A new historic Agriculture Bill in Wales is working its way through the Welsh Parliament. The Bill will pay farmers primarily through the Sustainable Farming Scheme to advance environmental, economic, and social and cultural goals.
The first draft of the new Bill, a work in progress since 2016, comes after Wales’ departure from the European Union (EU). “For the first time in our history this bill will give Wales the opportunity to implement its own food and farming policy, made in Wales for the people of Wales,” Policy Director at National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Cymru Dylan Morgan tells Food Tank.
The Bill’s Sustainable Land Management (SLM) legislative framework outlines several key goals: producing food sustainably, mitigating and adapting to climate change, promoting resilient ecosystems, and conserving and enhancing the Welsh countryside and culture.
In the past, the EU’s agricultural policy consisted of two pillars, including direct payments and separate environmental payments. But this new policy will create “one integrated scheme called the Sustainable Farming Scheme,” George Dunn, Chief Executive of the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA), tells Food Tank.
Under the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme, the Welsh government will pay farmers through loans or grants for planting trees, restoring wildlife habitats, and other practices aimed at sustainability. Eligible farmers who join the Scheme will receive a baseline payment for universal actions and additional capital payments for optional and collaborative actions. The farmers will sign a contract establishing which actions are most suitable to his farm.
“Our farmers do great work as custodians of the land, protecting our heritage and landscapes so we can all enjoy them,” Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales Lesley Griffiths tells Food Tank. “However, to address the loss of biodiversity and enable the landscape to become more resilient to the climate emergency, we need to support our farmers to make some land management changes.”
Progress will be measured with specific indicators and targets currently being developed. Ensuring that there is a range of indicators and not just one metric of success, like carbon sequestration, to help make the Bill more effective, Dunn informs Food Tank.
The TFA also wants to see more support for “sustainable agriculture across all land occupation types,” he says. “Our biggest concern is that it doesn’t provide a sufficient framework for those of our Members who are occupying on newer style farm business tenancies.”
The organization promotes greater access to the Scheme for farmers operating on these restrictive short-term leases, in which environmental management may not be feasible under the terms of the agreement. One remedy to this issue includes offering legal recourse to individuals on Farm Business Tenancies (FBT) against a landlord’s unreasonable objections to joining the Scheme.
NFU Cymru emphasizes the importance of including food production and security in the framework. “We support the introduction of a fifth SLM objective that reflects the importance of a vibrant, productive, economically active farming sector,” Morgan tells Food Tank. Alongside climate and environmental goals there should be “mechanisms to ensure levels of food production are assessed, maintained and enhanced.”
The Bill and its associated Sustainable Farming Scheme are currently undergoing further scrutiny to ensure it reflects concerns about the economic viability of Welsh farms.
“We want this legislation to be a collaborative process which is why we have run consultations and co-design sessions on the Sustainable Farming Scheme,” she tells Food Tank. The government is working with producers and rural communities to sort out concerns, such as a 10 percent tree coverage on farms.
“It is an ambitious and transformational piece of legislation which reforms decades of EU farming policy,” Griffiths says. “It’s the right way to support our farmers to keep them producing high quality food while also addressing the climate and nature emergencies.”
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Photo courtesy of Sehbastian Hermann, Unsplash