Welsh elections: Where the parties stand on farming issues
As Welsh voters prepare to go the polls next week, Alistair Driver looks at where the main parties stand on the farming and rural issues.
On Thursday, May 5, Wales goes to the polls in an election which could have major implications for the farming sector with some notable policy differences between the main parties.
The 2011 election saw Labour gain exactly half the National Assembly’s 60 seats, enough for it govern without needing a coalition.
Farmers have enjoyed a mixed relationship with the Government over the past five years, with controversies over the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and bovine TB often straining tensions.
The latest polls suggest Labour is on course to be the biggest party again but not necessarily with an overall majority, raising the possibility of a return to coalition Government. Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and UKIP are in a close battle behind Labour.
How the election works
- Welsh voters will elect 60 National Assembly members
- 40 of these represent local constituencies
- The other 20 are regional members, four from each of Wales’ five regions.
The Conservative manifesto includes four pages on rural Wales, agriculture and animal welfare, promising to give rural communities more powers and to make a ‘vibrant rural economy’ a priority.
Its 30 pledges include:
- Re-establishing the Rural Affairs portfolio as a senior cabinet post
- Undertaking a wide-ranging land remapping exercise to design a fairer payment model and reform the Basic Payment Scheme for farmers
- Abolishing the outdated six-day standstill rule for livestock and introducing a practical system of quarantine units
- Introducing a comprehensive, scientifically-led programme of bovine TB eradication to deal with the disease in cattle and wildlife
- Delivering an industry-led rejuvenation of Wales’ Food and Drink Strategy
- Reviewing the Rural Development Programme to make support more accessible to farmers and micro-businesses
- Aiming to deliver universal super-fast broadband and mobile coverage across Wales by 2019
Labour’s manifesto is the only one not to have a specific rural and farming section, but there are a number of relevant pledges.
Stressing the ‘economic security of the farming industry and our rural communities is dependent on our continued membership of the EU’, these include:
- Delivering the Rural Development Plan
- Further extending broadband coverage
- Constantly seeking new markets for our food and drink industries, including through procurement
- Taking a lead in developing more renewable energy projects and supporting technologies such as tidal lagoons
- Robust and unequivocal opposition to fracking
- Commissioning a review of animal welfare legislation
- Supporting the ban on fox hunting and take a science-led approach to evaluate and review the best way of tackling bovine TB
- Investing in flood defence work and further action to improve water management in the environment
The Liberal Democrat manifesto included detailed sections on farming, rural communities and the environment.
Stressing the party was ‘passionate about protecting Wales’ proud farming tradition’, pledges include:
- Annual budget of £20 million for hill farm support through an ‘Areas of Natural Constraint’ scheme
- Promoting succession planning and encouraging share farming
- Offering more small-scale, accessible grants for farmers to diversify and invest with – for example, animal welfare, reducing carbon emissions, flood mitigation, IT upgrades and renewables
- Work at EU level to ensure clear and unambiguous country-of-origin labelling on meat products, milk and dairy products
- Increasing support for farmers with dead stock
- Reviewing and minimising the use of cages, crates and routine antibiotics on farm animals
- Promote and support alternative technologies such as satellite and mobile broadband, which can deliver connectivity to more remote rural areas
In a manifesto heavy in farming and rural content, Plaid promised to be a ‘strong voice for Wales’ rural communities’ and ‘ensure Welsh farming is prioritised as a key economic sector’.
Key pledges include:
- Replacing the six-day standstill with practical alternatives
- A nationwide ban on the release of sky lanterns
- Working with local authorities on a strategy to save council farms from being sold off
- Increasing the amount of Welsh food bought by the public sector
- Using the most effective measures to control and eradicate bovine TB and ensuring testing and movement restrictions are proportionate to the disease status of the area
- Ensuring any CAP changes benefit Wales and the Rural Development Programme delivers for the red meat and dairy sectors
- Reaffirming support for a GM-free Wales
Promising to ‘always back British farmers’, UKIP’s manifesto pledges for Welsh farmers were intended to show how it would introduce ‘fairer, simpler ways to support this important industry’ outside the EU.
- Introducing a new Single Farm Payment to support farmers
- Changing the remit of the Competition Commission so dairy farmers get a fair price for milk
- Match fund grants made by local authorities towards rural capital projects
- Hold a free vote in parliament on GM foods
- Label food to show country of origin, method of production, transport and slaughter
- Removing unnecessary EU restrictions which make small local abattoirs unviable
- Install CCTV in every abattoir and deal severely with any contraventions
The Green Party said its policies were aimed at supporting farmers while ‘ensuring our land is sustainably managed for food, forestry, soils, leisure, biodiversity and wildlife, and is accessible to everyone’.
- Increasing support for conversion to organic status, supporting existing organic farms and promoting less intensive farming with minimal use of chemicals
- Maintaining Wales’ GM-free status
- Supporting the Welsh Government’s vaccination policy and oppose any badger cull
- Increasing local authority farm tenancies, encouraging co-operatives and community-supported agriculture to enhance diversity of small-scale farms and improve access for new entrants
- Supporting sustainable diversification on farms and multiple use of farmland and buildings to boost farm incomes
- Appointing a Land Reform Group to examine the effect of land ownership concentration
- Using subsidies and legislation to ensure habitats are managed to their best potential
Key issue: Badger culls
One election issue always at the fore where farming is concerned is badger culling.
At an NFU Cymru hustings in Llandrindod Wells, representatives of four of the five main parties indicated support for badger culling.
The Conservatives and UKIP were unambiguous in their support, while Plaid’s Llyr Gruffyd said he would support the policy if a science-led review ‘points towards wildlife culling’.
The Lib Dems’ Kirsty Williams said she feared ‘we will never get on top of this disease without involving wildlife’.
Labour’s Alex Thomas said the party was still opposed to culling ‘at the moment’ and would only shift if ‘radically new evidence’ emerged showing the policy worked.
Both NFU Cymru and the Farmers’ Union of Wales cited badger culling as among their priority election asks.