The fight between Welsh Government and the UK Government over funding for farmers is likely to intensify in 2020, says Plaid Cymru Shadow Rural Affairs Minister Llyr Gruffydd.
Farming is not an exact science.
Weather conditions vary, prices fluctuate and farmers always have to expect the unexpected.
That’s why I was glad to see the Welsh Government’s Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths yield to sustained pressure on her plans to prevent farmers throughout Wales from spreading slurry during winter months.
Her plan would have effectively introduced a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) across the whole of Wales, leading to farming by calendar, taking away any discretion for responsible farmers to make best use of good weather when conditions allow.
Water pollution is a serious matter and needs to be addressed. There is no doubt that agriculture contributes to the problem and more must be done.
But the idea of creating what would effectively be an all-Wales NVZ with such a draconian ‘close season’, however, was a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
And why only target agriculture?
There were over 30,000 incidents of overflowing sewage in Wales in 2017. Where’s the Government action to clamp down on these types of pollution incidents?
The financial impact of the Government’s blanket ban would have meant cattle farmers having to invest in costly slurry stores.
The practical impact for farmers already on the brink financially would have been very serious.
As Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, I lobbied hard alongside our farming unions to ensure the proposed Water Quality Regulations were not introduced as planned on January 1, 2020.
Hours after I had questioned her on her intentions in the Assembly and called on her to change direction, she issued a statement announcing her decision to pause the process.
I can only hope this demonstrates the Government is becoming aware of the problems some of its decisions are causing farmers at a time of ongoing and increasing uncertainty.
Much as I’d like to start the New Year without mentioning the B-word, I suspect 2020 will also see the tug of war between Welsh Government and the UK Government over funding for farmers intensify.
Promises made by prominent Brexiteers about guaranteeing farm payments need to be kept.
The opening week of the year saw the first shots fired with the Welsh Government insisting the UK Government makes good on previous promises to fully fund rural affairs payments for the coming financial year.
At the moment, the UK Government has only committed to paying the Basic Payment Scheme for £243 million, the same amount as in 2019, but this excludes the 15 per cent which has been taken out by the Welsh Government to pay into Pillar 2 projects that would enable rural development schemes.
The Welsh Government’s previously timid and weak approach to dealings with the UK Government does not provide reassurance.
This is the time for a strong voice speaking up for Welsh farmers in the corridors of Westminster and we’re not seeing that from the current Labour Government.
As ever, farmers will have to expect the unexpected.
Llyr can be found tweeting at @LlyrGruffydd