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Interim agricultural support scheme branded a ‘shambles’



Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter

THE LAUNCH of an interim agricultural support scheme has been described as a shambles which could see some farmers’ payments fall by as much as 90%.

Conservative, Plaid Cymru and Lib Dem politicians all added their voices to a chorus of criticism surrounding the Welsh Government’s Habitat Wales scheme.

Habitat Wales is replacing the Glastir sustainable land management scheme, which closes at the end of the year, until a new Sustainable Farming Scheme is launched in 2025.

Questioning the minister responsible, Samuel Kurtz told MSs that the Welsh Government carried out no economic modelling to inform development of Habitat Wales.

“It has been a shambles,” said the Tory MS for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire.

Mr Kurtz added that suggestions stakeholders had been involved in developing the scheme have been fiercely contested.

Lesley Griffiths replied: “I disagree with you completely that it’s a shambles.

“This was something that, actually, the farming unions, particularly NFU Cymru, wanted me to bring forward.”

The rural affairs minister told the Senedd that if people wanted a seven-year predictable budget, then they should have voted to stay in the European Union

“That’s what we had when we were in the EU and we had that funding year on year,” she said. “And I could roll it over, and I could extend it. That’s gone – that flexibility has gone.”

She explained that no economic analysis was carried out because the scheme was brought forward quickly at the behest of the sector, adding that 1,600 farmers have signed up.

Mr Kurtz said Welsh ministers have the power to continue Glastir: “We’ve seen that in Scotland; we’ve seen that in England….

“You mentioned that 1,600 farmers have signed up. Three thousand Glastir contracts in Wales; 17,000 registered farms in Wales – 1,600 applicants is a damning indictment.”

Ms Griffiths stressed that the Welsh Government has protected the Basic Payment Scheme, the largest rural support programme, which has been cut by 55% in England.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) has estimated that 70% of Habitat Wales scheme forms that it has analysed include serious errors in terms of habitat mapping.

Llyr Gruffydd, for Plaid Cymru, said: “Minister, you’ve disputed the earlier description of the Habitat Wales scheme as a shambles, so, let’s be kind: you have to admit it’s been rather discombobulated in terms of the way that some of the mapping issues have played out.”

The shadow minister pointed out that three quarters of those in Glastir are not applying to the interim scheme, asking:  “What does that tell you about the Habitat Wales scheme?”

Recognising that the Welsh Government needs to learn lessons from Habitat Wales, Ms Griffiths said: “I absolutely take on board what you say about criticism about mapping.”

Russell George, the Tory MS for Montgomeryshire, said he met the FUW last week and farmers are facing cuts of 65% to 90% if they apply to the new scheme.

He said: “Issues were raised around mapping errors, reduced payment rates, and, as they put it, a cliff edge for organic producers, making it difficult to make use of this scheme.”

Jane Dodds, the leader of the Lib Dems in Wales, told the chamber: “I met one female farmer and her daughter and she was in tears.

“She and her daughter are really not sure how they’re going to keep the staff and the community that they live in, given that they are losing such a high degree of funding.”

Conservative MS Peter Fox raised concerns about support for an organic farmer in his constituency who will receive £700 compared with £16,000 from Glastir.

During rural affairs questions on Wednesday October 8, Ms Griffiths said she is hoping to bring forward a separate pot of money for organic farming.

She said: “I wish I could have carried on with Glastir with the amount of funding. And if the UK Government had given us the funding they promised they would, I could have.”

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Value of hedges in storing carbon below ground studied in soil project



THE ROLE hedges play in capturing carbon and storing it in soils is being investigated as Farming Connect gathers soil samples from across Wales in an initiative that will provide important benchmarking data for farmers.

Data collection for the second year of the Welsh Soil Project is underway, and this time soil samples have also been taken from land within a metre from field hedges, in addition to within-field samples.

Dr Non Williams, Farming Connect’s Carbon Specialist Officer, said the aim is to compare soil carbon stocks within fields and under woody vegetation.

“We often get questions from farmers about this, and we hope that the results of this project will provide them with the answers,’’ she said.

“Estimating the soil carbon levels by hedges will help to highlight their importance for climate change mitigation.’’

Farmers have a key role to play in tackling climate change and soils can play an important part in that.

The Welsh Soil Project samples are being analysed ahead of Wales Climate Week in December.

Over 1,000 samples were taken from farms that are a part of Farming Connect’s Our Farms Network, which were then analysed for organic matter content and bulk density, as well as other measurements.

For uniformity, all samples were collected within the same period this autumn and from grass fields including permanent pasture, hay and silage fields, and reseeds.

