The FUW has given a cautious welcome to an announcement on the future of agriculture and land management by Welsh Cabinet Secretary for energy, Planning and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths – but warned that plans need to be developed cautiously if devastation for rural communities is to be avoided.
The Welsh Government’s announcement made on March 21 acknowledges the challenges faced in light of the significant and swift changes facing Wales as a result of Brexit, and highlights five core principles it believes should underpin the future of Welsh agriculture and land management.
Responding to the announcement, FUW president Glyn Roberts said: “We welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s acknowledgement that ‘farming is a vital part of the rural economy. It is the social anchor of communities and land managers are the custodians of the land that underpins our natural environment.’
“It’s also welcome to once again hear the Cabinet Secretary supporting our view that there must be a well-planned multi-year transition to whatever system is ultimately agreed upon.
“Successive Welsh Government’s have worked closely with the industry to
ensure we have an excellent track record in terms of managing transitions to new
systems over appropriate timescales, and we need only look at problems
experienced in england over the years to see the dangers of rapid or poorly planned transitions.”
However, Mr Roberts said that while the principles set out in the Cabinet Secretary’s statement were ones which could easily be supported in broad terms, we should not underestimate the uncertainty and challenges ahead, and the dangers of ploughing ahead without careful consideration of the broader implications for our rural communities and wider economy.
“Plans need to be developed very carefully, based on detailed analysis of the possible consequences of different policies for individual businesses, different regions of Wales, supply chains and industries as a whole.
“This is the only way to ensure we don’t end up in a situation where blind pursuit of well-meaning aspirations results in devastation for communities across Wales.
“We remain committed to continuing our work with Welsh Government and others to ensure this does not happen,” he added.
Mr Roberts said that the Cabinet Secretary’s belief that food was not a ‘public good’ would ring alarm bells with farmers.
“I welcome the fact that the Cabinet Secretary describes food production as vital for Wales and places it at the top of her priorities. however, failing to recognise food production and the wider economic benefits it brings as a public good for Wales and beyond brings with it a number of concerns and dangers.”
Mr Roberts said there also remained a number of important outstanding questions that needed answering regarding the WTO rules in relation to payments for the provision of environmental ‘public goods’.”
The five core principles outlined by Mrs Griffiths were:
• To keep Wales’ land managers on the land. The Cabinet Secretary believes strongly this is what is best for Wales’ land, communities and rural economy.
• That food production remains vital, is core to Welsh farming values and is emblematic of Wales as a nation, which already has a thriving food and drink industry; this is the time to advance it. Where sustainable and economic production is possible, Welsh Government will provide targeted support to help Wales’
farmers compete in a global marketplace, focussing on quality, the Welsh brand and considering the whole supply chain.
The Cabinet Secretary does not believe that there need be a choice between food production and public goods, and does not believe food production is itself a public good, but sees no reason why the same farm cannot produce both food and
• That a system of support should be developed with a foundation that is robust to future changes in the market environment, centred on Welsh land delivering public goods for all the people of Wales. The Cabinet Secretary highlights the fact that the diversity and richness of Welsh land means the country has no shortage of public goods to provide; Welsh land is Wales’ biggest asset, providing clean water, clean air, flood management, habitats for rare species and much more. She also believes Wales must look beyond the environment, most notably to how landscapes underpin the Welsh
brand, so vital for food and tourism.
• Every land manager must have the opportunity to access support in order and must be able to continue to make a living from the land. However, Welsh Government will be asking land managers to do different things in return for support – there can be no universal, automatic payment.
She believes this is vital for putting the industry on a secure footing.
• Wales needs to ensure its agricultural sector can be prosperous and resilient in a post-Brexit future, whatever that may be. Whilst the Cabinet Secretary acknowledges that the Basic Payment Scheme provides important support for many of Wales’ farmers, she does not believe it will help Wales withstand the changes brought by Brexit, and believes support needs to be provided in a different way.