News
9th Sep

2019

Welsh Government Consultation – Sustainable Farming and Our Land

This is the full (unedited) piece, written by Nicola Davies of Agri Advisor Legal LLP, for The TFA News, Sept/Oct edition, published on the 31 August 2019. 

Welsh Government Consultation – Sustainable Farming and Our Land

The consultation proposes a new single scheme to support farmers which is made up of two elements, Sustainable Farming Payment and Business Support. It promises, post-Brexit, once agricultural funding is returned to Wales, the Welsh Government will ensure that funds are directed at farming and other land management, and not elsewhere. The scheme promises to make farm businesses more resilient by providing an annual sustainable Farming Payment to reward environmental outcomes and business support to develop farm businesses.

This proposed support will be designed around the concept of Sustainable Land Management (“SLM”), an internationally recognised concept defined as: the use of land resources, including soils, water, animals and plants for the production of goods to meet changing human needs, while simultaneously ensuring the long-term potential of these resources and the maintenance of their environmental benefits.

The Farm Sustainability Plan would replace the Basic Payment Scheme and Glastir with payment for aspects of sustainable agriculture not already rewarded by the market, which are driven by environmental outcomes.

The Welsh Government acknowledge farmers need support and this consultation seeks to gauge how best to do this. It will design the support around the principle of sustainability as it brings together the economic, environmental and social contributions farmers make.

The Welsh Government believe that food production, and some elements of the market, are already rewarded by the market and therefore Welsh Government should not provide payment for it. They do acknowledge the market does not reward farmers for the true value of sustainable food and proposes to fill the significant gap via the new scheme. For example, a reward for improving food production farming practices that have a positive impact on air quality. They propose to justify the continued significant financial support of farmers to the taxpayer by applying the majority of the budget to paying farmers for environmental outcomes, acknowledging the pressing need to mitigate climate change, something that is not currently targeted by the current BPS.

Entering the scheme: Farm Sustainability Review

Any farmer interested in entering the scheme would have to complete an online Expression of Interest which is likely to include, but not limited to, a business plan, including farm size, type, productivity, performance and capital assets. At the point of entry, the Welsh Government states that it is important to consider all aspects of the farm business and current practice and this will be undertaken by an adviser, with input from the farmer, via a review and plan. Once the plan is agreed it would form the basis of a multi-year signed contract between the farmer and the Welsh Government and would form the basis for receiving payment. To ensure the scheme is accessible to all types of farm, there will be a range of outcomes that can be delivered on all types of farms with the farmer choosing a set of actions that work best for their business.  Following entry, the farmer can access two elements of support;

  • The sustainable Farming Payment providing an annual stable and meaningful income stream to farmers in the scheme.
  • Business Support providing advice, capital investment and skills development

 

Payment will be based on certain conditions being met including keeping a record of certain information and providing evidence of such implementation, such as soil samples – the more outcomes the farmer delivers, the greater the payment. They propose payments in return for delivery of outcomes above and beyond the requirements of regulation such as soil nutrient management, soil husbandry, habitat and woodland, land management and animal health planning.  Payment will relate to both the continued maintenance of ongoing sustainable practices and the creation of new ones. The Welsh Government acknowledges that any outcome not achieved for reasons beyond the farmer’s control, would be a risk borne by them and payment would still be made.

Business Support: to include; general business skills improvement, performance benchmarking, loans, grants, demonstrations and training to access market information.

It is proposed to build on the existing support achieved through the Rural Development Programme and provide a wider range of business support, consistent with the SLM outcomes, to farmers within the scheme. The support available will be conditional on a robust business case which demonstrates the impact the investment would have on the farm’s sustainability.

The Welsh Government is consulting on what the transition period needs to achieve and the options for moving farmers from the current schemes to the proposed schemes. They state they are clear that they cannot make changes until they can demonstrate a new system is adequately designed, a relevant impact assessment has been undertaken and they are confident that it is administratively practical.

The consultation, is open until 30th October 2019, and includes three options that focus on the transition of the BPS to the proposed scheme. The full document and the consultations questions can be found at: https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/consultations/2019-07/brexit-consultation-document.pdf

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