Welsh farming union NFU Cymru has described comments about farm funding made by Mike Hedges MS in the Senedd this week as “completely out of touch”.
During a Senedd plenary debate on Wednesday 10 January, Swansea East MS Mike Hedges stated “there is no reason to subsidise agriculture”.
NFU Cymru has strongly criticised the comments, suggesting that Mr Hedges is “failing to see the bigger picture”, the value of the Welsh food and farming industry, nor the role that farmers play in feeding the nation and supporting thriving communities. The union has also highlighted independent consumer research it commissioned recently which highlighted high levels of consumer backing for Welsh Government using public funds to support Welsh farmers to produce food.
Reacting to the MS’s comments, NFU Cymru President Aled Jones said, “While it is only right that public spending is scrutinised and justified, particularly at a time when Welsh Government’s budget is under such pressure, the comments made by Mike Hedges MS will be infuriating for Welsh farmers to hear.
“Mike Hedges MS will be well aware of the budgetary pressures Welsh Government is currently subject to and he must surely recognise that the axe has already fallen heavily on the sector’s finances in recent times. The Rural Affairs budget was subject to a 7.8% in-year cut in October in a ‘re-prioritisation’ of the budget to support front line services, while Welsh Government’s draft budget announcement last month forecast a further 10.5% cut in funding to the Rural Affairs portfolio. On each occasion the Rural Affairs budget has been subject to the largest cut in funding in percentage terms.
“Perhaps where Mike Hedges MS’s comments are most fundamentally flawed is that he hasn’t grasped that this funding is instrumental in supporting food production to feed people in Wales and beyond. Wales needs thriving farm businesses to keep producing food to feed everyone in society and financial stability is an important component in enabling that to happen. We remain grateful to the Rural Affairs Minister for prioritising the Basic Payment Scheme, which provides much needed stability to Welsh farming businesses at a turbulent time and is fundamental in supporting the production of food.
“When we look at public funding for Welsh farming, let us not forget that this accounts for around 2% of the overall Welsh Government budget. For this, farmers manage 80% of the land area of Wales, underpin an £8 billion food and farming sector and make an unparalleled contribution to the economic, environmental, social and cultural wellbeing of rural Wales. The reality is that farming businesses are economic drivers in their communities. In fact, for every £1 of public money invested in Welsh farming, the sector provides a £9 return to the nation – we believe this represents a good return on investment. So based on the evidence, we strongly refute Mike Hedges MS’s claim that spending money on agriculture is merely ‘putting money in the pockets of farmers.’ That support is benefitting people, communities and environments all over Wales.
“Welsh farmers will be angered to hear a Member of the Senedd talking down their industry in this manner. I struggle to recall any other sector of the Welsh economy being discussed in such negative terms. It is a shame that Mike Hedges MS has not been willing to take up our repeated offers to join us on farm in order that he can see for himself the contribution farming makes to Welsh society.
“I’d also like to thank those MSs in the Senedd who countered Mike Hedges MS’s comments and made a robust case for the nation’s farmers.”