On Wednesday 16th December the Welsh Government announced a white paper for the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. The Bill is expected to be published in 2022 with the legislative framework coming into effect from 2023. This Bill will govern future support for Welsh agriculture, provide regulatory reform, encourage forestry and woodland creation and improve animal health and welfare whilst improving monitoring through the use of data and technology.
Sustainable Farming Scheme
The white paper proposes how the transition from direct payments under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) to their new Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) will be managed. The Sustainable Farming Scheme will be both voluntary and open to all farmers and takes its lead from DEFRA’s Environmental Land Management Scheme in providing payments with a ‘justification’ element. This will involve the deliverance of environmental, ecological or social goods for payments. Payments will also be provided for investment in infrastructure, training, advice on accessing new markets and diversification opportunities. Whilst there is no confirmation yet on payment rates for SFS, the figures will be provided in Spring 2021. They will be based on a combination of costs incurred, income foregone and what the outcome of the action is supposed to achieve.
Unlike in England, where BPS will receive a series of reductions from 2021, the Welsh payment for 2021 and 2022 will be made in full. At present there are no details for 2023 claims, the transition from BPS to SFS will then begin in 2024. The RPW have confirmed that moving forward there will be no ‘three crop rule’ as part of the Greening Payment however rules for permanent grassland and ecological focus areas under cross compliance must still be followed.
The Welsh Government intends to increase its woodland creation rate to 2,000 ha a year with a 4,000 ha a year goal to be reached as soon as possible. To aid this, Farmers will be paid to plant and manage woodland. The payment will be based on carbon sequestration levels, habitat resilience and capturing ammonia emissions. Non-farm woodland schemes will be sharing the budget for this.
National Minimum Standard
There will be new National Minimum Standards for agricultural regulation which will encompass not just those on the SFS but all farmers. The aim is to bring together several current pieces of legislation whilst rebalancing sanctions for non-compliance. There will be more usage of fines and restoration notices with an emphasis on ‘proportionate responses’ rather than prosecution.
The Welsh Government wants to collect and share data from across the farming sector and associated businesses. This will be to monitor compliance with the new regulations and standards in the food-supply sector. When applying for and undertaking SFS schemes farmers will have to frequently report on the progress of the agreed actions to keep receiving payments.