Agriculture (Wales) White Paper consultation summary

Deadline: March 25

On December 1 6 2 0 2 0 the Welsh Government published its Agriculture (Wales) White Paper consultation, outlining proposals for what may be the biggest changes in agricultural policy for decades. It sets out a programme for change over the next 1 5 -2 0 years and follows two previous Welsh Government consultation documents, Brexit and our Land and Sustainable Farming and our Land (the FUW response to both of these can be found on our members’ website.

Expected timeline:

March 2 5 2 0 2 1 : White paper consultation closes, followed by development of policy, drafting of Agriculture (Wales) Bill and further consultation

Summer 2 0 2 2 : Bill introduced to Senedd

31 Dec2024:DateofUKAgriBillsunsetclause‐sotheBillneedstobein place by this date

Glossary

BPS ‐ Basic Payment Scheme
SFS ‐ Sustainable Farming Scheme SLM ‐ Sustainable Land Management WG ‐ Welsh Government
EU ‐ European Union

 

Regulatory reform

National Minimum Standards:

Regulation introduced at different times was variously the responsibility of the Senedd, UK government and the EU, while some regulations are linked to Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments ‐ for example, Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) are Cross Compliance rules that apply to those in the BPS scheme, not everyone. WG proposes to ‘reduce complexity’ by consolidating legislation into one set of ‘National Minimum Standards’ while also turning certain scheme rules into law for everyone ‐ meaning those who breach them will risk civil sanctions.

For example, while farmers are not allowed to cut trees or hedges between February and September under BPS Cross Compliance rules, forestry operators such as NRW are allowed to, subject to other rules such as Felling Licence conditions. However, if the restriction is made law this will apply to everyone in Wales except under certain circumstances such as where trees overhang highways, thereby bringing Welsh tree felling operations to an end for six months of the year.

Civil Sanctions:

Everyone would need to adhere to the new rules, but breaching them could still put future scheme payments at risk. Under the proposals, regulators would be able to use a broad range of sanctions to enforce compliance, including civil sanctions (see diagram below).

Initial FUW Reaction

• While consolidating regulations makes sense, what is proposed also seeks to raise the regulatory baseline to a level far higher than those for farmers in other nations ‐ including Scotland, Northern Ireland, EU countries, and those in countries with which we may have a future trade deal

• While the proposal to abolish the link between payments and statutory requirements superficially makes sense, this would place a significant additional burden on legal systems, whereas many issues are currently dealt with through the far simpler system of BPS penalties ‐ a system which does not effectively criminalise those who have made simple mistakes

• As such, there is a major concern that the proposals would place Welsh farmers at a significant disadvantage to their competitors by ratcheting up regulations, while increased civil sanctions, monitoring, and a higher regulatory baseline would put significant additional pressure on farming families

 

Sustainable Land Management: Future

Policy and Support

It is proposed that a Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) will replace the BPS and Glastir Schemes. The support scheme would be an ‘integrated whole farm approach’ which it is claimed would ‘enable the production of sustainable food alongside the delivery of improvements which would address climate change, public health and environmental issues’. Sustainable Land Management (SLM) would be used as the overarching principle for future agricultural policy and support.

Su stainable Land Management definition

WG defined SLM as: “The use of land resources, including soils, water, animals and plants, for the production of goods to meet changing human needs, while simultaneously ensuring the long‐term potential of these resources and the maintenance and enhancement of their environmental benefits”.

The scheme would pay farmers for the production of non‐ market goods (e.g. improved soils, clean water etc) ‐ commonly known as Public Goods. Support within the SFS would include the provision of an income stream over and above the income foregone and costs incurred calculations currently used for Glastir payments, with accompanying investment in infrastructure, advice, skills development and training, research, and market development. WG claims that ‘Th is will offer farmers anincome stream not su bject to market volatility and wh ose ou tcomes cannot be su bstitu ted by imports’.

An initial review would be a mandatory part of entry into the scheme. The review would help define the actions needed to deliver sustainability for that specific farm. (e.g. looking at the farm’s carbon footprint and potential for change). This would require detailed advice and guidance (the Farm Sustainability Review). WG believes farmers should regard their input costs to meet the requirements of the scheme as an investment, in order to reap the reward of continued payments for the outcomes they deliver.

Under the proposals, Welsh Ministers would have to make an annual statement to the Senedd on the budget for direct agricultural support, demonstrating the outcomes delivered and future targets.

