The Welsh Government has launched a new consultation on its revised proposals for post-Brexit farm payments.
Ministers are seeking views on the Sustainable Farming Scheme, which will offer active farmers in Wales an annual payment for carrying out actions to deliver desired economic, social and environmental outcomes.
Unlike the previous proposals from Welsh Government, which set out two separate schemes – the Public Goods Scheme and Economic Resilience Scheme – this plan aims to bring together all environmental and economic aims under the single umbrella of ‘sustainability’.
Given the uncertainty around Brexit, no timetable has been set out for the modified changes to be brought in.
Farmers wanting to participate in the new scheme would undergo a Farm Sustainability Review, to identify opportunities to improve certain things such as air or water quality.
This review would then form the basis of a Farm Sustainability Plan, which would agree actions to be implemented.
These plans would be made up of mandatory and optional elements, and be accompanied by a multi-year contract.
All economic, environmental and social opportunities for each farm would be considered in the review, with capital investment on offer to improve sustainability, and strengthened business advice and support available to develop skills and knowledge transfer.
Welsh Government has also proposed to offer short-term contracts and guarantee environmental outcomes can be delivered through agricultural activity to ensure tenants are not excluded from the scheme.
Breaches would affect payment in the same way as cross compliance procedures under BPS.
Writing a blog for Farmers Guardian, Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths said: “Sustainable food production, tackling climate change and reversing the decline in biodiversity are just three of the most significant challenges we face today.
“We want future farm support to reflect these and reward farmers who will take action or are already taking action to meet these challenges.
“Therefore, sustainability will be at the heart of future farm support in Wales. It is vital we balance the needs of today with our obligations to future generations.”
The new Sustainable Farm Payment will be underpinned by four key features: it will provide payments above income forgone for several years, to mitigate volatility; farmers will be paid for actions taken, not results; it will reward new and existing outcomes and will be open to all farm types.
Ministers have not, however, ruled out capping or tapering payments.
Broader support for the supply chain and wider industry will be considered under the scheme where it can contribute to overall sustainability goals, for example to set up a local processing facility to improve efficiency, but only where it benefits farmers.
A ‘co-design’ programme, where WG works with farmers to explore the practicalities of the new proposals, will be launched in the autumn, followed by an impact assessment and a further consultation on streamlining the regulatory framework.
NFU Cymru president John Davies said the document was a ‘step forward’ from last summer’s consultation document, which better recognises the role farmers play in rural communities and the Welsh economy, has a stronger focus on the active farmer and ensures existing environmental outcomes will be rewarded.
However, the union did question the value for money of a scheme which can only be accessed by a review undertaken by an adviser.
“[This has] the potential for a major shift of funding away from farmers,” Mr Davies said.
“It appears to be an extremely complex and bureaucratic process and I question the practicality of such an approach along with WG’s ability to be able to implement a scheme such as this.”
FUW president Glyn Roberts welcomed Welsh Government’s commitment to reviewing the transition timetable and carrying out an impact assessment, but raised concerns that the principle of removing direct payments remained intact.
“Farmers in the EU will, under current CAP proposals, continue to receive direct support while Welsh farmers would not, meaning Welsh farmers would be asked to do more and be faced with greater restrictions in return for potentially less money, but still be expected to compete on even terms with EU farmers,” he said.
The FUW also reiterated its fear that farmers may face a ‘postcode lottery’ in being unable to access different options.
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Llyr Gruffydd, said the latest consultation has a softer tone, but the direction of travel with the phase out of direct payments remains the same.
“All the uncertainties caused by Brexit are being intensified by the Welsh Government’s plans to introduce these drastic changes,” Mr Gruffydd added.
“There will be plenty for farmers attending the Royal Welsh in a fortnight to discuss and this latest consultation, while striking a better tone, is a far cry from the stability and simplicity Welsh farmers crave.”