Funding for Farmers: Farmers must plant trees to get money under new Welsh Government scheme

More than six years ago, the UK voted to leave the European Union. For Welsh farmers that meant a realisation that they would be leaving the so-called 'Common Agricultural Policy' too.

Among other things, what that meant was, the subsidies they received from the EU for producing food would stop. So what could replace them longer term? Well as much of agriculture is devolved, the Welsh Government began a process to design Wales' very first funding scheme for farmers.

A document called 'Brexit and our Land' was the initial draft of this back in 2018. But two consultations have followed, and a White Paper, and today the Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths has published a new document called her 'Sustainable Farming Scheme'.

All farmers who apply for this scheme would have to have 10% of their farm nature friendly and covered in trees.

The key thing about this, is that Welsh farmers will have caveats around getting money from the Welsh Government within the next decade. Many of those caveats centre around tackling our climate and biodiversity crises. 

The standout point seems to be that all farmers who apply for this scheme would have to have 10% of their farm nature friendly and covered in trees.

The Rural Affairs Minister has made a trip to a farm near Gilfach Goch in the South Wales Valleys to launch her proposals. She met with sheep farmer Russell Edwards who she says is "already ticking many of the boxes". But Russell has concerns about the extent to which he would have to go to plant 10% of his farm in trees.

Russell Edwards

"We're on about five per cent tree cover at the moment roughly" he told me.

"I don't know where we could plant another five per cent. To be honest, we need all our grazing, because we're not using fertiliser now, so we're not as productive as we were. I'm pretty happy where we are. But we will struggle to get another five per cent trees."

The other big talking point is that even after five years or so of drafting this, farmers will not get any figures today on how much they could get paid.

The Welsh Government is creating three layers to the scheme - a 'Universal' layer which all farmers would have to comply with - and 'Optional' & 'Collaborative' layers which would see them undertaking extra efforts to help the environment and therefore get extra money. But how much?

Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths.

"We can't give them that information yet", says Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths.

"I'm waiting to see the economic analysis and modelling. That will be the next stage now. So when we go out to the final consultation this time next year, we will have that information."

The Welsh Government has labelled the new scheme a "landmark" one. It would be phased in from 2025, with the current Basic Payment Scheme phased out by 2029.

They acknowledge that it signifies a "major change" but say it will be key in supporting Welsh farmers to deliver a more resilient rural economy. A closer look at some of the detail shows that the proposed actions include support to:

  • Manage and enhance habitats across at least 10% of the farm, or creating new habitat features where existing habitat does not exist (Universal)

  • Ensure necessary biosecurity measures are in place to reduce risks of spreading disease, including the provision of wash stations and ensuring farm boundaries are secure to prevent straying stock (Universal)

  • Complete an annual benchmarking self-assessment to improve business performance (Universal)

  • Restore damaged peatlands through ditch blocking, or re-establishing vegetation (Optional)

  • Grow crops to reduce the amount of feed they buy in (Optional)

  • Establish new horticultural enterprises within existing farm businesses (Optional)

  • Support for farmers to work together across catchments to improve water quality (Collaborative)

The Welsh Government has labelled the new scheme a "landmark" one.

So after all the discussions and debate that has already been had around this, is there still room for improvements? Yes, according to the Deputy Director of NFU Cymru Dylan Morgan.

He said: "We don't feel there's enough quite in there yet which gives us positive incentives to make sure that we can continue to produce high quality, safe, affordable and nutritious food for society in Wales and further afield.

"We've got a sort of global food security crisis at the moment. Wales is well-placed to deliver solutions with regards to that."

The Welsh Government say they have launched the scheme outline to coincide with the start of the summer show season, when they will be meeting farmers from all corners of the country. 

So cue many conversations across Wales over the next two months about whether farmers really feel that this delivers for their future.