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Farming

Huge turnout in Carmarthen as Welsh farmers protest government reforms

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APPROXIMATELY 3,000 Welsh farmers and their supporters converged at the Carmarthen showground in Nantyci this week (Feb 8), voicing their stern opposition against the planned reforms by the Welsh Government.

This significant gathering followed a similarly packed meeting in Welshpool last week, which saw over 1,000 attendees.

The protests have been ignited by the Welsh Government’s proposed changes to farming policies, aimed at encouraging “sustainable” agricultural practices. Under the new subsidy scheme, set to be implemented from 2025, farms would need to dedicate 10% of their land to tree planting and another 10% to wildlife habitats to qualify for payments. These measures are part of a broader effort to combat climate change and biodiversity loss.

However, the reforms have been met with widespread criticism from the farming community.

A mock coffin, bearing the inscription “In memory of Welsh farming,” was paraded by protestors at the demonstration, symbolising the perceived threat to the industry. Signs with messages like “RIP Welsh farming” and “no farmers, no food” were also prominently displayed, underscoring the deep concerns within the agricultural sector.

The Welsh Government has urged farmers to engage in the ongoing consultation process regarding the reforms, suggesting that changes to the plans could still be made. Despite this, the sentiment on the ground reflects a profound fear of the future, with many farmers feeling the new requirements would impose unmanageable burdens and significantly increase administrative work.

The farming industry’s leaders have not minced words, describing the current moment as a “crunch point” for Welsh agriculture. They argue that the scheme’s rigid requirements on tree and habitat creation, coupled with the lack of clear details on payment rates, will have disastrous effects on farm businesses. An impact assessment accompanying the consultation predicted a substantial reduction in livestock numbers and a potential loss of 5,500 jobs, further exacerbating the industry’s anxieties.

In response to the mounting pressure, the Welsh Government, represented by Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths, has acknowledged the sector’s concerns, emphasising the importance of the consultation process and suggesting that adjustments to the proposals are likely. The government insists that the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) aims to ensure the long-term viability of Welsh farming, alongside environmental sustainability.

Nevertheless, the farming community remains skeptical. The current and final consultation period represents a critical juncture for Welsh farmers to express their concerns and potentially influence the future direction of agricultural policy in Wales. With a history of farming that runs deep in the Welsh countryside, the outcome of this dispute will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for the region’s rural economy and way of life.

Samuel Kurtz MS, said on X: “Immensely proud and in awe of every farmer at Carmarthen Mart tonight. The sleeping dragon that is rural Wales is awakening after years of neglect by Labour.

“Fed up, frustrated but not taking a backward step.”

The Welsh Conservatives say that the Labour Government does not listen to Welsh farmers. “The farming community is understandably frustrated at being ignored for so long”, they said on social media.

WELSH FARMERS AT A CROSS ROADS

With just a month remaining in the final consultation period for the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS), agricultural leaders in Wales have sounded the alarm, declaring the sector at a critical juncture. The scheme, which has been under development following the Welsh Government’s commitment to sustainable agriculture, faces mounting scrutiny from the farming community. Concerns hinge on the government’s insistence on a 10% land allocation for both tree planting and habitat creation, with many in the sector calling for a reconsideration of these requirements amid fears of significant operational and financial impacts.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) has been at the forefront of opposition, highlighting the scheme’s potential to cause a near 10.8% reduction in livestock numbers and an 11% decrease in agricultural labor, equating to an estimated £199 million loss in farm business income. FUW President Ian Rickman emphasised the urgency of the situation, urging all stakeholders to engage in the consultation process to advocate for necessary adjustments to the scheme.

Amidst this backdrop of concern, individual farmers like Tudur Parry, a dairy, beef, and sheep farmer from Caernarfon, express apprehension towards the SFS’s rigidity, particularly around land use for trees and habitats. Parry’s concerns reflect a broader sentiment that the scheme’s current form could undermine the viability of traditional farming operations in Wales.

The consultation process has also shed light on the anxiety permeating the farming community, with only a fraction of attendees at a recent FUW meeting indicating their willingness to participate in the SFS under its present conditions. This reluctance underscores the perceived incompatibility of the scheme with

Farming

Pembrokeshire farming couple honoured at Downing Street reception

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MIKE and Joy Smith from Pembrokeshire were among the select few invited to a prestigious reception at 10 Downing Street, recognising their outstanding contribution to farming and food production. The couple, who are well-regarded pillars of the local farming community, were nominated by Stephen Crabb MP to attend the event which celebrated Food and Farming Champions across the nation.

