Wales’ rural affairs minister will be urged to inject more flexibility into the government’s new farm support scheme when she meets farmers at next week’s Royal Welsh Winter Fair – or risk its failure.
Welsh farmers fear they must sacrifice efficiency to achieve Lesley Griffiths’ contentious eligibility requirement for farms joining the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) to have 10% tree cover.
Whether or not hedgerows can be included in this calculation is still a grey area – they are more likely to be included in the 10% habitat requirement, although the minister has suggested in Plenary sessions at the Senedd that she believes hedges should be included in the tree target.
Some farmers say they will boycott the SFS unless the government dials down on its tree cover ambition, suggesting that the productive land is worth more to them than the annual payments.
The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) believes the government should consider alternative routes to achieve targets on greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration.
It believes solutions exist in enhancing the 410m tonnes of soil organic carbon currently stored in soils on Welsh farmland, by focusing on production efficiencies and by allowing additional habitat land, such as peatland, to qualify for any thresholds.
“Any overall losses to a farm’s productive capacity will impact negatively on our current and future food security, therefore proposals must work with, and not against, the farming system,” said FUW president Glyn Roberts.
The tree cover requirement is also likely to constrain tenant farmers whose landlords may want to preserve the productive value of their land.
The government insists all farmers must be able to access the scheme.
“Tenanted land makes up a significant portion of farmland in Wales, and if the SFS does not work for the tenanted sector then it does not work at all,’’ said Ms Griffiths.
“We must keep farmers on the land and all farmers should be able to access the scheme.’’
Tenants’ group formed
A new Tenancy Working Group has been established for that purpose and it has now met for the first time.
The group is made up of a number stakeholder organisations, including the Tenant Farmers Association, FUW, NFU Cymru and the Country Land Business Association.
Its remit is to explore aspects of the SFS proposals, such as contract length and practicality of the obligatory actions, that must be met by all farmers, including tenant farmers.
The group’s findings will contribute to the final consultation on scheme design in 2023 before Wales starts transitioning to the SFS from 2025.
The SFS co-design survey, which sought to get the views of farmers on whether the proposals are workable, closed on 21 November.