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Farming

Welsh Government announces Sustainable Farming Scheme

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WALES’s farming unions have cautiously welcomed the Welsh Government’s proposals for the future of Welsh agriculture.
As part of its planned legislation for the next two years, Labour ministers unveiled their ideas for farming support and environmental objectives for Welsh farms on Tuesday this week.
The Welsh Government will not decide how the final Scheme will look until further consultation on the detailed proposals. An economic analysis will be presented in 2023.
While critical of some of the proposals, local MS Sam Kurtz also welcomed a change in tone from the Welsh Government towards Wales’s farming industry.
Agriculture is one of Pembrokeshire’s most important industries. It supports a vast web of local businesses. Therefore, the Welsh Government’s agricultural policy will directly impact our County and its economy.

KURTZ IS “PROUD TO
STAND UP FOR FARMING”

Welsh Conservative and Shadow Rural Affairs Minister Samuel Kurtz MS said: “The Welsh Government’s announcement has come a long way from what was touted back in 2018, and the farming unions have rightly welcomed this movement.
“Although a universal set of actions for all Welsh farmers is a positive, flexibility must also be present, given the varying types of upland, lowland and coastal farms in Wales.
“I would also like to have seen more done to protect food security, the Welsh language, and the vitality of rural communities.
“Asking all farmers to have 10% tree covering on their farms will come with concerns, given that this will be impossible for some.
“The industry wants to play its part in supporting nature and improving our climate, but hard and fast rules can sometimes lead to unintended consequences.
“I’m also disappointed – but not surprised – that this plan has been published without numbers on the finances, denying farmers the figures they need to run their business. The finer detail of the Scheme will show whether it will be a success or not.
“I’m pleased to have played a small part in pushing the Welsh Government to do better in its support for farmers, and I’m happy that some of my concerns have been taken on board.
“I’ve always said farming needs a friend, and I’m proud to stand up for our important industry.”

SUSTAINABLE FARMING IS THE GOAL

The Sustainable Farming Scheme proposals signify a major change and will be key in supporting Welsh farmers to lead the delivery of a more resilient environment and a more resilient rural economy.
The Welsh Government will provide financial support for the work farmers do to meet the challenges of the climate and nature emergencies alongside sustainable food production.
Wales’s Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths MS, said: “The climate and nature emergencies threaten the sustainability of agriculture and present the most serious risk to food security both globally and locally.
“We must respond to this if we are to ensure we have a sustainable and resilient agriculture sector for generations to come.
One of my intentions for publishing the outline of the Scheme now is to help the industry plan for the future.
“Sustainable food production and actions to deliver environmental outcomes are complementary, not competing, agendas.
“Farming is vital for Wales and plays a key role in supporting our economy and rural communities. I firmly believe the Sustainable Farming Scheme offers a real opportunity for positive change.
“With the support it will provide, we can help the sector prosper.”
Ms Griffiths continued: “The Sustainable Farming Scheme has been designed to support what our farmers do best: sustainable farming and producing food in harmony with the environment.
“I want to see this Scheme drastically improve our biodiversity and strengthen the Welsh farming sector.
“We will rely on the commitment and expertise of the Welsh farming sector to deliver Net Zero and to halt and reverse the decline in biodiversity. The Scheme is designed to support farmers with this important role while simultaneously helping them continue producing high-quality food to high production standards.”

FUW SAYS PROPOSALS
“ON THE RIGHT TRACK”

Responding to the document, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “We welcome those areas of the proposals that have changed to reflect the concerns we highlighted in response to previous proposals.
“Notwithstanding some areas which raise major alarms, and the devil that lies in further details, the Welsh Government has moved on leaps and bounds and now has an overarching framework that is not dissimilar to what we have proposed.”
However, Mr Roberts sounded a cautionary note: “There are some concerning suggestions regarding universal actions that, while being possible or practical for some farmers, would not be for large numbers of others,” the union leader said.
“The proposal that ten per cent of all farms should comprise tree cover will be a major concern for many farmers for whom this would mean losing a large proportion of their productive land; there are also concerns about how this would impact tenants.
“There are also some farms, such as in exposed coastal areas or those in designated areas, where meeting this obligation would simply not be possible.”

