Why thousands of farmers are protesting outside the Senedd in Cardiff

ITV Cymru Wales
Farmers arrived outside the Welsh Conservative conference on Friday Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Thousands of farmers are expected to gather outside the Senedd in Cardiff in the biggest protest seen so far against the Welsh Government's future subsidy plans.

Farmers in Wales have a series of grievances with the Welsh Government which have reached a crescendo in recent weeks, leading to protests and the sight of convoys of tractors.

Most prominently they’re trying to persuade Welsh ministers to change their minds when it comes to a new system of subsidies, under which they’d be paid for working to help the environment rather than simply producing food.

But they’re also angry about the Welsh Government’s anti-water pollution scheme and they’re worried that TB in cattle continues to be a big problem here in Wales.

Politics is complicating the issue. The Welsh Government is controlled by Labour which sees the changes as part of tackling a climate change crisis.

Conservatives both here and in Westminster have made it part of their claim to be committed to what they see as more sensible steps to tackle climate change.

What is the Sustainable Farming Scheme?

The Welsh Government is consulting on a system known as the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) which would be introduced in 2025.

Unlike the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy scheme, farmers would be rewarded for providing ‘public goods’ from the land, including social and environmental improvements.

They wouldn’t receive payments for producing food, which the Welsh Government argues, has a market value.

Environmental groups broadly welcome the SFS proposals but farmers say that food production should also be eligible for support.

Farmers protesting in Llandudno earlier this month Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

They’re also concerned about a requirement to give over some of the land - up to 10% - to nature, such as by growing trees. They argue that this will put too much of a burden on farmers, cost jobs and reduce food production.

The Conservatives both here and in Westminster have joined criticism of the proposals and taken part in protests. Last weekend, Rishi Sunak himself spoke to protesting farmers who’d parked their tractors outside the Welsh Conservative conference. The prime minister told them “We’ve got your backs.”

However, the UK Government is also phasing in a new subsidy scheme which also involves switching qualification for payment to rewards.

The Environmental Land Management scheme proposed for England will reward farmers, tenants, landowners and others for delivering “public goods” and making “a significant contribution to the environment.”

The concerns over Bovine TB

Meanwhile, for many beef and dairy farmers, the biggest complaint has to do with TB in cattle.

Any showing signs of the disease are killed, with up to 10,000 slaughtered last year. Many farmers are calling for a badger cull, similar to that which takes place in England, but the Welsh Government has resisted, preferring enhanced testing.

In a written statement, Mark Drakeford and Lesley Griffiths MS, Minister for Rural Affairs, North Wales and Trefnydd said they recognised the "devastation a TB breakdown brings to a farming family and business."

They added that they were committed to exploring other approaches to on-farm slaughter and are appointing a Bovine TB Technical Advisory Group.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak backed farmers at a protest in Llandudno earlier this month Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Water pollution regulations

Another Welsh Government environmental policy is causing concern to farmers: the effort to prevent water pollution.

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) are designed to control the overuse of nitrates which are found in fertilisers, manure and slurry and can find their way from fields into lakes and rivers, harming wildlife and can end up in drinking water.

Previously a very small amount (2-4%) of the land was designated as NVZs meaning that farmers within those zones were subject to controls.

However, since 2021, there have been new all-Wales regulations to tackle the causes of agricultural pollution. The farming unions have called the rules “draconian” and a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Environmental campaigners say it creates a level playing field for all farmers.

Farmers have been protesting against proposed Welsh Government policies throughout the month Credit: Media Wales

In a written statement published on Tuesday, the Welsh Government said: "Regulations are needed to protect the environment from poor practice, which is causing considerable damage to the reputation of the sector."

The statement added that £20m of additional funding will be made available to help farmers comply with the requirements and that a new round of the Nutrient Management Investment Scheme will be launched shortly.

The Welsh Government has said that arrangements have been put in place for the first statutory review of the effectiveness of the regulations and that it will consult on the suitability of the alternative measures proposals received from the sector.

It has said it intends to appoint an independent external chair to oversee the process.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know