NFFN Cymru unveils five-point plan for Welsh Government

With anger and frustration about the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) continuing to be felt across Wales, Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) Cymru has unveiled a five-point plan to ensure the proposed policy is as effective as possible for sustainable and viable agriculture in Wales.

The organisation has put together a list of five demands which it hopes will make the SFS work more effectively and ensure it results in profitable and successful farms and thriving rural landscapes.

NFFN Cymru has also created an open letter petition which it is urging Welsh farmers and people who want to see a sustainable and successful future for farming in Wales to sign. The organisation will send these demands to Welsh rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths.

While it has given a cautious welcome so far to the SFS, NFFN Cymru says it understands why there is so much unhappiness about the scheme among the Welsh agricultural community and is determined to ensure that farm businesses have a bright future across the country. However, the organisation maintains that future support for agriculture in Wales must help ensure farming is resilient in the face of the threats posed by climate change and the biodiversity crisis.

NFFN Cymru believes several steps are needed to improve the SFS. It is urging Welsh politicians to ensure there is sufficient funding to allow the scheme to deliver for both food production and nature without disadvantaging farmers. It is also worried that the more ambitious elements are not scheduled to be brought in until later in a five-year transition period, potentially leaving those farmers across Wales who are already doing the most for nature with the least benefits from the introduction of the new scheme.

NFFN Cymru manager Rhys Evans said, “As it stands, those farmers in Wales who are doing the most for nature are being disadvantaged. Currently, the SFS does nothing to distinguish between farmers who are doing the bare minimum required under the scheme and those who are going above and beyond that baseline to deliver multiple benefits.

“The decisions made now will play a pivotal role in delivering a better future for Welsh farming, the economy, the environment and society, but there are many things needed to make the SFS the best it can be for every farmer.”

NFFN Cymru’s five key asks to the Welsh Government for the SFS are:

  • A proper funding package for nature-friendly farming
  • Assurances that no farmer will be left behind
  • The principle of ‘the right tree in the right place for the right purpose’ being followed
  • Payments that deliver genuine outcomes
  • The right advice, support and guidance for farm-level change

NFFN Cymru is particularly concerned that the higher-level Optional and Collaborative elements of the SFS are not due to be rolled out until 2027 or 2028. It says that farmers who have been in the higher tiers of the Glastir scheme, as well as organic farmers, now face a major hit to their incomes as they wait for more ambitious nature-friendly farming support to be made available.

The organisation even fears that some Welsh farmers who have been working in an environmentally-friendly and sustainable way for some time could find their businesses becoming unviable as they will not get much financial support from the initial Universal options in the SFS.

There are also major concerns that recent cuts to the rural affairs budget in Wales will leave the SFS without sufficient funds to ensure appropriate payments for farmers and that land is being managed in line with environmental priorities, which NFFN Cymru estimates costs around £500m each year. The organisation says the lack of detail available on how much farmers will be paid for undertaking the actions in the SFS is adding greatly to the current climate of uncertainty.

NFFN Cymru steering group chair Hywel Morgan said, “Welsh farmers stand ready to deliver on the Scheme’s ambition. We can produce sustainable food hand in hand with tackling climate change and improving biodiversity and the environment. However, to do this the level of funding and payment rates must match the level of ambition outlined in the consultation.”

Despite its concerns, NFFN Cymru has given a cautious welcome to the SFS design, saying a fully-funded Universal element can drive up environmental and sustainability standards across the board in Welsh agriculture and there are positive inclusions such as a requirement for farmers to manage 10% of their land for nature alongside food production as well as measures to improve hedgerow management. It says the SFS’ Universal layer is a clear improvement on the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), which it criticised as being a blunt area-based arrangement with very few sustainability requirements.

The Optional element of the SFS is slated to reward farmers for actions such as carrying out more ambitious tree planting schemes, creating new habitats, preserving existing areas for nature or improving public access to farmland. The Collaborative element, meanwhile, aims to support farmers working together on large-scale projects such as work to mitigate flooding or tackle the growth of non-native invasive species across the landscape.

NFFN Cymru is urging members to have their say on the consultation, which closes on 7 March.


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