In preparation for the Senedd Elections next month, I thought I’d look at what the main parties are proposing for the rural communities in Wales and farmers in particular. As a former Managing Director of the Farmers’ Union of Wales and now a Trustee of RABI (the fantastic charity that does so much to support farmers throughout Wales and England), I am more than aware of the financial and other challenges facing Wales’ family farms.
This year there appear to be three significant issues for farmers:
- A replacement system for the Basic Payments that used to come from the EU
- Water Resources legislation, more commonly known as NVZs
- The ongoing and increasing threat of TB and the role, or otherwise, badgers play in its spread.
So I spent a bit of time looking at the main party manifestos to find their position on each of these issues. Here’s what I found.
Welsh Labour has clear messages on all three of these matters. The standout message for support is that “farmers will only receive public subsidy for producing food that delivers additional environmental outcomes”.
On TB, Labour says: “We will not allow the culling of badgers to control the spread of TB in cattle”. For Water Pollution on which they recently legislated, it is not surprising that they have nothing more to add, instead letting their legislation speak for itself.
The Welsh Conservatives are unequivocal in some of their statements: “Reverse the Wales-wide Nitrate Vulnerable Zone and work with farmers on the voluntary code already agreed to reduce pollution”.
Financially they “Guarantee financial support for Welsh farmers at a level of no less than that previously provided by the EU for every year of the next Welsh Parliament and work with farmers to create a new support scheme for Wales”. Surprisingly, given their stance on culling in England, they have no mention of TB or badgers.
Plaid Cymru “commit to using the most effective measures to control and eradicate TB utilising lessons from elsewhere in the UK and beyond.” They are strong and understanding of the severe impact of NVZs, declaring the new regulations as “disproportionate” and that a “farming by calendar approach risks causing new pollution incidents”. To overcome this, they will “Work with the industry, Natural Resources Wales and other stakeholders to repeal Labour’s NVZs and introduce better target regulations within our first six months in Government”. Of course, they are not likely to do so if they are in coalition, with Labour but we can discuss that another day.
Plaid Cymru proposes a “baseline support payment to offer the industry greater economic stability to replace the BPS. This support will be used to encourage the highest standards of public health and animal health and welfare and to facilitate a greater shit towards more low carbon and high nature value farming.”
There is also an interesting proposal from Plaid Cymru to “establish a consultative Rural Senedd to strengthen the voice of rural communities”, how that can be anything but a talking shop is hard to see. It also begs the question: “why are elected members not acting as the voice of rural communities?”
The Liberal Democrat manifesto is a bit thin when it comes to farming and the rural economy, which is a bit surprising as the only seat they are defending is in Brecon and Radnorshire, or if they lose that, then they might get a list seat in Mid and West Wales,
When it comes to the funding, they will “Ensure that the Basic Payments Scheme is replaced by a system based on public money for public goods, including sustainable land management for biodiversity gain and for improvements in water quality and pollution levels.”
They also say that they will “Ensure any future funding scheme for farming provides not a penny less for farming and agriculture”. With scant regard for detail, they don’t say “less than what”. Their manifesto has no mention of the impact of Water Resources legislation (NVZs). But then their only MS didn’t vote against the NVZ regulations, which came as a surprise to many.
There are many other interesting points in each of the leading three manifestos. They are worth a read in themselves, but knowing how busy farmers are, I thought this straightforward summary might help provide some focus as these are the policies that will hit, one way or another.