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Farming

Union wants answers after Panorama programme

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NFU CYMRU has written to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to express its concerns after a Panorama investigation uncovered alleged illegal dumping of untreated sewage in Welsh rivers.

The Panorama ‘River Pollution Scandal’ aired on Monday, April 12.

The broadcast appeared to show untreated sewage being illegally discharged into protected rivers in England and Wales, including the River Usk.

NFU Cymru says the broadcast has caused ‘great concern’ among Welsh farmers, who just two weeks ago were severely burdened with ‘indiscriminate and punitive’ measures as part of the Welsh Government’s new all-Wales NVZ regulations aimed at improving water quality in Wales.

The union is asking that Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) carry out a full investigation into the findings of the Panorama documentary, to assure farmers that ‘agriculture has not been held accountable for the pollution caused from other sources, particularly sewage treatment works’.

NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “NFU Cymru has long highlighted that there is a range of factors influencing water quality in Wales. 

“The evidence is clear that a sole focus on agriculture through the introduction of regulatory measures to tackle agricultural pollution will not deliver Water Framework Directive objectives, yet we have observed a false and flawed narrative developing in recent years that frames agriculture as ‘the problem’ with respect to water quality issues in Wales. 

“In light of the evidence uncovered by the Panorama programme, NFU Cymru is seeking confirmation on what actions are being taken by the government and the regulator to stop these illegal practices. 

“We also ask what investigations are being undertaken to understand if and where else within Wales similar illegal practices are or have taken place.”

As part of its letter, the union has also urged that any potential contribution that discharges are making to phosphate levels in the River Usk is accurately accounted for.

Mr Davies continued: “The River Usk was identified as having the highest level of phosphate failures of all Welsh Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) rivers.  

“We note that NRW analysis for the River Usk references agriculture but is silent on any potential contribution of the water companies to phosphate levels.  

“It is important that the contribution of the water industry where through its permitted (or otherwise) activity is now properly reflected in work NRW has committed to do with respect to further investigations. 

“Overall, NFU Cymru seeks assurances, on behalf of our members, from Welsh Government and NRW that the issues raised within the Panorama programme will be fully investigated and addressed so that farm businesses across Wales can be reassured that agriculture has not been held accountable for the pollution caused from other sources, particularly by sewage treatment works. “We would also like assurances that, where necessary, the NRW will revise local and national reports and evidence.”

NFU Cymru is presently in the process of launching a legal challenge against the Welsh Government’s new rules to control agricultural pollution, having previously raised concerns about the lawfulness of the decision.

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Farming

Sunak backs Welsh farmers in subsidy protest at Conservative Conference

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PRIME MINISTER Rishi Sunak has publicly expressed his support for Welsh farmers protesting against proposed changes to farm subsidies by the Labour-led Welsh government. The declaration came during the Welsh Conservative conference in Llandudno, where Sunak, alongside Pembrokeshire-based MS Sam Kurtz—who notably climbed onto a tractor in solidarity—met with protesting farmers, including campaigner Gareth Wyn Jones.

Addressing the concerns outside the conference venue, Sunak reassured the agricultural community, stating, “We’re going to do everything we can because we’ve got your back.” The farmers’ grievances stem from the Welsh government’s proposals, which include mandating the allocation of 10% of agricultural land for forestry and an additional 10% for wildlife habitat as part of the Sustainable Farming Scheme aimed at combating climate change. The Welsh government has defended its stance, emphasizing the scheme’s flexibility and the ongoing consultation process.

Sam Kurtz MS climbed into a tractor parked outside Venue Cymru (Image: Gareth Lewis/BBC)

The protest actions have escalated recently, with a significant demonstration expected in Cardiff next week. Amidst these developments, Sunak critiqued the Welsh government’s approach, highlighting the broader discontent with policies such as the controversial 20mph speed limit and perceived mismanagement in health and education sectors. In his speech, Sunak accused the Labour party of treating Wales as a “laboratory” for untested policies, causing “enormous anger” among the Welsh people.

