Farmers take protest over subsidy scheme to First Minister during North Wales visit

  • ITV Wales' Carole Green reports.

Farmers from across North Wales angry about the Welsh Government's new farming subsidy scheme and at the First Minister's comments about the challenges being faced by the sector, have taken their fight directly to Mark Drakeford.

His visit to Grŵp Llandrillo Menai for the official opening of the new Engineering building for education and training based at its Rhyl campus is being overshadowed by a massive protest.

Both UK and Welsh Governments are introducing new subsidy schemes for farmers, to replace the grants they used to receive when Britain was part of the European Union. 

The new systems here in Wales and in England are aimed at switching the grants paid to farmers and landowners to rewards for looking after and improving the environment. 

Hundreds of farmers have taken their fight over the sustainable farming scheme to First Minister Mark Drakeford during his visit to Rhyl. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Welsh Labour’s Sustainable Farming Scheme has come under heavy criticism from farming unions in recent weeks, leading to several demonstrations.

They’re angry that the plans require farmers and landowners to devote 10% of their land to tree planting in order to qualify for the payouts.

Speaking in the Senedd yesterday (Tuesday, 20 February) Mr Drakeford said: "The Welsh Government is committed to supporting farmers and the rural economy, it's why we have sustained the total amount into the basic payment scheme in full here in Wales, an enormous contrast to the way farmers have been treated in England, of course.

He added: "The public in Wales will go on investing in farming and the public is entitled to see a return on that investment. That is what the sustainable farming scheme is all about."

But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made the opposite comparison and warned the Welsh scheme will “decimate farming communities in Wales”.

Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth has urged the first minister to "seriously reflect on his comments over the past two days."

He added: “Plaid Cymru will always stand up for all of Wales, including our agriculture sector.

"Labour must do the same and work with the sector to secure its future – as key partners for tackling climate change and delivering food security.”

Mr ap Iorwerth says farmers had had enough from “governments either end of the M4”.

He said: “It is deeply regrettable that the First Minister believes it is appropriate to suggest that Welsh farmers are to blame for the challenges facing the sector. Follow that logic to its conclusion, then the people of Wales are to blame for everything that’s going wrong right now.

“This is a sector under siege and farmers across Wales have simply had enough. Governments either end of the M4 have let them down."

The Welsh Liberal Democrats say the Welsh Labour government need to "sit down and listen to the concerns of farmers". Its leader Jane Dodds says "It must recognise the complexities and difficulties surrounding their approach to funding our farms".

She said: "We cannot afford to alienate our farming community, particularly when they are willing to work with us in transitioning to a greener approach to farming.”

Ms Dodds says farmers are "rightfully anxious" about what she describes as the "complex Sustainable Farming Scheme" and the "prospect of transitioning."

She said: "For years, farmers have strained under mounting regulations that impose excessive paperwork demands.

"Countless studies have shown that paperwork overload is often the top cause of stress amongst farmers, with 60% of farmers overwhelmed by constant form filling."

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has warned the scheme will “decimate farming communities in Wales”. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

The issue has also featured during Prime Minister's Questions - with Conservative MP Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Mon) asking the prime minister if he agreed with her "and Welsh Welsh farmers like Gareth Wyn Jones that our farmers and food security are vital and that the agricultural budget should be ringfenced?"

She added: “Unlike the Welsh Labour government propped up by Plaid, which is determined to force our farmers out of business with its approach to nitrate vulnerable zones, TB (tuberculosis) and its new Sustainable Farming Scheme, which using Welsh Government’s own analysis is forecast to result in 5,500 job losses and a £200 million hit to the Welsh economy.”

The Prime Minister replied: “On this side of the House we are supporting farmers with more money to grow more British food, in contrast to the plans that she highlighted which would decimate farming communities in Wales.

“It is the opposite of what is needed. While we will always back our rural communities across the UK, it is Labour that would take them back to square one.”

Mr. Sunak himself has faced criticism from farming leaders. When he delivered a speech to the NFU conference earlier this week in which he announced new grants of £200m for agriculture he said farmers “don’t do it for the money but because you feel a responsibility.”

In response to those comments, the NFU’s President, Minette Batters said: “Yes they love it, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it, but they are businesses and we need to have profitable agriculture if we are to deliver on any of these legislative targets. For too long, politicians have seen farming as a sort of cottage industry.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: "The scheme is currently out for consultation and we would like to thank the thousands of farmers who have already responded and attended the 10 Welsh Government Roadshow sessions across Wales.

They added: "No final decision will be taken on the scheme until after the consultation has ended and we encourage everyone to reply with their views by 7 March.”

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