For many of us, this year didn’t quite seem the same without the physical phenomenon of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, a calendar highlight in the farming year. But whilst it wasn’t possible to get together with colleagues and friends over an artisan sausage sandwich and a pint, organisers ensured that discussion on policy and the future of farming at these uncertain times, was plentiful.
Hosted by the CLA, an online expert panel considered the imminent move from the current Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) to a new land use policy based upon sustainable land management (SLM), which will be a significant change for farmers and land managers across Wales. Farming Minister, Lesley Griffiths MS expressed her frustration at the delays at UK Government level and called for clarity on future funding post Brexit. She emphasised that the Welsh Government had always been clear that future trade agreements must not undermine domestic legislation and the high production standards in Welsh farming.
A White Paper is to be brought forward before the end of this Senedd session, paving the way for a Welsh Agricultural Bill which needs to be enacted before the end of 2024 and will determine the strategic framework for the development of farming and forestry over the next two decades. Over the summer, the government will be consulting on the retention and simplification of rules relating to agricultural support for farmers and the rural economy.
Panellist Manon Williams, a Partner in Agri Advisors, cautioned that from her experience, farmers were not engaged in the process and felt bewildered by the lack of certainty, both in terms of what the levels of funding would be, and even whether there would be a deal or not on leaving the EU.
She argued that at least a year was needed to implement any new scheme, and that the farming community needed a clear understanding of the eligibility criteria and funding levels in order to be able to plan adequately.
This is a period of unprecedented change. Climate change and the biodiversity crisis are disruptive forces, and Brexit and the pandemic are accelerating changes. Diversification has never been more important and it’s likely that the SLM payment will encourage more farmers to practice sustainably.
We can all agree that change is inevitable, and is happening right in front of our eyes, with a rapidity that we are unused to, but it’s good to be reminded that change is not necessarily a bad thing, and the farming community now has no choice but to grasp any possible opportunities off the back of Brexit.