GLAMORGAN beef and sheep farmers Richard Walker and his partner Rachel Edwards run Flaxland Farm – a 120-acre beef and sheep holding just outside of Barry, Glamorgan. The couple say they will have to give up keeping cattle if current Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations are not adjusted to incorporate recommendations made by industry stakeholder groups.
Richard and Rachel keep 35 breeding cows and 130 breeding ewes and are at the end of their tether.
“We’ve had a session with Farming Connect to see what we need to be doing, and it didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know, apart from that we have enough ground to cope with how much slurry we produce. So we wouldn’t have to export. But we would have to cover one of the existing yards, which is an awkward shape, plus cover where we scrape slurry to, and also put in a slurry store. Which we don’t have at the moment,” said Rachel Edwards.
“Judging on what the shed we had to put up recently has cost us, I don’t think we’ll have any change out of £50 thousand if we try to meet the requirements of the new regulations. 35 cows don’t bring in that sort of money. Where do you get that money from? And you still need to pay it back at the end if it’s borrowed. We’re looking at the kids probably still paying off what we’d spend. It would be far more stressful having to pay all that money back than getting rid of the cows.
“These regulations are going to have a huge impact on our farm business. If nothing is done to amend or annul what we are facing now, I’ll have no choice but to get rid of the cattle. Trying to comply with these regulations is just going to be too expensive for us,” said Richard Walker.
Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths announced the plans in a written statement in November last year, after which it became apparent that the majority of the plans had simply ‘been cut-and-pasted’ from the Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) rules currently affecting just 2.4% of Wales.
While the Welsh Government announced in January that £11.5 funding would be made available to help farmers comply with the new rules – an allocation it had already announced previously in September 2020 – this represents just 3% of the £360 million the Welsh Government’s own impact assessment estimates the costs could be for Welsh farmers.
“There’s clearly nowhere near enough money to go around, and the total estimated bill is more than Wales’ annual farming budget.
“The margins are tight on lowland sucklers as it is. We’re looking at spending tens of thousands of pounds to comply. Is it really worth it?” adds Richard.
At Flaxland farm the muck gets spread on around 30 acres of fields in September when the fields are clear and it is left for a couple of months to rot down and go into the ground before being used as grazing for the new season lambs.
“It saves us using artificial fertiliser. It’s organic fertilizer versus the artificial stuff which is £300 a tonne. We spread the slurry over winter, it helps the grass grow and we can turn the lambs and sheep out early. The spring lambs have fresh good grass and it hasn’t cost us a fortune in bagged fertiliser.
“I look at what it does to my ground – new season lambs have lush green grass, a couple of inches tall and they rocket on it. We can produce 12 week old lambs ready for slaughter on grass and milk with no concentrate. Without it, the grass wouldn’t be as beneficial to the new season lambs as it is now. There would be a shortage of grass around February and March. The way we do things here works in rhythm with all the livestock and the environment. We also deal with the carbon footprint of our produce by selling our lambs locally to I.G. Nicholas butchers in Cowbridge, which means they have very few miles to travel from farm to plate,” said Richard.
Being the third generation to farm the land, Richard says the farming system hasn’t changed much over the years and pollution here has never been an issue.
“I have had the cows all my life, my grandfather used to milk and they gave up milking in the 60s, and then we have had suckler cows ever since. The way we keep them hasn’t changed, back then it was open yards and they were fed on a concrete pad and whatever was left was scraped up and went out. It has never been an issue and we’ve never had a pollution incident here. The river near us has been tested many times and never comes back with any problems.
“I, like so many other farmers, take our responsibility to look after the environment, including our waters, very seriously. We have always been clear that one pollution incident is one too many and those who are guilty of polluting our rivers and watercourse should be held to account. Not many will argue with that. But to introduce these regulations across the whole of Wales, which goes against the recommendations the Welsh Government has received from their own task and finish group, beggars belief and will see many small and medium sized family farms go out of the cattle business,” he said.
Sunak backs Welsh farmers in subsidy protest at Conservative Conference
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.
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.
Police warn of disruption to traffic as farmers protests take place
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.”
Welsh Conservatives challenge Sustainable Farming Scheme in Senedd
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.
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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