Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma.

At the start of the summer, the Welsh Government launched Sustainable Farming and our Land, a consultation on what a new farming policy in Wales should look like and achieve after Brexit. This was a chance for everyone, from farmers and landowners to environmental charities and members of the public, to voice their opinion on the Government’s plans.

What’s proposed?

In a nutshell, the Welsh Government is proposing a new land management system that uses tax payers’ money to promote sustainable food production and reward farmers for restoring and looking after nature for the benefit of all people in Wales. 

This is a big change in direction from past farming policies that have shaped the way we farm the land. These schemes, like the Basic Payment System that pays farmers for how much land they own - have proved inadequate at maintaining farming. The fact that we’ve lost 830 farms since 2013, and that there has been more part time than full time farmers since the early 2000s even though 80% of farm income comes from subsidies, goes to show that the current system does not work economically.

The environment has also taken a toll under these schemes. Farming policies of the past have favoured productivity, with little thought given to nature and wildlife. Wales is now one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, and the recent State of Nature 2019 report, published in October, showed that one in six species in Wales are at risk of extinction. Many farmland species are struggling, and once widespread and common species like yellowhammers, lapwings and curlews are declining quickly.

A system to suit everyone?

That’s why the proposals set out in Sustainable Farming and our Land are so promising. Changing to a system where farmers are helped to produce high quality, sustainable food, and rewarded for looking after nature and the environment, is a massive step forward. It will promote nature friendly farming, which will allow us to feed the growing world population and provide us with public goods and services like clean air and water, preventing floods, tackling climate change and helping nature thrive.

This is a promising start, but there’s still a lot of work to do, and it’s important that the right steps are taken to make sure that this will work for farmers and the environment. It’s crucial that this new scheme is all-inclusive, and that all farmers and land managers are invited to it. The scheme should also have clear targets to tackle the loss in wildlife, and to restore precious habitats like peatbogs, woodlands and wildflower meadows that provide us with vital services. Farmers will also need the right financial support from the Government. We calculated that Wales needs to pay farmers a minimum of £273 million per year to help Welsh Government meet its environmental commitments, including those for biodiversity. This is an amount similar to that which they receive via the European Common Agricultural Policy.

For many, changing how we manage our land will be challenging, but it will open up new opportunities. It’s a chance for farmers to be fairly rewarded for looking after our environment, for the benefit of nature and our society. It’s now important that farmers, land managers and decision makers work together and agree on the best way forward for farming, the environment and our rural communities.