Farming is more than just an occupation in rural communities like Pembrokeshire; it is a way of life that has sustained families for generations. The Smiths, who farm in partnership with their brothers at Parc Y Marl near Llysyfran and Pelcomb Farm near Haverfordwest respectively, embody the dedication and passion that characterise this vital industry.

Their commitment to fostering the next generation of farmers and ensuring the sustainability of the sector is well acknowledged. “It was a real pleasure to nominate my good friends and outstanding Pembrokeshire farming couple, Mike and Joy Smith, to attend a reception for Food and Farming Champions in 10 Downing Street today,” said Stephen Crabb, expressing his pride in the couple’s achievements and their significant role in feeding the nation.

Before the celebration at No. 10, the Smiths were treated to an exclusive tour of the Houses of Parliament. They had the unique opportunity to watch live debates from the viewing galleries, witnessing firsthand the legislative process in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

The recognition of Mike and Joy Smith serves as a reminder of the critical role farmers play in maintaining the supply of local produce and sustaining the agricultural heritage of regions like Pembrokeshire. Their story is a testament to the hard work, resilience, and community spirit that underpin the farming industry.

As the local community and indeed the nation continue to benefit from the dedication of farmers like Mike and Joy, the message is clear: without farmers, there is no food. The recognition at Downing Street not only honours their personal contributions but also shines a light on the broader significance of farming in ensuring food security and preserving rural ways of life.

Stephen Crabb MP, in acknowledging the contributions of the Smiths and the wider farming community, extended his gratitude: “Thank you to Mike, Joy, and all farmers in Pembrokeshire for your role in helping to keep local produce on our plates.” This sentiment resonates with the appreciation felt by those who understand the importance of farming to our daily lives and the fabric of rural communities across the UK.

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Farming

Thousands of farmers descend on Cardiff to say: ‘Enough is enough!’

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THOUSANDS of farmers and supporters converged outside the Senedd in Cardiff, Wales, to voice their strong opposition to the Welsh Government’s proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) and other contentious issues threatening the agricultural sector. The protest, marked by a sea of placards bearing the stark message “No Farmers, No Food,” highlighted the depth of the farming community’s fears for its future.

The demonstration, the latest in a month-long series of actions across Wales, saw farmers, many arriving on tractors, gather to contest plans they argue would compel them to sacrifice a significant portion of their land for environmental purposes. With estimates suggesting that the scheme could lead to 5,500 job losses, the stakes for the agricultural community and rural Wales are high.

Despite police estimates putting the crowd at around 3,000, below the anticipated 10,000 to 20,000, the turnout was a record for a protest of this nature outside the Welsh Parliament. The demonstration saw a mix of solemnity and spirited resistance, with the Welsh song ‘Yma O Hyd’ resonating amongst the crowd, symbolising steadfastness and resilience.

At the demonstration, notable figures lent their voices to the farmers’ cause. Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, was seen engaging with protesters, underscoring the political dimensions of the dispute.

Sam Kurtz MS, from Pembrokeshire, addressing the protest

Sam Kurtz, another Conservative MS, told the crowd that he was a farmer’s son. He told the gathering that he would fight tirelessly for the farming community.

Afterwards he told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “It was the proudest moment of my life addressing the farmers in Cardiff Bay today. Made prouder still that my father was there.

“The momentum is with the industry now and whomever becomes Wales’ next First Minister, and next Rural Affairs Minister, must work hard on the SFS, NVZs, and Bovine Tb, to repair a broken relationship between government and the agricultural sector.

“Can I thank all those who attended the protest for the respect and order that they showed.

“It was the largest of its kind and if the message hasn’t got through to the Welsh Government now, I’m not sure it ever will.”

Tractors lined the outskirts of Cardiff as the protest took place

Perhaps more movingly, Nigel Owens, renowned former international rugby referee and a farmer himself, addressed the crowd from the Senedd steps. Owens, comparing the protest’s significance to his experience refereeing the 2015 World Cup final, underscored the fundamental role of farming: “There can be no Six Nations game in Cardiff next Saturday against France if there is no referee. There can be no food on the table if there are no farmers.”

