Farming News - Sustainable Farming Scheme Outline Proposals ‘on the right track’ says FUW
Sustainable Farming Scheme Outline Proposals ‘on the right track’ says FUW
The Farmers’ Union of Wales says the latest Welsh Government Sustainable Farming Scheme proposals are ‘on the right track’ but that numerous concerns exist around some of the details.
The ‘Sustainable Farming Scheme Outline Proposals for 2025’ document, published by the Welsh Government on 6th July, will form the basis of future discussions about the scheme that is set to replace Wales’ Basic Payment and Glastir schemes from 2025.
Responding to the document, FUW President Glyn Roberts said:“We welcome those areas of the proposals that have changed to reflect the concerns we highlighted in response to previous proposals.
Notwithstanding some areas which raise major alarms, and the devil that lies in further details, the Welsh Government has moved on leaps and bounds and now has an overarching framework that is not dissimilar to what we have proposed.”
The outline proposals include a ‘baseline payment’ for undertaking ‘universal actions’ that the will apply to all farms in the scheme which the Government says will ‘provide farmers with much needed stability’ - mirroring the FUW’s calls for a sustainability and stability payment based on universal actions.
Optional higher level actions would attract further payments, as would collaborative actions undertaken with other farmers - again mirroring the framework advocated by the FUW since 2018.
Mr Roberts said: “However, there are some concerning suggestions regarding the universal actions that, while being possible or practical for some farmers, would not be for large numbers of others,” said Mr Roberts.
“The proposal that ten percent of all farms should comprise tree cover will be a major concern for many farmers for whom this would mean losing a large proportion of their productive land, and there are also concerns as to how this would impact on tenants. There are also some farms, such as in exposed coastal areas or those in designated areas, where meeting this obligation would simply not be possible.”
Mr Roberts said the FUW had already raised concerns regarding the implications of a ten percent tree cover requirement with Welsh Government, and had received acknowledgements that such obstacles and impacts needed to be taken account of during the next phase of scheme development.
“As well as needing to ensure the universal actions are practical on all Welsh farms, it is also essential that the budget for the baseline payment is sufficient to ensure the scheme is attractive and allows farming families to continue producing food while contributing to their local economy,” he added.
Mr Roberts said that while many farmers would be frustrated that payment rates had not been published, the FUW believed that it would be premature and potentially dangerous and misleading to provide such information before getting the outline framework of a scheme correct.
“Once the scheme structure is finalised, time needs to be taken to ensure that payments are designed in a way that is fair and does not cause disproportionate disruption to businesses, regions or sectors. This will require careful modelling, and the FUW also believes that payment capping and the tapering of payments must be a feature of the future scheme to ensure our family farms are fairly supported".
The proposals also acknowledge the importance of using existing data collected through systems such as RPW Online in order to minimise impractical and unaffordable physical assessments of Welsh farms by advisors, and to provide information of value back to farmers.
This potentially mirrors the FUW’s 2019 ‘Sustainable Farming and our Land’ consultation response, which stated ‘The current RPW Online and SAF systems should be maintained and developed as a central feature of a future scheme where data is used to ensure the long term economic and environmental sustainability of Wales as a whole, and Wales’ family farms as individual units. Changes which result in the loss of the current system and their effective replacement with complex Public Goods contracts would be a retrograde step.’
Practicalities of the review
However, Mr Roberts said concerns exist regarding the actual nature and practicality of the ‘sustainability review’ proposed to take place for each farm at the outset of contracts.
“Our own proposals are for annual reports to be provided based on the data provided by farmers through systems such as RPW Online and EID Cymru, while the Welsh Government’s proposals suggest a degree more complexity and that the period between such reports could be as long as five years.
It is also essential that multi-year contracts do not exclude vast numbers of farmers and areas of land from the scheme. While the statement that contracts will be up to five years in length from the date the farmer joins the scheme provides some comfort that the needs of tenants, and in particular those on shorter tenancies, have been recognised, this is something that needs clarifying,” he added.
Mr Roberts highlighted that there were numerous other elements within the proposals that would represent barriers for many and be met with extreme concern.
“The consultative nature of this document is welcome, and the FUW is committed to engaging in the next stage of the development process in order to ensure all barriers for farmers are minimised.
"We have also had discussions with the Welsh Government about how those currently in the Glastir scheme can safely transition to the new scheme, as this is clearly an issue which needs addressing.
"In the meantime, we welcome the stability provided by the continuation of Wales’ Basic Payment Scheme at current rates and the proposed subsequent transition period to 2029 as the new scheme is phased in.”