The prime minister also addressed the economic outlook, citing reductions in inflation and energy prices and the initiation of mortgage rate declines as evidence of positive direction under his leadership. He leveraged the opportunity to criticize Labour’s immigration and environmental policies, contrasting them with the Conservative government’s achievements and future plans.

Controversially, Sunak’s support for the protesting farmers comes at a time when the UK government has been tightening legislation against disruptive protests. This stance raises questions about the potential implications of backing such protests, especially with a planned farmer demonstration in Cardiff, which, while expected to be orderly, poses a political risk for Sunak if it leads to disruption.

In response, the Welsh government has highlighted its commitment to supporting the agricultural sector, maintaining the Basic Payment Scheme at £238m in 2024, and developing the Sustainable Farming Scheme in partnership with the farming community to offer stability and support to all Welsh farmers.

The political discourse surrounding these protests and Sunak’s involvement illustrates the complex interplay between agricultural policy, environmental initiatives, and political strategy in Wales. As the situation unfolds, the impact of Sunak’s support for the farmers, against the backdrop of the UK’s post-Brexit agricultural policy landscape, remains to be seen, marking a critical moment in the ongoing debate over the future of farming and environmental stewardship in Wales.

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Farming

Police warn of disruption to traffic as farmers protests take place

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FARMERS protests are taking place in Aberystwyth and Carmarthen today (Feb 22.)

The police took to Facebook on Thursday morning saying: “We are aware of potential disruption to traffic in Carmarthen and Aberystwyth town centres from midday today.

“The traffic network in and out of the towns may also be affected.

“If you are planning on travelling in those areas today, please consider changing your route or journey time to avoid delays.

“We will update when we have further information.”

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Farming

Welsh Conservatives challenge Sustainable Farming Scheme in Senedd

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THE WELSH CONSERVATIVES have tabled a motion for debate in the Senedd, aiming to overturn the controversial Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) proposals put forward by the Labour Government. The motion, scheduled for discussion next Wednesday, 28th February, calls for the abolition of the requirement for a 10% tree cover on farms and the scrapping of the current SFS proposals, amidst concerns over their impact on Wales’ agricultural sector and rural communities.

According to the Labour Government’s economic impact assessment, the implementation of the SFS could lead to a drastic reduction of 122,200 in Welsh livestock numbers, the loss of 5,500 jobs, and a £199 million hit to the rural economy. These figures have fueled the argument that the scheme could devastate rural communities across Wales.

Sam Kurtz: Unhappy with proposed farming scheme

Samuel Kurtz MS, the Welsh Conservative Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, has been vocal in his criticism of the scheme. He stated, “The economic analysis of the Sustainable Farming Scheme speaks for itself. With the projected loss of livestock, jobs, and significant economic damage, it’s clear that the SFS will decimate Wales’ rural communities.” Kurtz accused the Labour Government of neglecting the importance of the farming industry to Wales’ economy, society, culture, and language, and of ignoring the widespread opposition to the SFS within the agricultural community.

The motion presented by the Welsh Conservatives outlines the significant concerns surrounding the SFS, including the estimated reductions in livestock numbers, job losses on Welsh farms, and the consequent economic downturn. It also highlights the agricultural community’s strong opposition to the scheme and cites a poll commissioned by the Country Land and Business Association in Wales, which found that only 3% of Welsh farmers trust the Welsh Government’s handling of the issue.

In a bid to address these concerns, the motion calls on the Welsh Government to remove the tree cover requirement and to scrap the current SFS proposals. Furthermore, it urges the government to re-engage with the farming sector to develop a new scheme that garners the support of the farming community.

The debate, which is a crucial moment for the future of farming in Wales, is set to commence at approximately 5.30 pm on Wednesday, 28th February, in the Welsh Parliament. This marks a significant effort by the Welsh Conservatives to align with the farming sector and challenge what they see as detrimental policies towards rural Wales.

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