The Sustainable Farming Scheme in Wales

As the introduction of the Agriculture (Wales) Bill approaches, Senior Policy Advisor Fraser McAuley analyses the new scheme - and areas where there's still work to do.
IMG_0063 (2) Suckler herd (beef) on a hot day, mixed broad-leaf woodland, Wales. RD.JPG

In early July, Welsh Government published its proposals for the Sustainable Farming Scheme. We are pleased to see the ambition shown within the document to support sustainable and profitable food production alongside addressing the climate and biodiversity emergencies.

The proposals have built on three consultations over five years and reflect the work our members and the CLA team have done with Welsh Government. We are happy to see significant detail on what the scheme will pay for, the process for how farmers and landowners can apply, and how the transition from the current landscape of the Basic Payment Scheme and Glastir to the Sustainable Farming Scheme will work.

We do however have some specific concerns. Firstly, the requirements for 10% woodland/forestry cover and a 10% requirement for habitat creation and maintenance may not be suitable for all holdings and the need to ensure balance between sustainable food production must be considered further. Secondly, there are no specific payment rates for the scheme. Welsh Government have explained that this is because the current funding settlement with the UK Government only goes to 2024, so they are unable to commit to specific rates. This is disappointing and we will continue to lobby to ensure future funding matches the commitments set out within the proposals.

What has been proposed?

Despite the concerns highlighted above, there is a fair amount of detail within the document. To summarise, the scheme includes a farm sustainability review that will include farm details[JH1] (size, sector, livestock), a carbon assessment and a baseline habitat survey. This review will be digital where possible to reduce cost and concentrate resources into scheme delivery. This review will provide entry to the scheme and identify the actions Welsh Government will pay for. These will consist in a mixture of universal actions that all applicants must undertake - for which they will receive a baseline payment via a five-year contract, and optional and collaborative actions which will attract additional payments. The universal actions include:

  • Record of key performance indicators;
  • 10% of land for woodland/forestry and 10% for habitat creation/maintenance;
  • Undertake animal health and welfare plan;
  • Undertake a biosecurity plan;
  • Manage areas of cultural/heritage significance;
  • Undertake a five-yearly soil analysis.

The optional and collaborative actions are very wide ranging and will be able to be tailored for the plethora of different farm types across Wales. One particular area of importance for our membership is access. The proposal outline that any options relating to access are optional and include:

  • upgrading footpaths to multi-use path;
  • enhancing existing paths to make them more accessible;
  • establishing joined-up and new access routes and trails;
  • establishing new access;
  • hosting educational and care farm visits.

We will continue to work with the various access fora and Welsh Government to ensure that any new access is voluntary, incentivised and permissive.

The full document can be found at this link

Initial views

The Royal Welsh Agricultural Show took place a week after the publication of the proposals, providing an ideal opportunity for discussion with lots of different organisations and our members. Not surprisingly the “10 and 10 requirements” dominated many meetings I attended and conversations I had. Some farmers were not concerned as they already reached these percentages on their holding, but were worried around land under Farm Business Tenancies that often did not include the woodland. In the short term, there are no quick answers but the CLA Cymru team will be part of a Welsh Government-organised tenancy working group to discuss the impact of the proposals on landowners and tenants. Other members I spoke to outlined their worries that they needed all the productive land they had to go towards feeding their stock or growing their crops. This is a real concern. For some,the solution will be sustainably intensifying other parts of their farm and becoming more efficient. Where this is not possible, the role of exemptions for some farms must be considered by Welsh Government.

Agriculture (Wales) Bill

The Agriculture (Wales) Bill is due to be published in the Autumn of this year. It will be the legislative mechanism in which Welsh Government can administer the new scheme. Ministers are confident it will receive Royal Assent by the summer of 2023, ready to begin testing and trialing and then introducing the new scheme. We will be working with Members of the Senedd to ensure scrutiny of the Bill and to propose amendments if we see fit.

What happens next?

There will be a consultation on the scheme proposals in 2023. In the meantime, we will be consulting with different segments of the Welsh membership, conducting mock schemes on different farms and engaging with all relevant stakeholders to dig down into what these proposals will mean for Welsh farming.

Welsh Government are also conducting the second phase of co-design and we are urging all our members to take part, if possible, to feed your views directly into the officials developing the scheme.