Supporting Farmers and rural life

Supporting Farmers and rural life

Updated February 2024

Farmers are being asked to do more for less, with reduced support from the Welsh Government despite their growing environmental demands. The industry is now at breaking point.

The Welsh Government’s draft budget for the 2024-25 financial year, imposes cuts of 13% to the rural affairs portfolio. The largest cut of any Welsh Government department. This budget is yet to be voted on in the Senedd. Let’s remember, the Welsh Labour Government don’t have a majority.

The budget will not pass if all other parties in the Senedd vote against this budget. I, alongside my Welsh Conservative colleagues, will be voting against the Welsh Government’s budget next month.

All this is coupled with Welsh Government commissioned economic data for its new Sustainable Farming Scheme, which has forecast a huge reduction in Welsh livestock numbers and employment on Welsh farms.

The National Farmers Union Cymru (NFU) have pointed out that the entire Rural Affairs budget, before the draft budget announcement,  made up just 2% of Welsh Government spending and yet farmers manage 80% of the land area of Wales, are the backbone behind an £8.5 billion food and farming sector, and are one of the most important groups to the economic, environmental, social and cultural wellbeing of rural Wales. So, when we remember that for every £1 invested in the agricultural sector there is £9 generated for the wider economy, I am in full agreement with the NFU that this represents a good return on investment.

I have spoken with many farmers and constituents, and the growing anger and momentum to tackle the attacks from the Welsh Labour Government on our way of life are clear, especially in our farming sector.

Last month, Craig Williams MP and I participated in a well-attended public meeting in Llangedwyn in an event that was titled ‘Cardiff Controlling the Countryside’ During the meeting, representatives of the Countryside Alliance and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) set out their concerns and ongoing campaigns. Montgomeryshire farmers and owners of hospitality businesses also set out their huge concerns. The discussion covered many topics, but the prevailing sentiment was one of profound frustration and a collective resolve to push back.

Several critical issues need to be addressed. Firstly, the Welsh Government's proposed budget for the upcoming financial year with its substantial 13% budget cuts to the rural affairs portfolio. This proposal coincides with the anticipated implementation of the Sustainable Farming Scheme, currently under consultation.

Despite the ongoing consultation, the Welsh Government has already initiated economic analysis and modelling for the scheme's potential impacts. The projections indicate a considerable reduction in Welsh livestock units by 122,200, equivalent to a 10.8% decrease in overall livestock numbers. Additionally, there is a forecasted 11% reduction in labour on Welsh farms, translating to approximately 5,500 jobs lost based on current employment levels.

Compounding these concerns is the uncertainty surrounding the budget for the Habitat Wales Scheme, which began its contracts on January 1, 2024, yet remains formally unannounced. This lack of transparency raises questions about the government's commitment to supporting vital agricultural initiatives.

Another growing area of concern in recent years has been the increasing pressure on farming business from government regulation. The farming industry have been looking after our countryside for centuries, but the burden of further unnecessary regulation, and again a one size fits all approach, is why I and Welsh Conservatives, voted against The Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations (NVZs).

When we see global factors impacting input costs, Welsh farmers need a Welsh Government which is going to support the industry,- not saddle them with tougher regulations and further burden. The additional burden in Wales also makes famers less competitive than farming businesses often just a few miles away over the border.

Compliance with complex regulations can be both time-consuming and expensive, making it difficult for farmers to focus on their core activities.

My colleague and the Welsh Conservative spokesperson in the Senedd, Sam Kurtz MS, has recently written to the Minister, Lesley Griffiths MS, urging her and the Welsh Government to pause and reconsider the ‘Sustainable Farming Scheme: keeping farmers farming’ consultation, given the current strength of feeling in the industry. It is clear that the farmers across Wales who have attended the Welsh Government hosted ‘roadshow’ events, and those hosted by the farming unions, reject the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme. Given the importance of getting the future support scheme right, continuing with the current consultation of a flawed scheme is a mistake and will lead to serious frustration and resentment from farmers across Wales.

It is evident that the Welsh agricultural sector is not receiving the recognition and support it deserves from the Welsh Labour Government. In my view, the government has failed to engage adequately with the farming community during policy formulation and implementation, resulting in a palpable sense of frustration among farmers and the wider industry who feel marginalised.

