchanged in 2021.
"Moving forward, Welsh Government must not phase out the current CAP architecture: BPS and Rural Development measures until there is clear evidence that replacement schemes can deliver at least the same level of stability for farm businesses, the food supply chain and rural communities that is currently delivered. Comprehensive impact assessments, modelling and piloting of proposed new schemes will be vital.
"NFU Cymru is pleased that Welsh Government now proposes to design future support around the principle of sustainability recognising the wide-ranging economic, environmental, social and cultural contribution of farmers to the well-being of Wales. We are clear future policy must secure adequate supplies of safe, nutritious, high quality and affordable food for consumers, as well as providing stable farm incomes and rural vitality alongside the protection and enhancement of our natural resources.
"NFU Cymru is concerned, however, that Welsh Government asserts that, through proposals, the continued supply of vital economic, social and cultural benefits provided by Welsh farming currently can be secured through what is essentially an agri-environment scheme. Welsh Government has provided no evidence that this will be the case and we firmly believe that a stability measure, to underpin high quality food production, must form part of the policy framework alongside productivity and environment measures.
"We are also concerned that Welsh Government is proposing an adviser-led approach to scheme implementation via a complex and lengthy four-stage process. Whilst there is no doubt that farmers recognise the benefits of good quality advice, the application process proposed has been categorically rejected by farmers as intrusive, costly and bureaucratic. It is also completely unnecessary when most of the outcomes sought through the new scheme will be common to all farms in Wales, eliminating the need for the development of individual bespoke contracts with over 16,000 farming businesses in Wales.
“With Welsh Government planning to end BPS, all the proposed replacement mechanisms broadly replicate measures in the current RDP. This will not fill farmers with confidence and NFU Cymru has called for a comprehensive independent review of the RDP to inform future policy design. Welsh Government must demonstrate that the proposed package of measures can deliver a return that is equal to or greater than what is currently achieved - namely £7.40 or more for every £1 invested - otherwise jobs will be lost from farming, the allied industries and our rural communities will be poorer.
"NFU Cymru is concerned that Welsh Government continues to properly address issues of scheme access for farmers who do not own the land that they farm. Welsh Government proposes tenants wishing to participate in the future scheme will need sufficient management control such as an Agricultural Holdings or Farm Business Tenancy. This is a radical shift from the current situation where BPS participants are required to have management control on the 15th May of the claim year. We remain absolutely clear that future support should be targeted at the active farmer taking the business risk associated with food production.”
Concluding, Mr Davies said: “Moving forward NFU Cymru identifies clear opportunities for the development of future agricultural policy that secures the economic, environmental, social and cultural outcomes delivered by Welsh farming through evolving and developing the RPW Online facility. We believe this approach represents the most cost effective and logical route forward.
“By working together we can realise our vision for a productive, progressive and profitable Welsh agricultural industry that delivers jobs, growth and investment for Wales.”