NFU LOOKS FOR
MORE DETAIL

NFU Cymru President Aled Jones said: “I am encouraged by Welsh Government’s proposals that, in return for undertaking a set of universal actions, farmers will be able to enter into the Scheme and receive a baseline payment.
“We now need to carefully consider the practicality of these actions and how they could work to support productive, progressive and profitable farming systems.
“The outline proposed by Welsh Government appears to be a step towards the NFU Cymru vision of a sustainability and stability payment that should be available to all active farmers.
“NFU Cymru has consistently highlighted the need to ensure that the Welsh Government must target support at active farmers: the people and businesses who take the commercial risks associated with food production.
“I am pleased that the Minister has reiterated the importance of payments linked to actions that an active farmer carries out.
“While the outline proposals give farmers a first opportunity to see some of the actions and activities they may need to undertake to enter the SFS, without any information on the levels of funding attached to these actions and activities, it remains impossible for farming families to consider how the Scheme will support their farming business.
“We are clear that the Scheme must deliver at least the same level of stability for farm businesses, the supply chain and our rural communities as the current arrangements do.
“There is a need to ensure that the Scheme works for all farming sectors and all land types in Wales.”

MORE WORK TO BE DONE
SAYS PLAID CYMRU

Plaid Cymru’s Rural Affairs Spokesperson Mabon ap Gwynfor MS said: “For several years, Plaid Cymru and the agricultural sector have been making the case that food production should be an integral part of any future farming support scheme.
“It is encouraging to see a fundamental shift in emphasis in the initial proposals for the Sustainable Farming Scheme published by the Welsh Government – the crucial role of active farmers as food producers is rightly recognised.
“However, there’s more work to be done, and we are waiting to see the detail underneath some of these proposals.
“We share the concerns expressed about the potential loss of productive, good-quality agricultural land for tree cover and the practical feasibility of this proposal.
“We will try to ensure that the substance matches the change in emphasis by actively rewarding food security as an outcome of the Scheme, as well as the wider social, linguistic and economic contribution of agriculture to the sustainability of our rural communities.”

Farming

Farming revealed as Wales’ most dangerous job

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NEW figures released today reveal that farming continues to be the most perilous occupation in the UK, with a stark reminder of the dangers as the annual Farm Safety Week campaign kicks off. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) reported that 27 people lost their lives on farms across Great Britain (GB) in 2023/24, underlining the severe risks faced by agricultural workers.

Despite representing only one per cent of the working population, agriculture accounts for 20 per cent of all workplace fatalities. In 2023/24, there were 23 farm worker deaths, an increase from 21 the previous year. Tragically, four members of the public, including two children, also died on farms, bringing the total to 27. A significant portion of these fatalities, nearly 40%, involved individuals over the age of 65.

Northern Ireland also reported a grim picture, with farming responsible for eight out of 17 workplace fatalities in 2023/24, according to the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI).

The Farm Safety Foundation (Yellow Wellies), the charity behind Farm Safety Week, stresses the need to address risky behaviours and complacency within the industry. The Foundation highlights that alongside fatalities, there are an estimated 23,000 injuries to farm workers annually in GB.

NFU Mutual reported 937 farm accident claims in the UK for 2023/24, a decrease from 1,021 in 2022/23. These accidents, including falls from heights, trapped body parts, and falling objects, cost the rural insurer over £68 million.

Research conducted by the charity in September 2023 found that 88% of UK farmers believe ‘complacency’ is a major contributor to farm accidents, while 82% cite ‘attitude’ as a significant factor.

Stephanie Berkeley, manager of the Farm Safety Foundation, stated: “Farm safety is a global issue. The International Labour Office (ILO) ranks agriculture among the three most hazardous sectors worldwide. In the UK, 35 farm-related deaths occurred last year, including two children. This devastation to families and communities must stop.”

Berkeley added: “This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Farm Safety Foundation. While we’ve made progress, the statistics from HSENI and NFU Mutual show there’s much more to be done. Farm Safety Week is an opportunity to reset our approach to safety and risk-taking. We cannot tolerate poor safety behaviours or rely on luck in our daily tasks.”

