“Wales Food and Farming Week has understandably drawn lots of support online and in the media. It’s timely to take stock. There’ll be a great deal of speculation and debate at the eagerly anticipated Royal Welsh Show - maybe even the odd announcement or two - but all eyes will focus on the Agriculture (Wales) Bill introduced into the Senedd in the late summer. I am ready to tackle some vital questions: What do we want, need and expect from the new scheme to support farming – and will the answer to these be the same as what I think we will get?
Smooth transition’s rightly been everyone’s first ask. Actually, I would like to go a step further; let’s not lose sight of our vision, commitment to innovate and grasp the opportunity to create something better than we’ve had before. The best kind of revolutions take place over a period of time – winning people over and bringing them alongside, rather than imposed upon people. Creating a better place and then establishing continuous improvement must be the starting-point.
Getting the driving-forces right
The Scheme’s been a long time coming, and still key questions are yet to be answered. Dramatic events in the past year or so have put the vision under a spotlight. The importance of resilience was brought to us by the pandemic. Forging new international trade deals is teaching us lessons about strong supply chains and capacity to export. They’re also reminding us that we must impose our standards on imported food. Similarly, the global climate change conference last year (COP 26) stressed the need to reach net zero, and posed questions about agriculture and land use’s part in it. Moreover, in the last 100 days, the wide impacts of the crisis in Ukraine have reminded us of the imperative to protect essential sources of supply. Together these have forced us to examine the emerging new scheme through a multi-focal lens designed to place the vital components of the economy in sharp focus.
Born out of tragedy, I think these four events nevertheless have pointed us towards what a scheme fit for the 21st Century really needs to look like. We must create a structure that works-best for Wales, but fits into the UK-wide context, without compromise for competitiveness and unnecessary complication for cross-border businesses. I’m calling for three essential things to be delivered. Foremost, the scheme must enable secure and sustainable production of nutritious food in a valued farming industry that provides jobs as a mainstay of the Welsh economy. The scheme must deliver a carbon management surplus, which supports the national progress to the vital net-zero goal, and best realises our natural assets to meet society’s essential objective. The scheme must meet goals in land-use to manage fresh water supply, managing habitats and bio-conservation.
A theme cutting across these three objectives is to recreate the relationship between farming, land use and the countryside and wider society, such that a new consensus emerges about the value of the countryside. The Welsh Government might refer to this as “meeting the Future Generations Act.” In doing this, I would like to go further and challenge the Government to put the right resources in – to get the right results out.
Sorting out the mechanics…
In the past few weeks the agricultural community has been rightly focused on the Scheme’s economic modelling, notably ensuring that payment rates are sufficient that the voluntary scheme is supported by a critical mass of farmers. From the Government’s perspective its’ wide ranging goals in tackling climate change, biodiversity etc. will be impossible without this support. There’s shared vision here and there’s equally shared vision about continuity in using Rural Payments Wales’ (RPW) online portal: keeping this “world leading architecture.” There’s also shared vision about ensuring the budget for agriculture – from UK and Cardiff – is enough to do the job. Welsh Government itself throws this question back to Westminster.
Critical to the Scheme’s genesis will be how farms are assessed, by what criteria they are measured – and what the result will be. The Government is likely to want a range of common actions to be carried out: farm-assessment, payment and subsequent reporting could be part of the same process following existing RPW patterns. Nobody is adequately resourced to carry out this work apart from farmers themselves – and we in CLA Cymru may be in a strong position to advise members, monitor progress and feedback to government commonly occurring themes and opportunities for improvement.
… And introducing the new features
Finally, I’ve been pleased to see progress in answering the questions about how we go about financing nature recovery. The Financing UK Nature Recovery Coalition’s: Recommendations and Roadmap Report sets out how to make the UK a highly attractive market for nature-based investment to help drive nature recovery. Its’ three pillars on market design, governance and operation provide us not only with a common approach, but also a structure and means which can be applied in all UK nations. There is a very substantial gap to be filled by a market solution to add to public and philanthropic funding. Establishing markets here – and for the vital process of carbon management currently unique to agriculture and land use in greenhouse gas recovery will become essential parts of the scheme. When we lift the bonnet of the new Sustainable Farming Scheme, I hope very much to see these mechanisms as part of the engine that drives Welsh agriculture.”