Rural Affairs Secretary shares new time-frame for Welsh SFS

A new time-frame for introducing the Sustainable Farming Scheme has been confirmed by Climate Change and Rural Affairs Secretary Huw Irranca-Davies.

Speaking at a press conference at Sealands Farm in Bridgend, the Cabinet Secretary said that the change of timings was part of his “commitment to meaningful engagement with the farming sector”.

Irranca-Davies said, “Since the first day of taking up this role I have been out and about meeting and listening to our farmers, hearing their views and taking on board what they have to say.

“My commitment to meaningful engagement with the farming sector, Plaid Cymru colleagues under the Cooperation Agreement and other stakeholders on the changes needed will necessitate a change in the implementation timetable.

“We have always said the Scheme would not be introduced until it is ready and I stand by that.”

The Cabinet Secretary confirmed that the Basic Payment Scheme would continue to be available in 2025, with the proposed SFS transition period starting from 2026, with an announcement to follow on the BPS ceiling.

Existing rural investment schemes, such as the small grants schemes, will continue to support infrastructure changes.

The Welsh Government will also work on a new landscape scale scheme which will build on the experience of previous collaboration schemes.

This new time-frame will give the opportunity to work through a number of important aspects.

The Cabinet Secretary concluded his statement by saying, “Together we can create a future where our farmers produce the very best of Welsh food to the highest standards, while safeguarding our precious environment.

“We are listening and will continue to listen. We must continue to work in partnership to finalise a scheme that works long-term. This is the next step in making that happen.”

Organic farming
Speaking later in the day in the Senedd, the Cabinet Secretary spoke briefly with regard to organic farming. He said, “Under the 2024 Habitat Wales scheme, we saw an increase in the area of habitat land under management. So, building on this, I’ll explore giving more farmers the opportunity to access support in 2025, including support to organic farmers.

Senedd statement
Back in the Senedd, Mr Irranca-Davies delivered a full statement in plenary on 14th May 2024. He said, “My vision is for a successful future for Welsh farming, producing food sustainably, looking after our environment and underpinning our rural communities. The sustainable farming scheme will provide support for farmers to deliver these objectives. My approach is about coming together, listening and working in partnership.

“I have seen a draft of the analysis of over 1,200 consultation responses, and I want to thank everyone who took the time to respond. I expect to publish the analysis and the Government response in June, but it is already clear that some changes are needed. As set out previously, I am setting up a ministerial round-table to engage on what those changes should be. This will have farmers at the heart of the conversation, alongside others who have an interest in delivery of the benefits farming provides. The round-table will work at pace to identify areas of agreement and focus on areas where more work is required.

“Responding to Plaid Cymru, as part of the co-operation agreement, the farming unions and others, the scheme is designed to support all farmers in Wales with an annual baseline payment, in return for universal actions, replacing the basic payment scheme. These universal actions will provide a platform for farmers to do more through voluntary optional and collaborative actions, which will help farmers realise economic, environmental and social benefits aligned to our sustainable land management objectives and in support of our national and international commitments.

“The SFS must be accessible to all farmers and provide the right level of support to help with business resilience. This is why we will include payment for the wider benefits farming provides, going beyond income forgone and costs incurred, to recognise social value. The round-table will help find an appropriate payment methodology, consider the outcomes from the carbon sequestration review and the updated economic assessment based on the revised scheme. The scheme will support farmers to work with the supply chain to meet changing consumer demands and create new market opportunities. It will focus on food production, but lever the opportunities from timber and sustainable management of the land, such as green finance and carbon sequestration, in support of protecting our communities, our language and our culture.

“My commitment to engagement, and to give farmers the time to consider the consequences for their businesses before deciding on joining the scheme, will necessitate a change in the implementation timetable. We will not introduce the scheme until it’s ready. We will initiate a SFS preparatory phase in 2025 to demonstrate the benefits of the proposed universal actions through knowledge transfer, targeted activity and financial support. This will better prepare farmers for entry into the scheme from the start of the proposed transition period in 2026. There’ll be engagement with farmers on a data confirmation exercise, to provide an accurate picture of the habitat and the tree cover across all farms. Under the 2024 Habitat Wales scheme, we saw an increase in the area of habitat land under management. So, building on this, I’ll explore giving more farmers the opportunity to access support in 2025, including support to organic farmers.

“Existing schemes, such as the small grants schemes, will continue to support infrastructure changes, and we’re working on a new integrated natural resources scheme, building on previous landscape scale collaboration. Initially, the aim is to support the development of proposals for further funding. We will focus on schemes that align with SFS and that are expected to provide support in future as optional and collaborative actions.

“We intend to undertake activity on sites of special scientific interest and to promote the opportunities of tree cover on farms. We will develop proposals for further optional and collaborative actions, with the aim of introducing these as soon as possible. And through Farming Connect, we will work on knowledge transfer, focusing on on-farm efficiencies and activity that aligns to SFS. To provide certainty, my intention is for BPS to be available in 2025, with the proposed SFS transition period starting from 2026. I will make announcements on the 2025 BPS ceiling and details of the preparatory phase in due course.

“Maintaining high standards of animal health and welfare is essential to a thriving agriculture sector. I want Wales to be recognised for its exemplary standards of animal welfare and I’ll say more on my plans in due course. I have heard, of course, first-hand the devastating impact that TB has on farms. We remain fully committed to eradicating TB in Wales by 2041. Partnership working is crucial to reaching our shared goal of a TB-free Wales. As part of our five-year TB delivery plan, the technical advisory group is considering on-farm slaughter of TB reactors as its very first priority. I will be updating Members later this week on progress.

“The agricultural pollution regulations are designed to tackle the causes of agricultural pollution in Wales. I have heard concerns about how the regulations aim to achieve this. We have initiated the four-year review of the regulations, and I want to identify if changes are needed. I will soon make an announcement on an independent chair for that review.

“I have heard also about the impacts on the mental health and well-being of farmers and their families, and we will continue to work with the charities that provide such excellent support to our farmers.

“The food and drink industry in Wales had a turnover from farm to fork exceeding £22 billion in 2022. My vision is for a vibrant industry with a global reputation for excellence. We want to be one of the most environmentally and socially responsible supply chains in the world, and we will continue to support Welsh food and drink businesses, including through Food Innovation Wales and Blas Cymru.

“The focus across our food-related policies is on join-up, partnership and well-being. I intend to publish ‘Food Matters: Wales’, which outlines our food-related policies and how they support producers, including farmers, and the supply chain to increase the availability of Welsh produce. I want to see Wales at the forefront of a thriving and innovative agriculture industry, and I’m committed to listening and working in partnership to achieve this.”

Image shows Rural Affairs Secretary, Huw Irranca-Davies, at Sealands farm

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