Scrapping direct farm payments delayed, but remains Welsh Government policy

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes the essential role that the basic payment scheme currently plays as a basis for the viability of family farms, rural communities and the broader economy of Wales, and the importance of direct payments with regard to providing stability in periods of uncertainty.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to ensure that support for farming is targeted at active farmers who take financial risks.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to maintain an element of direct payments for farmers after Brexit.

“Dancing to Michael Gove’s tune”

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) echoed the arguments of farming unions that while they support the Welsh Government’s proposal to replace direct payments to farmers after Brexit, it should include some element that “provides stability and assurances” through a basic payment system.

“Brexit has placed agriculture on a cliff edge, and by scrapping basic payments the Welsh Government is taking away that safety net that our family farms currently have. When the Scottish Government is committed to retaining basic payments, when Northern Ireland is also likely to retain basic payments, when farmers throughout the EU will retain basic payments….Wales is going in the other direction and, to all intents and purposes, is dancing to Michael Gove’s tune.”
– Llyr Gruffydd AM

Price volatility impacts the profitability of farms and the Welsh Government’s proposals were leaving farmers exposed and opening funding up to all land managers, not just farms, will see funding syphoned away.

“….there is nothing wrong with changing one’s mind in the face of the evidence or changing one’s mind in the face of meaningful and valid representations. I really hope that the Cabinet Secretary will listen to the voices of rural communities….and to look to Scotland or Northern Ireland if she needs a model.”
– Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales)

Devising a new system of support

Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), told the chamber it was regrettable that a large proportion of Welsh primary produce is processed outside of Wales. There are fewer and fewer opportunities for young farmers and the average age of a Welsh farmer was now 62.

Nevertheless, as a Brexit supporter, he saw this as an opportunity:

“I do believe that instead of looking at this, as the opener of the debate talked about, as a cliff edge to walk off, it is an opportunity, a door to walk through, that….does introduce greater productivity into the industry, does reverse the decline in the number of active farmers and, above all, re-energises a sector that is desperately in need of a rebalancing of the way it attracts greater returns from the marketplace….rather than left in the hands of the processors and retailers.”
– Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew RT Davies

Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) spoke up in defence of Welsh Government plans by saying the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) currently advantages one set of land managers over others and wasn’t doing enough to protect the environment, with increasing problems of soil degradation and loss of forestry.

Basic payments “not the right way to support farmers”

Energy, Planning & Rural Affairs Secretary, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham) was resolute that basic payments weren’t the right system for the long-term, but the Welsh Government has agreed to extend direct payments through 2020 as farmers transition to the new system (which was discussed here).

“The Basic Payment System is simply not adequately addressing volatility in the way some commentators would have us believe. This is why we are proposing transition to more targeted schemes….The proposed schemes will provide a meaningful income stream for delivering public goods, environmental goods that will never go away, and they will provide targeted investment to drive improvements in productivity and flexibility, making farms more resilient.”
– Energy, Planning & Rural Affairs Secretary, Lesley Griffiths

The Secretary rejected the notion that the proposals were a “cut-and-paste” of England’s proposals as the Welsh scheme will place more emphasis on food production than England.

Vote

An amended version of the motion, which expressed support for Welsh Government proposals was approved by 28 votes to 21.

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