The new Welsh farm support scheme: some important wins for farmers on the road towards the statute books

CLA Cymru's policy advisor, Fraser McAuley, explains how the Agriculture (Wales) Bill may reach the statute books. Arguably, the political journey only starts when the Bill's introduced in the Senedd
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Born into a new world of farm support in Wales

The development of Welsh future farm policy may appear to have stalled, but there's lots of work taking place inside and outside Government. Let start with what we know: some level of Basic Payment System (BPS) support will continue in 2024, when the new Sustainable Farming Scheme’s (SFS) introduced. This is something we’ve always been lobbying for – and it’ll ensure a fair and manageable transition - a seamless-join – between the old scheme and the new. How long this bridging support goes on is unclear, but we can expect it to be influenced by progress of the scope of the new scheme and individual farm assessments.

The framework of the SFS scheme will be laid down in the Agriculture (Wales) Bill laid before the Senedd next spring at the latest. Between now and then, there’s a great deal of co-design work involving ourselves and other organisations which will also continue post Royal Assent. Recently we called for a set of pilots to be run alongside the existing scheme for comparison’s sake and, of course, to highlight unforeseen consequences. We’re expecting these to take shape in the course of next year.

This month (August 2021), we’ll be responding to the Welsh Government’s expected published impact assessments of the new scheme. We’ll be looking out for these to offer insights as to how a new scheme may affect rural businesses on a sectoral and geographical basis.

The Government’s summary of responses to the Agriculture (Wales) Bill is expected in September. We will be looking out for a response to our key observations around the need for clear guidance and advice, budget to meet the scale of ambition of the public and Welsh Government and reward for existing environmental delivery as well as new. This autumn will also see continued engagement with farmers about the machinery of the incipient scheme and this will continue to influence the shape and scope of the Bill.

CLA Cymru’s still discussing the outcome with key opposition Members of the Senedd (MSs). Any key points we are making direct to Ministers can be directed to Government when the Bill’s debated in the Siambr and undergoes its Committee stage. While we’ve been so focused on work with officials, we shouldn’t forget the importance of this democratic process. In some senses it’s the beginning of the political process and we’ve seen how legislation can change. What we don’t want is for the new scheme to hit the buffers following a reaction by MSs. But we do want influence here to continue to improve the Bill. From the moment the Bill becomes an Act, we’ll see tapering-off of BPS and a transition to the new scheme.

In practical terms, we know BPS 2021 and 2022 will remain at the same levels as 2020. We continue to lobby for our key principles: the need for at least the same level of funding supporting the rural economy, a fair and clear transition from BPS and Glastir to SFS, and assurances that existing environmental delivery is supported under the new scheme, in addition to incentivising greater delivery. We are awaiting an imminent ministerial decision on further extensions beyond 2020 for Glastir and will update in due course.