Wales ploughs ahead with sustainable farming but question marks for England

Thursday, 29 September 2022

On 26 September, the first ever Welsh Agriculture Bill was presented to the Senedd (Welsh parliament) and has now entered the process by which it will eventually become law.

At the heart of Welsh agricultural policy is Sustainable Land Management (SLM) which focuses on:

  • Producing food and other goods in a way which is sustainable and good for the environment
  • Alleviating the effects of climate change
  • Looking after and improving the resilience of ecosystems and the benefits they provide
  • Looking after and improving the countryside and cultural resources by promoting public access and increasing engagement, plus sustaining the Welsh language

The types of activities for which farmers will receive payment include improving air and water quality, mitigating flood and drought risks, maximising carbon sequestration and storage and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Animal welfare is also emphasised, with a complete ban of snares and glue traps included in the Bill.

The Bill includes a clause which gives tenant farmers with Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies the chance to object if their landlord unreasonably refuses to allow them to take part in SLM, but there is no such clause included for farmers with Farm Business Tenancy agreements (even though they comprise around half the tenancies in Wales).

The objectives of the Welsh Agricultural Bill are in close alignment with English agricultural policy which has Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs) at its core. However, there is currently a question mark over the future rollout of ELMs. Defra has announced that it is carrying out a ‘rapid review’ of English agricultural policy which has led to speculation over what this could mean. Possibilities include postponing the rollout of ELMS and extending the Agricultural Transition Period beyond 2027, making changes to parts of the scheme or the extreme option of abandoning ELMs altogether and reverting to area-based payments such as under the EU Common Agricultural Policy.

Defra’s response to the speculation denies that ELMs will be scrapped but states that it is looking at ‘how best to deliver the schemes to see where and how improvements can be made.’

With the challenges facing farmers, and indeed the overall economy at present, a review into how things are progressing isn’t a bad thing – especially if it leads to an improvement. In a previous blog, we’ve looked at if profitability and sustainability can work in harmony. Overall, it’s about the balance; in the longer term, carrying out sustainable farming practices will benefit soils, reduce reliance on fertilisers etc, potentially leading to higher yields/lower output costs. However, in the tumultuous times we find ourselves in now – farmers need to stay in business so they can deliver environmental benefits and so need the financial incentive to take part in such schemes.

Until we learn the outcome of the review, it is difficult to say how farmers will be affected – given that it is a ‘rapid review’ we may not have to wait too long for the answers. In the meantime, it may be worth farmers carrying out a review of their own farm businesses to see where improvements can be made, if they haven’t already done so. There are tools and resources on our website designed to help farmers do this, so take a look at the links below:

Farm Business Review Tool

Farm business - finance, business plans and more 

Assessing the impact of the Sustainable Farming Incentive on farm businesses