Senedd Wellies

Source: NFU Cymru

Welsh farmers displayed 5,500 pairs of wellies at the Senedd on Wednesday to represent the potential job losses created by its new sustainable farm subsidy scheme 

The crisis in the Welsh farming sector could have been avoided had the Welsh government listened to the long-held concerns of producers earlier, NFU Cymru’s president has argued.

Aled Jones was speaking to The Grocer after a gathering of 3,000-plus protesting farmers on the steps of the Senedd in Cardiff last week, followed by a “symbolic and stark” display of 5,500 pairs of wellies in the same location on Wednesday.

They represented the forecasted number of agri-food jobs that will be lost through the Welsh government’s Sustainable Farming Scheme proposals.

Farmers had warned of the potential for “huge damage” to the sector in the Welsh government’s first consultation into its post-Brexit subsidy regime in 2018, Jones said.

These concerns accelerated once an impact assessment was published in January, laying bare the “imbalanced” food policy of the Welsh government, which paid little attention to food security fears, he added.

SFS proposals include requiring farmers to commit 10% of agricultural land for tree planting and a further 10% for wildlife habitats.

However, the Welsh government’s own impact analysis – published alongside a consultation due to finish this week – revealed farms would lose 10.8% of their livestock numbers and 11% of their labour. This was the equivalent of losing 5,500 jobs at current employment levels and up to £199m in farm business income, while cutting agricultural output by £125.3m.

The proposals have prompted a series of protests across Wales over the post-Brexit subsidy framework since the turn of the year. “The cumulative impact of SFS, coupled with polices around bovine TB and new rules around agricultural nitrate pollution then tipped over, with farmers saying enough is enough,” Jones said.

Rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths belatedly issued a statement last month stating she was “listening” and would listen further once the consultation was complete.

However, Jones said “she may have said she was listening but it was only under [the] pressure” of recent protests. 

“We simply cannot see government move forward with a scheme that puts 5,500 Welsh farming jobs in jeopardy, never mind the additional knock-on this will have to further jobs in the food supply chain – the impact of which has not been assessed – and our rural communities,” Jones said. 

“Farmers across Wales have made their voices heard in a variety of ways during the SFS consultation period. Welsh government must show it has listened by undertaking a major overhaul of the scheme to avoid the shocking scenario highlighted by its own modelling.”

Griffiths declined a request for an interview with The Grocer this week. However, a spokesman for the Welsh government said the Labour administration was “committed to continuing to work with farmers to develop the SFS”, with every response to the consultation “analysed and properly considered”.

He also pointed to additional commitments made last week to carry out an updated economic analysis of the proposals, and consider an evidence-based review of any further and alternative proposals to achieve carbon sequestration within the SFS, coupled with a commitment to sustain the current Basic Payment Scheme subsidy budget in full at £238m. 

Government would also establish annual review points between Welsh government and the farming unions and representatives when formulating final proposals, he added.