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Farming

Evans appointed as new minister

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evans02THE SACKING of former natural resources and food minister, Alun Davies has come at a crucial time for Welsh agriculture. Amid concern about the Welsh Government’s handling of farm subsidies, falling stock prices, and the impact of new “greening” measures to be imposed on Welsh farmers, the Cardiff Bay government has, yet again, failed to appoint a full-time cabinet post to rural and farming affairs. The ministerial reshuffle following his sacking has seen Mr Davies’ portfolio split between two existing Cabinet members and the addition of Rebecca Evans AM to the ministerial team. Economy and Transport Minister Edwina Hart will look after agriculture, fisheries and food, Sport and Culture Minister John Griffiths has had environment added to his portfolio and Rebecca Evans is promoted from the backbenches to become deputy minister, for agriculture and fisheries. Ms Hart will attend the Royal Welsh Show at the end of July as part of her newly defined role. Mr Davies was sacked after trying to force civil servants to dig into the financial affairs of opposition politicians who spoke out against his farming policies. As Pembrokeshire County Council’s Deputy leader, Rob Lewis, knows: it is against the rules to use officers or council infrastructure to further party political ends. It has been suggested that one potential victim of his attempted smear campaign was Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams, who is married to a farmer. Soon after the former minister emailed his officials demanding details of agricultural subsidy payments received by 5 opposition members, the official @Laboursenedd Twitter account began posting questions about subsidy payments made to Ms Williams’ husband. It is unlikely that the messages posted on the official Labour news feed were unconnected to Mr Davies’ attempted smear of those opposed to his policies. The FUW has said it is looking forward to working with the new Welsh Government ministers with responsibilities for agriculture, fisheries and food and will be seeking early talks with them. FUW president Emyr Jones said: “Obviously, we are disappointed that the portfolio has been split again, although we welcome the fact that farming gets a dedicated deputy minister for agriculture. We have worked with Rebecca Evans in her role on the Sustainability Committee and she represents a predominantly rural area. “As profitable farming and a sustainable environment are interlinked we also look forward to working with culture and sport minister John Griffiths who has received the environment policy brief. “We will now seek to meet the new deputy minister as soon as possible to ensure that work on the range of outstanding CAP issues does not lose momentum,” he added. Stephen James, NFU Cymru President, said, “Whilst NFU Cymru doesn’t expect to agree with Ministers on all matters it will come as no surprise that we have had a particularly difficult relationship with Alun Davies AM. “His decision, last December, to transfer 15% from Pillar 1 to Rural Development Plan Wales measures was particularly galling. News of his sacking comes however at a crucial time with the vitally important decision on how this money is now to be deployed. Therefore, the timing of this announcement is particularly critical. “It is now time to look forward and re-establish a good working relationship, once again, with the Ministers that represent our industry. We accept that there will be occasions when we will have differing views on policy matters, that has always been the case, but likewise, I’m sure there will be many occasions where we will agree on the way forward for our industry. Stephen James concluded, “It would be remiss of me to not also mention, while I have the opportunity, our concerns about the rural portfolio being split once again. This didn’t work efficiently or effectively following the 2011 election when there was a clear lack of integration of policy. Thankfully, the First Minister recognised this in March 2013 by putting everything back under the Natural Resources and Food portfolio. We are looking to see this position redressed, once again, as quickly as possible.”

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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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