The Farmers’ Union of Wales county events on the Sustainable Farming and Our Land consultation have raised some key questions. The FUW has provided a Q and A on some of the most common questions from members below:
Q1) What if a farmer completes every action outlined in their Sustainable Farming Plan but the predicted outcomes don’t occur?
A1) According to the Welsh Government, a contract would ensure farmers are rewarded for the actions expected to deliver the anticipated outcomes, regardless of whether the predicted outcomes occur.
Based on experience with current and previous schemes, one concern the FUW has is that properly understanding, coping and complying with conditions relating to a range of complex actions can be problematic and lead to penalties if penalty regimes are disproportionate or common sense ignored.
Q2) Will those who have already carried out such Actions, for example under Glastir or other schemes, still be rewarded?
A2) Welsh Government state that farmers will get paid for existing features, however these were created - but they would not be paid retrospectively for establishing any features.
Q3) Regulatory frameworks take years to develop. What will happen in the meantime?
A3) Following the FUW’s lobbying in 2018, the Welsh Government has moved significantly from its position of stating that it wishes to see a new scheme introduced by 2025.
However, it is moving on in terms of the development of new legislation and regulations - for example in relation to extreme restrictions on farms across Wales aimed at tackling Water pollution, which are due to come in in 2020.
The FUW continues to fight for proportionate regulations which reflect the need to target problems - for example by helping farmers in areas where are pollution problems, rather than implementing draconian rules across the whole of Wales.
Q4) How will they afford enough advisors for each and every farmer?
The ability of the Welsh Government to train and pay sufficient advisors to ensure tens of thousands of farmers are given the opportunity to negotiate appropriate and fair contracts, and that the process is not rushed, is a great concern - especially given ongoing pressure on the Welsh Government’s budget and the possibility that a future agricultural allocation might not be ringfenced for farmers, as is currently the case under EU rules.
Experience with thirty years or more of environmental contracts has shown that the more contracts Governments wish farmers to sign up to in a set period, the more likely the process is to be rushed and the higher the chances of farmers not understanding what they have agreed to, or signing something that turns out to be inappropriate for their businesses.
However, when it comes to monitoring agreements and outcomes, there is mention of self monitoring and the use of technology to help with efficient recording and reducing the need for farm inspections once the scheme is introduced.
Q5) Under collaboration, would farmers be paid for, say, double fencing for preventing BVD?
A5) Possibly, but the issue of ‘additionality’ becomes a problem for payments if Actions, such as double fencing, become a legal minimum requirement under regulation such as the proposed BVD regulation.
Q6) What are Scotland, England and Ireland planning to do?
A6) England are aiming to base payments on Public Goods, similar to Wales. Scottish farmers will receive direct payments in the short term, while the Scottish Government plans to make improvements such as simplifying the delivery of pillar 1 payments, streamlining application process, and encouraging and supporting new entrants. In the longer term there are plans in Scotland to promote innovation and improve the environmental performance of Scottish agriculture. While there is some talk of ‘Public Goods’ in Scotland, the Scottish Government has said that they regard food production as such a ‘Good’.
Farmers in the Republic of Ireland will continue to receive direct payments under the CAP as they will remain within the EU, whereas Northern Ireland has no clear plans in place as of yet.
Q7) Will farmers know how much they will be paid for implementing Actions on farm at the start of the scheme?
A7) Yes, it will be outlined within the agreed plan - but at this time there is no indication of how much a farmer might be paid for, for instance, carbon storage. There is further confusion regarding the values Defra might offer for carbon or other public goods, and whether they might differ to those in Wales
Q8) Is there an obligation by the UK Government to pay for this scheme?
A8) Where a contract is signed with Welsh Government they will be obliged to pay what has been agreed in the contract. While the current UK Government has committed to allocate the same level of funding to Wales as is currently the case, it is not possible for a Government to commit a future Government to making such payments.
The Welsh Government argues that because the scheme aims to work towards the UK target of net zero emissions by 2050, therefore the scheme presents a good case to both Welsh and UK Governments to fund Welsh agriculture for this purpose.
Q9) Would the baseline regulations of the scheme apply to those who own land and let it grow wild?
A9) Yes they would, regardless of whether they receive payment through the scheme
Q10) What do they mean by shortening supply chains and market alignment?
A10) There isn’t a great deal of detail within the consultation as it is still in the planning process. However, things such as Benchmarking for better market alignment and looking at Wales’ Food and Drink sector and Welsh ‘brand values’ (a current catchphrase in political and civil service circles which means the value a consumer attaches to a particular brand) to improve local supply chains are mentioned.
FUW advises all members to register for the BPS Loan Support Scheme and to attend the remaining FUW meetings to learn more about the consultation.
See here for a list of pending consultations.