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Farming

Welsh farmers on the brink: Could we soon see protests like in Europe?

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WHILE scenes of agricultural protest sweep across Europe, from the bustling streets of Brussels to the historic avenues of Berlin, Britain’s farmland remains notably calm. Yet, farmers have been gathering in large numbers, voicing their concerns in packing out cattle markets rather than taking their issues directly to the streets.

The relative quiet of the farmers in Wales might seem puzzling against the backdrop of widespread European demonstrations. The agriculture sector across the whole of the UK, in fact, is grappling with significant challenges.

Recent surveys revealing alarming concerns among fruit, vegetable, and dairy producers about their survival in the coming years.

Nearly half of the UK’s fruit and veg growers and a third of dairy farmers fear their operations may not last beyond 2025, a statistic that paints a grim picture of the industry’s future.

One might speculate that Brexit has shielded British farmers from the tumult affecting their European counterparts.

Tractors parked at the farmer’s meeting in Carmarthen last week (Image C Campbell/Herald)

However, this assumption quickly falls apart when one delves into the myriad issues facing UK agriculture.

The crisis is not of isolation but of scale, economics, and policy. British farms are generally larger than those in the EU, which may buffer them against some pressures but does not immunize them against the high costs of fuel, stringent environmental regulations, and the uncertainties post-Brexit policy changes bring.

In Wales, the situation is particularly acute. The Welsh government’s Sustainable Farming Scheme, set to redefine agricultural funding post-Brexit, demands significant environmental commitments from farmers.

They are required to dedicate portions of their land to tree planting and wildlife habitats, a mandate that many argue is impractical without undermining their business viability.

Coupled with the reduction in environmental payment schemes and sweeping regulations on slurry and fertiliser usage under the new nitrate vulnerable zones (NVZ) policy, Welsh farmers find themselves at a crossroads.

The dissatisfaction runs deeper, touching on the essence of farming identity and its place in society. British farmers, particularly in Wales, express a profound concern over their perception by the public and the political establishment. There is a fear of far-right or populist groups exploiting their cause, a worry compounded by a perceived lack of public empathy towards the agricultural sector. This cultural and political disconnect has left many feeling isolated and misunderstood, reluctant to adopt the protest tactics seen elsewhere in Europe.

Moreover, the shadow of bovine tuberculosis (TB) looms large, with Welsh farmers calling for more decisive action to tackle the disease that has led to significant cattle losses. The government’s refusal to consider a badger cull, seen by many as a necessary measure, has added to the sense of frustration and helplessness within the farming community.

The challenges are manifold: rising operational costs, from fertilisers to machinery fuels, have squeezed margins to breaking points, while environmental and regulatory demands place additional burdens on an already struggling sector. Yet, despite these hurdles, the response from Welsh farmers and their British counterparts has been markedly different from the uproar seen across the Channel.

A coffin placed at the meeting in Carmarthen last week as a stark warning from farmers (Image: BBC)

This divergence perhaps speaks to a broader narrative about the British agricultural ethos – one of quiet endurance and a focus on adaptation over confrontation. The farming community in the UK, and particularly in Wales, is at a pivotal moment, navigating the complexities of modern agriculture, environmental stewardship, and economic survival.

In response to the crisis, Welsh Government Minister for Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths MS, has invited the presidents of the two farming unions to an urgent meeting to hear their views and discuss the serious concerns of Welsh farmers and rural businesses.

The meeting has been arranged following an urgent request from NFU Cymru President Aled Jones who met with Minister Griffiths earlier this week to express the deep sense of feeling and anguish that the industry is feeling at this moment in time.

NFU Cymru President, Aled Jones said: “We met with the Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths on Tuesday this week to express the deep concerns of the industry and we left her in no doubt over the strength of feeling and seriousness of the situation following the robust feedback we have received from our series of roadshows. I welcome the fact that the Minister recognises the serious concerns of farmers and as such has agreed to meet and look at ways to address these issues.

“Having travelled the length and breadth of Wales in the past week and met with thousands of members, it is clear that the current Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) consultation and the proposals laid out in it are causing a deep sense of anguish and concern as members contemplate the future scheme and the implications on their own individual business.

“The Minister has assured me this remains a genuine consultation and so I would urge anyone with an interest in Welsh farming to respond and let the Government know directly the strength of feeling that exists amongst our farming community. The information, briefings and response template are all available on the NFU Cymru website.

“The current consultation which proposes that the Basic Payment Scheme will be fully phased out in 2029 with no long-term stability payment in its place within the SFS is set against the backdrop of a challenging time for Welsh farmers. Agricultural inputs are over a third higher than pre-covid times, water quality regulations have added a huge regulatory and cost burden on farming businesses and bovine TB continues to cause heartache to farming families.

“NFU Cymru will take the concerns of the industry directly to the Minister at our meeting, and we will clearly set out our key asks.”

Samuel Kurtz MS, Shadow Rural Affairs Minister (Pic: Herald)

The conservatives, in opposition in Wales, have been vocal about what they feel is Welsh Labour’s lack of support for the farming industry.

Responding to news that protest action amongst farmers may soon be “inevitable”, Samuel Kurtz MS, Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, said: “The Labour Government must listen to the farming industry before it is too late.

“Welsh farmers have had to deal with a host of policy changes in a short space of time, their frustration is not being heard by the Labour Government and they are left feeling protests are the only option.

“There is a real sense of frustration and anger in the sector at the moment, therefore I am urging the Welsh Government to pause this consultation and to redouble their efforts to get the scheme right so that it works for Wales’ farmers.”

He later added: “Had the Welsh Government taken seriously my calls to pause the SFS consultation, then changes to the proposal could have been made. Sadly, my calls, like the calls from the farmers themselves were ignored.

“The inevitably of farmers protesting is linked to the Welsh Government’s inability to listen.

“I will stand shoulder to shoulder with farmers during any protest. My message to them is only stick together, be respectful, but the Welsh Conservatives will be with you.”

Cefin Campbell, Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for Mid & West Wales, who spoke at the large farmers’ meeting on Thursday (Feb 8), said: “Enough is enough was the resounding message amidst the 3,000 heavy crowd in Carmarthen.

“The frustration our farmers and rural communities feel towards the Welsh Government and Westminster on many issues was all too clear. I will do my best to make sure their voice is heard in Cardiff Bay, and I would urge the Welsh Government to accept the unanimous call made by those present for a meeting, where these concerns can be discussed further”. 

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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