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14 May 2024

Farming Groups Welcome New Sustainable Farming Scheme Timeline

Sealands farm – Credit for image to Welsh Government

Farming organisations have welcomed a new timeline for the implementation of the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS).

Welsh Government has announced the introduction of a SFS Preparatory Phase of activity in 2025, with the proposed SFS Transition Period starting from 2026.

Huw Irranca-Davies, Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs, also confirmed that the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) would be available in 2025.

NFU Cymru called it a ‘sensible and pragmatic approach’ and CLA Cymru said it was ‘proactive’ and demonstrated ‘a wish to create a collaborative approach to evolving this agricultural policy in Wales’.

The move follows an announcement earlier this month of the creation of the SFS Ministerial Roundtable, a new stakeholder group to assess the development of the SFS and look at further and alternative proposals to achieve additional carbon sequestration.

CLA Cymru said the announcement of the revised timeline had come at a ‘critical time’ and said it showed that the Cabinet Secretary ‘recognised that there are alternative solutions to meet the current challenges of the controversial SFS Proposal’.

The association said the delay of the SFS and continuation of the BPS had been one of their key asks.

Victoria Bond, CLA Cymru Director, said:

“We are pleased that the Cabinet Secretary took on board our recommendations in terms of timing, interim support and ongoing expedited consultation in the form of the new Roundtable.

“This revised approach and the formation of the Ministerial Roundtable are crucial in ensuring that our members' voices are instrumental in shaping a sustainable agricultural future for Wales. We are committed to developing a scheme that is equitable, enhances the resilience and profitability of Welsh farming, and aligns with our environmental stewardship goals.

“We look forward to bringing to the table our 20 key asks that reflect the diversity of need across the agricultural landscape of Wales.”

FUW President Ian Rickman said:

“Since the last consultation we have consistently called on the Welsh Government to extend the BPS at current levels for next year given the amount of change required in regards to the Sustainable Farming Scheme within the proposed time frame.

“This announcement on maintaining the BPS alongside an SFS preparatory phase next year is a major step in the right direction. It will provide both stability for farming businesses and a solid foundation for meaningful discussions.

“The development of the SFS represents the most significant change in agricultural policy in Wales for decades. It is therefore reassuring that the Cabinet Secretary maintains that the Scheme will not be introduced until it is ready.”

NFU Cymru President Aled Jones said:

“We very much share the thoughts of the Cabinet Secretary that this scheme must not be introduced until it is ready. Neither farming families nor government can afford to have a scheme that fails to deliver on our vision for food, nature, climate and communities.

“This is a scheme that will underpin food production, our farmed environment, our communities, our rural businesses who are dependent on a thriving farming sector, our language and our culture for a generation to come. I welcome the commitment from the Cabinet Secretary to take the time to listen to those impacted by the proposals and to work in partnership on the future development of the scheme.”

In a written statement the Cabinet Secretary said:

“This new timeframe will give us the opportunity to do a number of important things. It will allow me to have the conversations and discussions we need to have with Plaid Cymru, as part of the Cooperation Agreement, and with the members of the Ministerial Roundtable. I intend to work at pace to identify areas of agreement and place the emphasis on matters where more work is required.

“The SFS must provide farmers with the right level of support to help with business resilience.”

But Wildlife Trusts Wales described the announcement as ‘bad news for farmers, nature and climate’, saying SFS offered ‘a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put farming in Wales on a sound sustainable footing’.

Rachel Sharp, Director of Wildlife Trusts Wales, said:

“The decision to delay the scheme simply prolongs the uncertainty at a time when farmers need to be rewarded for switching to sustainable farming methods which will benefit their businesses in the future.

“Delaying measures to help farms adapt to our changing climate now only increases costs tomorrow and so is bad news for farm incomes. The scheme offers a great opportunity for farmers to be on the front foot to address the changing weather – to plant trees for shelter for livestock, to switch to herb-rich grasses which are less prone to drought, and to store water in ponds on farms.”

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