Initial FUW Reaction

• WG claims this proposal would deliver their obligations under the Well‐being of Future Generations (WFG) and Environment Acts, but FUW believes, following previous consultation with members, that the Public Goods payment system is far too narrow to deliver the economic and social outcomes that are a requirement of the WFG Act

• In particular, the Public Goods payment concept is not a tool designed in Wales to deliver against defined Welsh objectives ‐ it is a concept developed in England decades ago, and WG is merely fitting Welsh objectives around this, rather than using its devolved powers to design a comprehensive set of tools to deliver against its own goals

• As well as potentially placing Welsh farmers at a competitive disadvantage to those in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the EU (who will continue to receive some form of direct support) the huge variation between the public goods different farms can deliver based on their topography, soil types, geographic location etc. risks creating a postcode lottery whereby different farms would be subject to very different restrictions and receive very different levels of funding

• The initial farm review and subsequent process of creating tens of thousands of bespoke contracts would be a complicated and convoluted process compared with the present system, taking up a huge amount of resources for both farmers and advisors/civil servants

• Making Public Goods payments the only delivery mechanism further weakens the link between food production and payments at a time of great concern about food production, health and standards, and means the use of a limited, untried and untested mechanism

Industry & Supply Chain

While the White Paper proposes that the majority of financial support should be directed through the SFS scheme, support for the wider industry and food supply chain would be available under the proposals provided actions supports the continued delivery of SLM outcomes.

WG also hope to create greater demand for Welsh primary produce through providing evidence of SLM that helps promote farmers’ produce. Aspirations also include supporting farmers’ understanding of what consumers want; identifying barriers in the supply chain to increase Welsh products used; shortening supply chains and providing market intervention measures during exceptional market volatility. WG would also consider the case for providing support to other sectors if it helps deliver SLM, in particular forestry.

Initial FUW Reaction

• Whilst support that improves supply chains is clearly welcome, the focus on SLM principles rather than specific economic objectives raises concerns

• There is concern that while WG proposes helping farmers understand what consumers want, it does not itself recognise the evidence regarding consumer buying patterns and the degree to which price and affordability are the key driver for the majority

• With widespread concerns regarding the true value for money of some farm advisory services, and the transparency around funding such services and assessing their value, concern exist that what is proposed would boost those advisory services that deliver little or nothing in terms of benefits ‐ rather than those which are valued and of genuine benefit

• There are major concerns regarding the suggestion that support could be siphoned off to other sectors such as forestry, further diluting the agricultural funding

• While the use of SLM data to help promote farmers’ produce must be regarded as positive, if new regulations and scheme rules increase cost of production or threaten production per se, the numbers able to benefit would be tiny given that the vast majority of Welsh farmers currently supply the dominant mainstream markets for milk, cheese, lamb and beef rather than the far smaller niche markets

Collection and Sharing of Data

WG is proposing a national database for farms and livestock, as a central data collection point to minimise collection of similar information by different bodies.

Better use of technology is also proposed in order to automate some of the data collection (e.g. Earth Observation data, geo‐ tagging photos, on‐farm sensors), and reduce the reliance on farm inspections.

Better use of data would allow farmers to track their progress and benchmark against each other, whilst analysing trends, while also allowing WG to evaluate their scheme(s).

Initial FUW Reaction

• The most valuable source of land use information ‐ the annually collected IACS/SAF data covering around 9 0 % of Wales ‐ has rarely been used to its full effect

• It appears that the proposal is to abandon this system after almost 3 0 years of data collection and fine‐tuning ‐ frustrating as the SAF process is for farmers, the system in Wales is the best in the UK and was one of the best in the EU

• Despite recent improvements, major concerns exist regarding the quality of information gathered through remote sensing and other mapping based on experiences such as with Glastir mapping

• As such, there is concern that abandoning the SAF/IACS system rather than enhancing it, making best use of the information it gathers and rewarding farmers for the provision of important land use data would be a backwards step ‐ particularly if this data collection process is replaced with something akin to Glastir contracts and maps

• Notwithstanding this, data collection and use, done well, should be an aspiration under any future policy

Forestry and Woodlands

A new approval system for woodland planting is proposed which WG hopes would be simple, predictable and proportionate, and accompanied by an updated Woodland Opportunities Map. The new SFS would aim to address various barriers to tree planting, due to ‐ in the words of WG ‐ the need for ‘woodland creationona g reater scale th anat any point inth e past 50 years’ in order to tackle the climate change emergency.

