Frustration as Welsh Government delays Sustainable Farming Scheme

Frustration as Welsh Government delays Sustainable Farming Scheme

The Welsh Government has delayed its Sustainable Farming Scheme by a year, causing more uncertainty for farmers, nature and climate. 

Huw Irranca-Davies, the new rural affairs secretary, confirmed the news at a visit to a farm yesterday (Tuesday 14 May) following significant backlash from farmers about the plans.

The Sustainable Farming Scheme is a post-Brexit overhaul of farm support intended to bolster sustainable farming. It was due to replace the former Basic Payment Scheme, which provided cash for farmers based on how much land they managed.

Responding to the news, Soil Association Head of Farming Cymru Andrew Tuddenham said: “It’s frustrating that the Sustainable Farming Scheme is not ready for its intended launch in 2025, given that Welsh Government have been developing this scheme since 2017. We only have a few years to turn the tide on nature loss, and farming needs nature to help cope with the accelerating impacts of climate change.”

Welsh nature and farming cannot afford to wait

The Cabinet Secretary has confirmed that the Basic Payment Scheme will continue in 2025 but the budget has yet to be confirmed. Existing schemes, such as the small grants schemes, will continue to support infrastructure changes.

Welsh Government has also not yet confirmed any budget for a scheme to support organic farmers – but has previously given commitments that it will support the sector, despite initially announcing it would withdraw £3.1million of support.

The Soil Association and Welsh Organic Forum slammed this initial decision in an open letter that warned the decision would throw Wales behind England, Scotland, and many EU countries where organic farming is being recognised and supported.

With 30% more species and less energy used on organic farms, the Soil Association is urging Welsh Government to provide clarity to our nature-friendly farming pioneers.

Tuddenham added: “The Cabinet Secretary will know that nature and farming cannot afford to wait beyond 2026 for new support for nature-friendly farming practices, including organic.

“The proposed ‘Universal layer’ of the Sustainable Farming Scheme must provide incentives for all farmers to look after their soils and farm with habitats, good condition hedges and trees. Nature-friendly farmers and organic farmers cannot fight this battle alone.

“To stand a chance of meeting the new launch date in 2026 the next 18 months must involve more than the current offer of small grants and scheme consultations for farmers. We welcome the Cabinet Secretary's intention to work at pace and to establish stakeholder working groups. But we also need to see that the Preparatory Phase is properly resourced and makes best use of the many stakeholders who are ready to work with government on solutions for farming, environment, and people.”

Clarity on Welsh farming policy is urgently needed

The Welsh Government has set out that 2025 will be a 'Preparatory Phase', although the work starts now with accelerated stakeholder engagement and a Rural Payments Wales Online data confirmation exercise to allow farmers to check new habitat and tree mapping data.

Stakeholder engagement is set to be ramped up through reactivation of a Ministerial Roundtable to help inform the Cabinet Secretary’s final decisions on the scheme.

Tuddenham, who has a seat at this Roundtable and will continue to lobby for clarity and more urgency on nature-friendly farming, added: “A final version of the scheme with payment rates and a detailed road map for the transition is urgently needed. We cannot be in a situation in another 12 months where the scheme is widely misreported or misunderstood, or that many farmers feel unprepared for the proposals."

Organic farmers can seek further guidance on the funding available from Welsh Government through Soil Association Certification.

For more information and to get in touch, visit the Soil Association website.

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