Updates to the Welsh Sustainable Farming Scheme

Important updates to the progress of the Agriculture (Wales) Bill and Sustainable Farming Scheme. Reported by CLA Cymru Senior Policy Adviser Fraser McAuley
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As the Agriculture (Wales) Bill nears Royal Assent (something we expect to happen mid-August), focus has turned to the continued development of the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS).

This week saw a statement from the Welsh Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths on the SFS. Her statement outlined how the scheme’s proposals, published in July 2022, have developed following input from key stakeholders, including CLA Cymru, and following an engagement programme with farmers and landowners, dubbed co-design. After her statement, two reports were published. The final co-design report and a summary of initial responses- these can be found here.

We are currently analysing the complexities of the reports and will be issuing a further summary in the coming weeks, however key points from the statement and the reports on the SMS include:

  • A phased approach to implementing the scheme will be considered, which could mean rolling out the universal actions when the scheme begins in 2025, with optional and collaborative actions in the following years.
  • A habitat baseline review was proposed as an entry requirement before joining the scheme. Consideration will now be made on how to make this scalable for the universal layer by using information already held, to remotely identify habitats on the farm through the familiar process of Rural Payments Wales (RPW) online. This was something we identified within our response to the initial proposals and it is positive that Welsh Government has listened.
  • Opportunities will be explored to better recognise good management of existing habitats and woodland above the proposed minimum requirement, again something the CLA lobbied for.
  • Based on feedback, further detail has been provided on the scenarios where tree planting is not possible. Changes are being considered so the planting action is not 10% of the entire holding, but 10% of the remaining area once unsuitable areas have been identified. The 10% tree cover would include existing tree cover. This minimum tree cover requirement caused significant concern across the farming sector in Wales. While we support the need for more trees in Wales for all the benefits they provide, it must be balanced with maintaining productive farmland and preserving other important land uses. It is therefore a real positive that Welsh Government are showing some flexibility.

A final consultation on the SFS will be conducted before the end of the year and we expect payment rates to be outlined in 2024. We will be meeting with the minister and senior officials at the Royal Welsh Show so encourage any members in attendance to drop into the pavilion.

You can also contact the Welsh office if you wish to discuss the latest developments.

Key contact:

Fraser McAuley
Fraser McAuley Senior Policy Adviser, CLA Cymru