Brian Rees, Abbeycwmhir farmer and Lantra Wales Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, emphasised practical steps for improvement: “As Farm Safety Week begins, let’s remember the fatal accidents, life-changing injuries, and near-misses in our industry. Fix anything faulty, avoid dangerous situations, and reflect on near-misses.”

Sue Thompson, Head of Agriculture at HSE, echoed these sentiments: “This year’s fatality figures are disappointing, with agriculture again having the highest fatality rate among major industries. Farm Safety Week highlights crucial safety and health issues. Farmers must prioritise their safety and health. While we, as regulators, will enforce standards, the industry must change its culture to drive meaningful and lasting safety improvements.”

Thompson also stressed the importance of protecting children on farms: “The industry must choose between maintaining its current culture or ensuring children’s safety. It cannot do both. Farmers pride themselves on fixing anything on the farm; now they must fix the industry’s broken health and safety record.”

For more information on Farm Safety Week, visit www.yellowwellies.org or follow @yellowwelliesUK on social media using the hashtag #FarmSafetyWeek.

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Farming

Cabinet Secretary to highlight ‘Start to Farm’ scheme at Royal Welsh Show

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THE Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs, Huw Irranca-Davies, will attend this year’s Royal Welsh Show to witness the impact of Farming Connect’s ‘Start to Farm’ scheme, a vital initiative ensuring the future prosperity of family farms in Wales.

Euryn Jones, chair of the Farming Connect Strategic Advisory Board, praised the programme, stating, “Matching landowners wanting or needing to step back from the industry with younger farmers or new entrants keen to gain a foothold in farming is not only invigorating and modernising Welsh agriculture but also safeguarding the future of many farm businesses at risk.”

Mr Jones will oversee a special ‘Start to Farm’ event focused on joint ventures during the Royal Welsh Show in Llanelwedd from 22nd to 25th July. The Welsh Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs, Huw Irranca-Davies, will join an invited audience of Welsh landowners and opportunity-seekers registered on Farming Connect’s ‘Start to Farm’ database. The event will also feature former beneficiaries of the scheme, who now farm collaboratively as part of joint ventures, and representatives from key stakeholder organisations within the industry.

The ‘Start to Farm’ initiative has successfully facilitated 78 new joint venture partnerships across Wales, covering all sectors of the industry, through fully funded mentoring, business, financial, and legal support. An additional 29 matched pairs of providers and seekers are currently on their pathways towards new joint ventures or share farming partnerships. Supported by approved mentors and specialist advisers, these prospective partners are developing business plans and legal frameworks in preparation for their unique business arrangements.

Mr Jones emphasised the necessity of staying abreast of best practices, new technologies, and innovative, sustainable working methods to drive established businesses forward. These areas can pose challenges to more traditional farmers, especially if there is no succession plan to transfer responsibilities to the next generation.

“Farming Connect, through its Knowledge Transfer Programme, strongly encourages and enables younger farmers to invest in personal development and engage in farm business management early on, whether within a family farm or a new partnership, while their enthusiasm, ability, and energy are at their peak,” said Mr Jones.

The ‘Start to Farm’ joint venture support services will be delivered by Farming Connect’s approved team of specialist advisers and legal experts, tailored to meet the requirements of both landowners and prospective incumbents. The initiative aims to facilitate the seamless transfer of skills, knowledge, and expertise from older or more experienced landowners to individuals who have the ability, skills, and energy to ensure sustainable farm development.

During his visit to the ‘Start to Farm’ event, the Cabinet Secretary will hear first-hand about the ‘life-affirming’ benefits experienced by many farmers involved in successful share farming arrangements in Wales. Speaking ahead of the Royal Welsh Show, Mr Irranca-Davies remarked, “Ensuring that the knowledge and expertise of more experienced farmers is passed on to new entrants is extremely important. Bringing together this expertise, experience, and insight with the ‘Start to Farm’ initiative is key to the future prosperity of Welsh agriculture.

The Welsh Government will continue to work with Farming Connect to deliver a farming industry that supports thriving rural communities and is sustainable in every sense of the word.”

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Farming

First Minister speaks of need to win back trust of Welsh farmers

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THE FIRST Minister accepted the need to win back farmers’ trust as he was scrutinised about Welsh Government support for rural Wales.

Vaughan Gething told a scrutiny committee the relationship with farmers has improved significantly in the months since widespread protests against subsidy reforms.

