A tenant farming family from Pembrokeshire is at a crossroads, as they try to make sense of the on-going chaos caused by the Habitat Wales scheme and uncertainty around future funding.
Haydn and Julia Mathias farm at Moor Farm, Cresselly, Kilgetty, where they keep a herd of suckler cows in an organic system on 177 acres. The farm has always been in some form of agri environment scheme starting with the Preseli ESA which led to Tir Gofal and in more recent years Glastir Entry leading to Glastir Advanced. They have also participated in Welsh Government organic schemes since they started in organic conversion in 2001.
“The EOI for the Habitat Wales Scheme, if accepted, will generate approximately £2,404 for the farm. In 2022 our Glastir Advanced contract generated £5,190.93 and our Glastir Organic contract generated £4,457.20. With both these contracts ending on 31 December 2023, we are now looking at a drop of 75% in our income in 2024 if we are offered a contract for the Habitat Wales Scheme,” said Mr Mathias.
“Yes we have the income of the youngstock cattle sales and income for the tack sheep, but much of this is outweighed by the cost of production plus ever increasing bills.
“We also feel that all of the hard work which we and thousands of other farmers across Wales have done over a long period of time to enhance habitat land and to contribute towards Welsh Government’s green targets has not been appreciated or respected and we, like many, are very disillusioned,” added Mrs Mathias.
The couple opened their farm gates to local Member of the Senedd Samuel Kurtz to discuss the challenges they face and Union officials further highlighted concerns around the Habitat Wales scheme.
FUW Pembrokeshire County Officer Rebecca Voyle said: “Haydn and Julia are a prime example of what good practice looks like when it comes to a balance of food production and looking after the land. Yet the barriers they face and the financial repercussions outside of their control, put the whole system into question.
“There are serious problems with funding and whilst we appreciate that budgets are tight and further cuts have been made to the rural affairs budget, that does little to alleviate the pressures on farms.”
Union staff further outlined the wide range of issues around the application process, including concerns around Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) eligibility for wooded areas and mapping errors.
“We have come across numerous problems of land being identified incorrectly as habitat land or being identified as the wrong type of habitat, which has led to significant concerns for farmers when trying to apply for the scheme.
“Unfortunately, whilst the Welsh Government tried to streamline the application process, due to the time pressures of needing to issue contracts before 1 January 2024, this has meant that there is limited scope within the process to enable farmers to correct any errors which they find which is causing an enormous amount of frustration,” added Mrs Voyle.
Mr Kurtz further heard how those issues have led the farming community to be even more concerned about the incoming Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS).
“Whilst we are still awaiting the final detailed consultation for the SFS to be published we are very aware that the Welsh Government intends to introduce the scheme in 2025, which is less than 18 months away. Having seen what has happened with the application process for the Habitat Wales Scheme we are concerned about how all the different elements which will be required for the SFS will be incorporated into the application process, how accurate any data used for different elements of the scheme will be and what flexibility will be built into the application process to enable farmers to make adjustments. We sincerely hope that lessons will be learnt from what has happened with the Habitat Wales Scheme application process,” added Mrs Voyle.