‘I feel like I’m part of a social experiment’ - says Carmarthen farmer

Farmers in Wales feel like they’re part of a social experiment given the current Welsh Government proposal to place an untried and untested approach developed in England at the heart of future Welsh farm policy. That was the message from Farmers’ Union of Wales Carmarthenshire County Chairman Phil Jones ahead of the Welsh Senedd Elections in May. 

Phil Jones, from Clyttie Cochion, Llanpumsaint, Carmarthenshire, has been farming almost his entire life and looks after 150 acres, grazing 350 sheep under organic management. He took the farm back in hand 2011 as it had been rented out following a family tragedy and is worried about the future of farming in Wales and the effects untested policies will have on the industry.

“Concerns in the farming community that the ‘public goods payment’ policy proposed at the core of the Welsh Government’s Sustainable Farming Scheme threaten the survival of the industry are at an all time high. I feel like I’m part of a social experiment; like every farmer in Wales is part of that experiment. 

“Welsh Government don’t know the likely outcome of their proposal to abandon direct support and replace it with public goods payments, but some academics have suggested the policy will lead to the loss of around 25% of UK farms. No pilot schemes have been done, they haven’t taken one farmer who maybe gets between 10 and 15 thousand pounds in support to see what they would have to do to receive similar sums, and how this would impact their production, their profitability and the money they spend on other businesses in their local community,” he said.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales has long stressed that radical changes would threaten not only farm businesses, but many thousands of upstream and downstream businesses and jobs that rely on farm production.

In France, concerns about policy changes that go nowhere near as far as those proposed in Wales have recently sparked protests, with French agricultural union FDSEA and the Young Farmers’ association stating “...a good number of farmers will cease their activity” as a result of reforms in the EU.

“What the Welsh Government is proposing is 100 times more radical than what is being proposed in France and the EU, so if French farmers are worried you can imagine how we feel,” said Mr Jones.

While around 80% of Welsh farming income relies on (post-Brexit) CAP support, and average farm incomes remain well below the average UK household income, at around £24,000, such support maintains businesses with average turnovers of around £160,000 - money which circulates around the Welsh economy maintaining scores of thousands of jobs through well recognised multiplier effects. 

The FUW has therefore called on the next Welsh Government to recognise the inherent damage likely to be caused to Welsh agriculture, jobs and communities by introducing greater restrictions and lower levels of direct support than those experienced by competitors in other countries against which farmers in Wales compete. 

“There are so many opportunities for us in Wales to carefully develop what we already have into something that gives more for our environment, for family farms and the businesses and jobs that rely on agriculture, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

An unimaginative scheme copied from a single principle developed in England, as is proposed by the current government, is likely to increase costs and rules and reduce efficiency to the point where supporting those other businesses by farming sheep no longer makes sense for a farm like ours,” he said.

“There is a real danger we could end up with farms that are just shells of their former presence, contributing nothing to their local communities either socially or financially,” added Mr Jones.