The protest was not just a platform for airing grievances but also a moment for collective expression of a deep-seated love for farming and the rural way of life. Ioan Humphreys, a fifth-generation farmer, poignantly articulated this sentiment, emphasizing the fight for the future of young farmers and the unity required to overcome current challenges. “I’m also here to make sure as farmers stick together and unite through this time of hardship,” Humphreys stated, capturing the protest’s spirit of solidarity.

Rhun ap Iorwerth, leader of Plaid Cymru, reiterated the essential bond between Wales and its agricultural heartland, advocating for government support at all levels to ensure the vitality of rural Wales. His call for action highlighted the broader implications of the proposed changes, touching on the sustainability of rural communities, biodiversity, and the Welsh economy at large.

The protest, while a manifestation of immediate concerns over the SFS, also brought to the fore ongoing frustrations with the Welsh Government’s anti-water pollution measures and the persistent challenge of TB in cattle. The demonstration’s peaceful nature, emphasized by South Wales Police’s statement, belied the deep undercurrents of anxiety and determination among the farming community.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s interaction with the rural community at the Welsh Conservative Party Conference in Llandudno, where he assured farmers of his support, underscores the national significance of the issues at stake. Meanwhile, the Welsh Government’s assurance of its willingness to listen and adapt the proposed scheme following consultation reflects the dynamic and contentious process of policy-making in areas critical to national interest and well-being.

As the protest unfolded, with wellington boots symbolically placed in front of speakers, the agricultural community’s message was clear: the future of farming, and by extension, the fabric of rural Wales, hangs in the balance. The collective call for support, understanding, and meaningful engagement from the government resonated beyond the steps of the Senedd, touching the hearts of many across Wales and beyond.

This convergence of farmers at the Senedd, while a significant moment, represents just one chapter in an ongoing dialogue between the agricultural community and policymakers. As Wales navigates the complexities of environmental conservation, economic sustainability, and rural livelihoods, the voices of those gathered in Cardiff Bay will undoubtedly continue to echo in the halls of power, reminding all of the indispensable value of farmers to the nation’s past, present, and future.

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Farming

Cardiff farming protest set to be largest in Senedd history

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A MASSIVE protest is set to get underway in Cardiff today (Wednesday, Feb 28) as farmers from across Wales descend on the Senedd to voice their opposition against the Welsh Government’s proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS).

The demonstration, expected to draw between 10,000 to 20,000 participants, marks a pivotal moment for the agricultural community, highlighting widespread concern over the future of farming in Wales.

The controversy centers on post-Brexit agriculture reforms, with the Welsh Government insisting on a transformative approach to farming subsidies. Under the new SFS, farmers would be required to allocate 20% of their land to environmental measures, including a 10% commitment to tree planting and another 10% to wildlife habitat creation.

These proposals have sparked fears of job losses and significant impacts on farm incomes, with unions forecasting up to 5,500 direct job losses.

In anticipation of the protest, First Minister Mark Drakeford, alongside shadow rural affairs minister Sam Kurtz and Welsh Tory Senedd group leader Andrew RT Davies, has called for a de-escalation of tensions. Drakeford emphasised the need for “conciliation” and a constructive dialogue with the farming community, rejecting accusatory rhetoric in favour of collaborative problem-solving.

This stance was echoed during a session of First Minister’s Questions, where the importance of positive engagement and the recognition of food production as a critical component of the SFS were highlighted.

Despite these calls for calm, the debate has intensified, with accusations flying in the Senedd. A notable clash occurred when Andrew RT Davies accused Alun Davies MS of dismissing protesting farmers as “cranks” – a charge vehemently denied by Davies, who clarified his comments were aimed at a specific group rather than the wider farming community.

The protest, which is set to be one of the largest in Senedd history, will not only see convoys of tractors and coaches filled with protestors but also aims to symbolically highlight the stakes with 5,500 pairs of wellington boots placed on the Senedd steps on March 6. South Wales Police have issued warnings of potential travel disruptions, advising the public of slow-moving traffic and possible restricted vehicle access around the protest area.

Despite these challenges, the police have expressed their respect for the right to peaceful protest, working to ensure safety and minimal public disruption.

As the SFS consultation draws to a close on March 7, the Welsh Government remains firm on its stance, urging participation in the consultation process and hinting at possible adjustments to the scheme.

The farming community’s response, articulated through mass protest and vocal criticism, underscores a deep-rooted anxiety about the future of Welsh agriculture. With both sides standing their ground, the coming days are critical in shaping the trajectory of rural Wales and the sustainability of its farming heritage.

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