Improving the management of existing woodlands is also considered a priority, and a system of earned recognition would be established which recognises past performance of woodland planners. Payments would be made for woodland management, planting and agroforestry systems to sequester carbon, improve habitat resilience, provide amenity and intercept ammonia emissions.

WG also wishes to attract private sector investment into forestry to achieve tree planting targets, and support the Woodland Carbon Code to allow owners of woodlands to sell carbon units to individuals who wish to offset their own emissions.

Targets: Net Zero by 2050.
Increase woodland planting by 2 0 0 0 ha a year, rising to 4 0 0 0 ha asap. (Current planting: 80 ha in 2018/19).

WG also wish to ensure they have powers to add conditions to tree felling licences and ensure effective deterrents are in place to prevent illegal felling, including through implementing civil sanctions for offences.

Initial FUW Reaction

• Farmers wishing to plant trees have faced increasing barriers over the past decade and there are concerns about whether the proposed changes would genuinely overcome such problems

• Notwithstanding this, and while the farming industry is keen to plant more trees, major concerns exist regarding the effect of inappropriate and large scale planting on the long term viability of individual farms and entire communities ‐ after all, there is no shortage of Welsh communities destroyed by woodland planting

• An increased focus on planting implies the loss of funding from agriculture during a period of incredible uncertainty and potential price volatility

• It must be recognised that farms that benefit through private schemes offering payments for carbon offsetting undermine their own and the industry’s ability to offset the carbon footprint of food production (i.e. a tree cannot help offset the footprint of a farm and and airline company)

Proposals for additional Powers

Agricultural Tenancies

To help tenants access the SFS and avoid restrictions due to requirements for landlord consent, WG is proposing to enable tenants to refer to arbitration or third party determination requests for landlord consent to activities restricted under the terms of their tenancy agreement.

Initial FUW Reaction

• The proposed changes would be anything but a ‘silver bullet’ for a problem for tenants created by the Welsh Government’s Public Goods payment proposals

• Further cutting the link between farming/food production and payments increases the risk that landlords take land back in hand or increase control in order to maximise income

The Management of Common Land

A number of technical changes are proposed in relation to the definition of restricted works on common land, including a requirement to obtain consent under planning legislation. WG also proposes expanding the functions and powers of Commons Councils to manage a common or commons to ‘improve their ability to contribute to the social, economic and environmental objectives of the sustainable land management policy framework’.

Initial FUW Reaction

• The FUW agrees that consent for works should be a prerequisite for planning permission on common land

• There should be a presumption in favour of works on common land erected/undertaken for the purpose of improving the management of common land, animal health and welfare and habitat/environment and a presumption against spurious objections

• The interests of those who derive an income from a common (i.e. graziers) should be given a far more significant weighting than the interests of those who use that common for recreation

• Commons Councils are under no circumstances a ‘silver bullet’ for problems, including those created by the SFS, and would in many cases divide communities around commons which are currently working well under the management of graziers associations

• The costs of establishing and running commons councils are extremely high, as demonstrated through the work on Commons Councils undertaken in England

Animal Health and Welfare

A number of proposals are made regarding powers to establish Movement Control Zones, specify animals types and civil sanctions for non‐compliance with animal welfare standards.

Initial FUW Reaction

• The details of proposals under such changes will be considered if or when they are brought forward under secondary legislation

Regulating the use of Snares

WG states that the voluntary approach for the Code of Best Practice on the use of snares for fox control has not resulted in the code being adhered to, and is therefore proposing broader powers to regulate snares such as an identification and licencing regime.\

Initial FUW Reaction

• Snares are an important tool for the protection of livestock and poultry, and there is no evidence that the industry has not been following the code of best practice

Agricultural Minimum Wage

WG are proposing to develop a ‘strategic partnership’ approach and its development of the Agricultural Wages Order to share skills and experience.

Initial FUW Reaction

• The FUW will consider details of this proposal when Welsh Government makes them clear

‘Sunset’Powers

Powers to enable continuity of existing agricultural support

As a technical amendment, WG proposes allowing EU law relating to the BPS and agricultural policies to be amended after the December 3 1 2 0 2 4 UK Agricultural Act ‘sunset clause’ date.

Initial FUW Reaction

• The FUW supports this proposal

Powers to declare exceptional market conditions and intervene in the agricultural markets.

WG proposes creating powers to intervene in markets using intervention such as private storage aid where exceptional market conditions are declared.

The FUW supports this proposal but has concerns that these would not provide the stability or protection from volatility

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