The long-awaited Wales Rural Development Programme (RDP) had the potential to drive improvements in water quality - but only if the measures implemented and funds allocated were used in a smarter way, according to NFU Cymru.
Rachel Lewis-Davies, the union’s environment and rural affairs adviser, told a Wales Water Conference held in Cardiff that the evidence pointed to around 15 per cent of Water Framework Directive failures in Wales being attributable to the agricultural sector.
But she also highlighted the significant efforts farmers were already undertaking through voluntary action.
These included reductions in fertiliser application rates since the 1980s, with 35 per cent less nitrogen and 60 per cent less phosphates being applied, while achieving similar crop yields.
Almost 560,000 ha (1,383,760 acres) of land was under agri-environment contract through the Glastir scheme, which benefited water quality and the wider environment.
Over 275,000 ha (679,525 acres) of management options were attributed to water quality under Glastir Advanced, including 310km of streamside corridors.
There had also been a £16m investment programme in the infrastructure on Welsh farms to improve water quality and nutrient management planning undertaken on more than 2,000 farms across Wales.
“The voluntary efforts of farmers frequently go unrecognised but where improvements are required appropriate interventions must be in place,” said Mrs Lewis-Davies.
“Our long held view is that any approach must be evidence based and provide local solutions to local problems working in partnership with industry for them to be effective.
“The RDP and schemes such as the Sustainable Production Grant, Glastir and Farming Connect, can provide very clear opportunities to support farmers where changes are necessary - but only if they are designed and implemented effectively following detailed collaboration with the industry.
“Investment in farm infrastructure provides significant opportunity for environmental gains providing measures are adequately funded and there are no barriers in the way of farmers wishing to investment.
“Excessive bureaucracy and costs associated with the application process must also be stripped out.
“The Welsh Government must work to see that the new elements, proposed under Glastir, such as small grants and part-farm schemes are rolled out as quickly as possible.”