NFU Cymru and the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) are fighting hard for farmers to keep some form of direct payment after Brexit.
Both unions are set to demand the payments be retained in their responses to the Welsh Government’s landmark consultation, despite Ministers repeatedly ruling out their continued use.
Feedback gathered from members in a series of Brexit roadshows has been used to inform the unions’ positions.
Dylan Morgan, deputy director and head of policy at NFU Cymru, told Farmers Guardian ‘robust and strong views’ were shared on the matter during the meetings.
“The economic resilience scheme covers productivity and the public goods scheme covers the environment, but there is a real lack of measures to deliver stability to Welsh farming businesses,” he said.
“Without that stability, you cannot invest in productivity or the environment. The message loud and clear was direct payments must be part of future policy.”
Mr Morgan was keen to point out the union was not opposed to all change and suggested linking payments to the sustainable production of food was one possible option for the future.
The FUW was even stronger in its opposition to the removal of direct payments.
Dr Hazel Wright, senior policy adviser at the FUW, told farmers at a Brexit meeting in Flintshire the consultation was ‘not genuine’ because plans to abolish the payments were not up for debate.
“Livestock farms in Wales, on average, actually make a loss from agriculture,” she said.
“Given 80 per cent of Welsh farms are livestock farms, you can see losing direct payments will make things more volatile and potentially less stable, which would be catastrophic.”
What else are the unions calling for in their consultation responses?
Recognition of food production’s importance
Both unions want to see greater recognition of the importance of food production.
While the FUW has accepted Ministers do not believe food production itself can be classed as a public good, Dr Wright recommended stability of supply, affordability and food security be valued as public goods.
NFU Cymru expressed concern that the consultation repeatedly referred to farmers as ‘land managers’.
Mr Morgan also suggested the consultation needed to be linked with the Food and Drink Action Plan which has set targets for industry growth.
Both NFU Cymru and the FUW have expressed concerns about the timescale for change.
“We want to make sure new schemes are not rolled out until we can be confident they can be delivered on a scale which allows all farmers to access them,” Mr Morgan said.
Dr Wright issued a similar warning, and said it would be sensible to wait until there is more clarity on the post-Brexit trading environment before making too many policy changes.
Reassurance on advisory capacity
There is widespread concern in both unions about the Welsh Government’s capacity to administer a complex public goods scheme.
“We have got about 16,000 BPS applicants at the moment,” said Dr Wright.
“If you open this up to all land managers, we could be looking at about 25,000 bespoke farm plans akin to Glastir.
“I have been told they have the capability to do this, but our experience is when you try to do anything bespoke, it takes time, money, energy and administration and does not seem to ever really come off in the best way.”
Guarantees on third party delivery
In light of the capacity issue, the Welsh Government is considering the possibility of allowing other bodies to deliver the scheme such as Natural Resources Wales (NRW) or national parks.
Both unions have suggested this could lead to conflict of interest issues if there are organisations claiming money while also facilitating the scheme.
NFU Cymru and FUW have reiterated calls for the Welsh Government to carry out an impact assessment on how farm incomes will be affected by the new plans.
“These proposals will impact on every farm and rural business in Wales, so they should not be moved forward without a thorough assessment of how they will impact on Welsh agriculture and rural communities,” said Mr Morgan.