Direct payments to farmers to be replaced with goal-based funding from 2021

(Title Image: ITV Wales)

While it’s been on the table for a while, yesterday the Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), announced that farm subsidies in Wales will be replaced with target-based funding from 2021/after Brexit.

Further consultation in July

The Minister said that sustainability had to be at the heart of farm support, given the important role farming plays in protecting the environment.

From 2021, farmers will receive funding in exchange for carrying out certain tasks relating to the environment in addition to food production.

“We propose a sustainable farming scheme should provide annual payments to farmers in return for the public goods outcomes delivered on their farms. We propose payments are targeted to specific outcomes. This could provide a powerful tool for delivering against our environmental commitments, including reversing biodiversity decline, meeting our carbon budgets and achieving our clean air targets. It is difficult to see how we can meaningfully and efficiently address these commitments without nationwide action across the 80% of Welsh land managed by farmers.”
– Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths

Further consultation with the farming industry will start in July 2019. However, the new scheme still depends on post-Brexit funding from the UK Government, with no certainty yet on what will happen beyond 2022.

Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) believes this is an opportunity to tailor agricultural support to our own needs, and he agreed that food and the environment needn’t be separate considerations – but it needs proper buy-in from the farming sector.

“I do think bringing the two schemes under one roof potentially is of benefit, but there’s a real danger that if it isn’t devised carefully and collaboratively with the sector that you will have scheme that’s trying to be all things to all people and fails to actually achieve any of the goals that you’ve set out.”
– Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM

Many unknowns

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) found this a more constructive statement than previous ones, but there were still a number of unknowns. Would the new scheme only be open to active farmers and not tenants? What’s the potential impact of Brexit (particularly cheap food imports)? Also, while austerity has been used as a reason to halt the Newport bypass, surely the same thing applies to farm support? He went on to say that farmers need “stability, certainty and consistency”.

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) disagreed with Llyr’s call for consistency and believed everything had to be seen through the prism of the climate emergency. She hoped the new funding scheme would be open to smaller, more intensive, horticultural farms which could operate on smaller parcels of land and provide local sources of fruit and vegetables – something often difficult to come by in urban parts of Wales.

Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) called for better land management in general – particularly to prevent flooding and nitrate leaching – and struggled to see how the new scheme emphasised that:

“….whilst we need to look at going forward, I would ask that we examine what we currently do with our land, particularly within agriculture, because I notice that one of the key areas that you intend to support is improving productivity. I would like to understand exactly what that means, because if we’re talking about producing more red meat, more dairy, which means intensive farming, then that’s also going to take up more land.”
– Joyce Watson AM

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