By Hilary Kehoe, Chair of NFFN Cymru
Last year was an important one for farming in Wales, with food, farming and climate policies fiercely debated in the Senedd. NFFN Cymru were very active in trying to gain political support for nature-friendly farming, engaging with 14 Welsh Members of the Senedd, including farm visits with Lesley Griffiths (Minister for Rural Affairs) and Janet Finch Saunders (Welsh Conservatives Climate Change Minister), and meetings with Lee Waters (Deputy Climate Change Minister), Cefin Campbell (Plaid Cymru Food and Farming spokesperson), as well as giving evidence to the Senedd’s Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee.
A joint NFFN Cymru letter (English and Welsh) was sent to the Senedd, calling for support for nature-friendly farming. Around 20 farming, consumer, environmental and community organisations put their logos to the letter, highlighting the strong cross-sector call for action. We also submitted comprehensive responses to all relevant Senedd, Welsh Government and UK Government consultations – you can read these here, here, here, here, here and here.
It’s safe to say that this year is going to be even more pivotal. The Wales Agricultural Bill is expected to be introduced to the Senedd in the Summer of 2022 – this will set the framework under which future agricultural policies and regulation will be delivered. Alongside the Bill we are expecting to see the first draft of the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS), which will eventually replace the Basic Payment Scheme and various agri-environment schemes currently running in Wales.
Regular meetings with the Welsh Government’s Land Management Team regarding progress and development of the proposed SFS have felt positive and the representatives seem to be listening and engaged in what NFFN Steering Group members are saying. We find ourselves having a greater say in policy development – with members sitting on various working groups such WG’s Land Management Reform Stakeholder Group and various SFS farmer co-design groups.
The SFS, which looks set to be a lot less prescriptive and rigid than Glastir, is expected to be launched in 2025. I was reassured that there will be a phased reduction in the Basic Payment Scheme as the Sustainable Farming Scheme launches – we must avoid a pull the rug scenario and allow time for farmers to transition to new ways of working. In the meantime, there may be opportunities for NFFN farmers to carry out trials of the scheme on their own farms as development continues. This would be welcome, as we could all learn how the payment system can work and can demonstrate success or otherwise of management options.
As we approach the scheme launch, we will see how the Welsh Government plans to deal with the practicalities of baselining farm performance (particularly what habitats and wildlife are already in place on farms and how they can be enhanced), administering the scheme and measuring and reporting on progress. Hopefully, the budget, fixed for the next three years, will be sufficient to cover the cost of the SFS.
In addition, the Senedd recently voted in favour of introducing a Food Bill which seeks to create a more sustainable and local Welsh food system. So lots going on! This is something we really need in Wales because we lack a coherent national food vision. What we eat and what we produce as food are two very different – we need more dialogue about the integration of production, supply and consumption policies across Government, and how they address the climate and ecological emergencies, the public health crisis and the rise in food insecurity – whilst also realising better margins for producers.
We will continue to advocate the vital role of nature-friendly farming in producing sustainable and healthy food, tackling the nature and climate crises, and creating economically viable and resilient farm businesses.
If you want to be more involved with NFFN Cymru we would appreciate your support. Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
This letter was shared in our first newsletter of 2022. Join as a free public or farmer member to receive our regular email updates.