The fact that Welsh Labour lacks an overall majority in the Senedd is significant in the help to bring about change. There is a need for Plaid Cymru to reconsider their alliance with Welsh Labour, take a stand against these detrimental changes, and join forces with the Welsh Conservative Senedd members to oppose the budget and other impending votes.

The rallying cry is clear: no farmers, no food. The agricultural sector is intricately woven into the fabric of Welsh culture, language, and economy. Now is the time to rally and protect Welsh agriculture, preserving not only our farmers' livelihoods but also the essence of our countryside.

In Wales, dairy farming faces an even more uncertain future. Just late last year, we heard a Labour Senedd Member, representing Wales' largest rural region including Montgomeryshire,  call for dairy farmers to ‘find another business' if they are under TB restrictions. This showed a complete lack of empathy for farming families suffering with the consequences of bTB due to the inactivity of the Welsh Government. Our dairy sector producers provide some of the healthiest, greenest products available. For me, it can’t just be a case of calling out these kinds of comments, I, along with the industry, need to help educate politicians and members of the public, who have such little understanding of the challenges.

The continuous black cloud over dairy farming in Wales is TB and the refusal by the Welsh Government to get serious about eradication. Unlike in England, Welsh farmers are unable to isolate in-calf reactors, allowing to calve before the dam is culled. I want to see Welsh farmers given the same flexibility as our English counterparts, to allow our farmers, who know their animals and farming systems best, to choose how in-calf reactors are culled. The painful but necessary footage on S4C’s Ffermio showed the reality of what Welsh farmers face. A reality which had to carry a trigger warning as it was  so distressing to view.

The Welsh Government needs to do so much more to tackle the devastation that bovine TB is causing the livelihoods and mental health of farmers in Wales. Nothing should be off the table to stamp out Bovine TB. The Welsh Conservatives would use every tool in the toolbox to eradicate this disease, from cattle vaccinations and improved testing regimes to removing infected wildlife.  As Welsh Conservatives, we believe that a wholistic approach to defeating the disease is required, working in partnership with farmers and vets to eradicate the reservoir of infection within herds, eliminate inter-herd transmission and the targeted removal of infected wildlife, who themselves suffer a painful death due to TB. Only by working together and holistically can this dreadful disease be defeated. 

The Labour Government's persistence with the arbitrary 10 per cent tree planting target in the Sustainable Farming Scheme is a significant sticking point, and one of the most frequent issues raised with me. A one-size-fits-all approach which will not work and will see good, productive land, handed over to tree planting. According to Farmers Union of Wales (FUW), if all current Welsh emissions were to be offset by tree planting, then it would require an area around twice the size of Wales to be planted with trees.

Then there is the attack on the shooting and conservation industry, from the Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to implement the regulation of the release for shooting of Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges, which would make the release of gamebirds in Wales only legal under a licensing scheme as part of a process subject to conditions and fees – making it effectively banned by default.

Game shooting has a demonstrable role in supporting not only rural livelihoods and economy, but biodiversity and sustainability objectives too. The sport also plays a crucial part in conservation efforts, including assisting in the management of as much as over 939,000 acres of Welsh countryside. BASC have also stated that Wales receives more than £75 million in annual benefit to its economy from shooting.

I also believe, for the sake of the Royal Welsh Show, what the Welsh Government is calling ‘School holiday reform’ must be scrapped.  The Co-operation Agreement between Labour and Plaid calls for the school term to be radically reformed. Any reform could have a devastating £1million hit on the Royal Welsh Show. This reform is unpopular with everyone, from teacher and parents to those who run huge cultural events such as the Royal Welsh Show. 

Both Craig and I are committed to confronting the challenges posed by the Welsh Labour Government and their impact on the farming sector. Our joint efforts aim to intensify opposition and prevent any further erosion of support for farming, the countryside, and rural life in Wales.

I shall also be working with my colleagues in the Senedd, and the Welsh Conservative team on Powys County Council, many of them being farmers and working within the industry themselves. I support them in their efforts as they seek to gain the support of other County Councillors in ensuring Powys County Council takes a supportive stand.

As the industry looks to tackle these challenges head on, it is evident that farming needs a friend more than ever before.