“This project looks at how varying management intensities, along with geographical factors, are impacting soil carbon stocks across Wales.”

Soil was taken from multiple depths, from the top 10cm layer to a depth of 50cm.

Dr Williams, who is leading the project, is a speaker at a major soil science event in Belfast in December.

At the British Society of Soil Science and the Soil Science Society of Ireland Annual Conference, she will deliver a presentation on the preliminary results of the project.

Soil carbon and carbon in general are also themes at three Farming Connect Masterclasses taking place in February 2024.

Dr Williams, who will lead these workshops, said it will give farmers an opportunity to improve their understanding of the basics of carbon footprinting prior to carrying out a carbon audit for their farms.

“These interactive workshops will focus on breaking down the carbon jargon, allow farmers to learn about the significance of the carbon cycle to their farm, and how it can be influenced to help reduce the farm’s carbon footprint in the future,’’ she said.

The events will take place at Llety Cynin, St Clears, Carmarthenshire, on 6 February, at Elephant and Castle, Newtown, on 8 February, and at Nanhoron Arms Hotel, Nefyn on 20 February, all from 7.30pm to 9pm.

Further details on how to book a place can be found on the Farming Connect website.

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Time to ‘protect Welsh farming from the Welsh Government’ – Gwlad Gwlad



GWYN WIGLEY EVANS, leader of Gwlad Gwlad, the Welsh Independence Party that believes in a working economy ( has spoken out on the threat not just to Welsh farming but the lives of Welsh farmers posed by the Welsh Government’s new Habitat Wales scheme.

Gwyn Wigley Evans explained the impact of the scheme: “The Welsh Government’s new scheme will reduce farmers to badly paid environmental managers. It is equivalent to planting trees on rugby pitches and still expecting games of rugby. The former farmers will see incomes fall by 50 to 90%. Each family farm supports 7 businesses within 20 miles. They can all expect massive reductions.”

Gwyn Evans has direct engagement with the social impact of difficulties in rural communities. He has been a Samaritan and CRUSE (Bereavement Counselling) counsellor for 23 years. Addressing his remarks to Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh Government Rural Affairs Minister, he pointed out “This policy will leave blood on the Welsh Government’s hands. The Samaritans, DPJ, Tir Dewi are going to be busy. This policy will pull the trigger on the guns. The effects of the Habitat Wales scheme will clear the environment of people as deliberately as the Highland Clearances.”

When addressing actions to follow he said “Plaid Cymru is no use to Welsh Farmers. They support Mark Drakeford’s Rural Affairs policies meeting the goals of London Labour environmentalists not Welsh Farmers. Gwlad Gwlad will hold a meeting at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair in Builth Wells on 27 November 2023 to focus on how to resist the worst impacts of the Habitat Wales scheme.Exports of Food and Drink were worth £797m to the Welsh economy in 2022 and are growing faster than the UK as a whole.

The world is full of small countries which have powered ahead, economically and socially, since achieving their independence. Gwlad Gwlad believes that Wales should be one of them: a prosperous, successful independent country enjoying good relations with its neighbours and comfortable in its own skin.

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Leader of Welsh Lib Dems visits Carmarthenshire farm to highlight farmers concerns



LAST WEEK (Nov 16) the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Jane Dodds MS visited Blaencennan farm in Llangadog to highlight issues affecting common land farmers in Wales.

During the visit, the following issues were raised:

-Concerns around the Habitat Wales Scheme.

-The importance of Welsh communities and the Welsh language and how the farming industry ties into that.

-The willingness of farmers to diversify their businesses.

-Commonland farming being included in the Universal payments in the Sustainable Farming Scheme.

-Ensuring that land is being farmed and not just being left, with non-grazed dry land presenting a potential fire risk.

Mrs Dodds also welcomed on the visit the Rural Affairs Minister for Wales Lesley Griffiths MS, as well as representatives from the National Farmers Union.

Commenting, Jane Dodds MS said: “It was a pleasure to visit Blaencennan farm today alongside the Minister Lesley Griffiths MS and representatives from the National Farmers Union.

Many farmers across Wales are being faced with an uncertain future and they desperately need our support.

My hope from this visit is that the concerns of the farming community are listened to and acted upon.

The Habitat Wales scheme is laden with pitfalls caused by incorrect mapping of farmland areas and a considerable low compensation offer to farmers that will leave them worse off.

If we are going to be serious about the creation of a sustainable farming model, then it is vital that we fix these errors before the scheme is launched.

It is clear to see that farmers want to do the right thing by helping the environment and by working together we can bring a brighter and greener future for Wales.”

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