In May, the Welsh Government postponed the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) until 2026 after a consultation received more than 12,000 responses.

Mr Gething raised the importance of taking a step back and listening but he stressed the need for compromise, adding: “You can’t please everyone.”

He said: “Farmers were the first group … I met when I first became the First Minister to try to reset our relationship – to recognise that we need to have a further conversation.”

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s shadow rural affairs secretary, raised the farming sector’s calls for the SFS budget to increase by more than £500m due to inflation.

The First Minister replied: “We’re not going to be able to put right the last 14 years in the next 14 weeks – and I think that’s a wholly unrealistic demand.”

Mr Gething told the committee: “There is a need for honesty about the scale of the hole that has been inherited by the new UK Government.”

He said farming got the rough end of Brexit, with the sector “sold out” in trade deals.

Mr Gething stressed the issue will not be resolved in the first Labour UK budget, warning the UK’s books are “in a worse state than the public were told”.

“There’s an even bigger hole than we thought,” said the former lawyer and trade union representative. “You can’t click your fingers and wish that away.”

Recalling Labour’s 1997 landslide, Wales’ First Minister cautioned that it took two years to unlock significant investment “and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a similar picture”.

Mr Gruffydd raised concerns about water quality regulations, which include slurry storage requirements coming into force on August 1.

He warned some farmers are “stuck in the planning system” and may not be able to meet the regulations through no fault of their own.

Mr Gething assured the North Wales MS that discussions will be held with regulators and enforcement authorities about the practicalities.

Turning to transport, Labour’s John Griffiths raised comments from Stuart Cole, a professor of transport economics, who has warned rural Wales has “lost out” on spending.

Mr Gething said the Welsh Government took over responsibility for the core valleys lines which became a significant financial commitment, skewing spending figures.

Pressed about cuts to rail in some rural areas in Transport for Wales’ timetable review, Mr Gething pointed out that an average of six passengers used one Heart of Wales line route.

“You can run a flexi-bus service, you can’t run a flexi-rail service,” he said.

The First Minister told the meeting forthcoming bus reforms, which would re-regulate the industry and introduce a franchising system, will be a real benefit to rural Wales.

On roads policy, Mr Gething described the former road-building programme as unaffordable, saying a new approach is needed in light of the climate and nature emergency.

David Rees, the Senedd’s deputy speaker or Diprwy Lywydd, who chairs the committee, raised suggestions that the south Wales metro has been too dominant.

Mr Gething said a better service in south Wales should give people confidence that it can be done in other parts of the country as well.

But he cautioned: “As ever, I can’t give you a definitive timeframe even though I know everyone would like me to – that’s about the balance of being honest and ambitious.”

Quizzed about the rural economy by Labour’s Jack Sargeant and the Conservatives’ Mark Isherwood, Mr Gething described digital connectivity as an essential enabler.

He pointed to Welsh Government investment in digital infrastructure despite responsibility being reserved to Westminster.

Turning to health, Russell George raised long-standing concerns about the recruitment and retention of dentists, doctors and other health professionals in rural Wales.

The Tory MS for Montgomeryshire criticised proposals to close Welshpool and Caernarfon air ambulance bases, which will be replaced by a new site in north Wales in 2025.

Pointing out that tens of thousands of people signed petitions and expressed “deep, deep concern”, Mr George asked why the Welsh Government did not step in.

Mr Gething said compelling evidence suggests the new model will lead to a better service for more people as he rejected calls to “override” clinician-led decisions.

“This isn’t about money,” he told committee members. “This is about what is the appropriate model to ensure people have the best possible service.”

Labour backbencher Joyce Watson raised the importance of rural schools to communities such as those in her Mid and West Wales region.

Mr Gething said the Welsh Government strengthened the school organisation code in 2018 to include a presumption against closure and a higher test for councils.

He told the meeting at Llanelli’s Parc y Scarlets on July 12 that only one proposal to close a rural school – on Ynys Mon – is currently being taken forward.

“I grew up in a rural part of the world,” he said. “Where you have a primary school, in particular, it makes a really big difference … and a sense of place as well.”

Asked about access to school transport, Mr Gething pledged to take forward the recommendations of a review on learner travel.

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