Victoria Bond-Rees, Director, CLA Cymru, from a 350-acre upland farm, writes:
There is no confidence in the Welsh Government maintaining adequate support to sustain high quality food production and harness the land’s capacity to meet the Government’s number-one priority, the net zero target to tackle climate change.
Last year, key farming and environmental organisations wrote to First Minister, Mark Drakeford MS, calling for budgetary certainty, stressing that in-year cuts had already reduced funding to the sector by £37.5 million, a cut of 7.9 per cent to a budget that has not seen an increase for a decade or more. In addition, many farmers are facing an unexpected and substantial shortfall in support from the interim scheme, Habitat Wales, which was revealed last autumn.
Yet, the Welsh Government’s budget delivered a severe blow to Rural Affairs – this department was the biggest casualty: a cut of 12.9 per cent - a hollowing-out of £50 million which should have been invested on the ground.
Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans MS, replied to the farming and environmental co-signatories of the appeal to the First Minister, that the Welsh Government has received a reduction in its capital budget from Westminster, making it £3 billion less in 2024-5 than if it had grown with the economy since 2010, making the budget situation very challenging.
We understand that the Welsh Government is experiencing a funding crisis and has been forced to prioritise its spending. However, the Finance Minister did not explain why the Rural Affairs budget has been hit hardest in the Budget before Christmas.
Some farmers fear for a future where they simply won’t be able to make ends meet. Many farmers are reviewing their involvement in environmental projects. This is not a good time for the Welsh Government to throw doubt into the sector about its own commitment.
It is now imperative that the Welsh Government finalise a Sustainable Farming Scheme which provides greater scope for farm businesses to grow and diversify, by providing more freedom for entrepreneurship, innovation, and private investment, and to minimise ‘red-tape’ associated with expansion of existing projects, and development of new projects, in rural settings.
The CLA Cymru will continue to lobby hard to gain satisfactory outcomes for our members during the final consultation on the Sustainable Farming Scheme.