New Welsh farm support scheme focuses on planting trees

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Farmers in Wales will need to have at least 10% of their land planted with trees if they want a base payment from the new Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS).

Details of the Welsh Government’s proposals for the new scheme, announced on Wednesday July 6, reveal a three-tier system of options and payments under the headings Universal, Optional and Collaborative.

See also: Welsh agricultural support scheme to target climate change from 2025

The universal tier is mandatory, with 12 actions that every farmer applying for the SFS must meet to receive the money, paid at a flat rate per hectare.

One is tree cover – a minimum of 10% on each farm, but including existing trees.

In a document presenting its proposals, the government seeks to reassure farmers on this subject.

“While this may seem like an approach that will require a major change in farm management, we want to help farmers plant more hedges, windbreaks and trees in the corners of fields, as well as establish field-scale timber on land with low agricultural potential and habitat value,” he says.

Habitats on at least 10% of the farm will also need to be managed and improved, or new habitats created to reach this figure.

Three-level approach

Universal level – compulsory

  • Perform an annual KPI self-assessment
  • Set up secure stores dedicated to animal carcasses
  • Operate pest control programs
  • Report the average amount of antibiotics used on the farm
  • Managing peatlands well
  • Create habitat items on land if 10% of the farm does not currently have them
  • Restore and manage wildlife ponds or create temporary shallow ponds

Optional level

  • Establish a mix of grasses, legumes, and native herbs or wildflowers
  • Capital support for rotation and collective grazing infrastructure
  • Decarbonize machine use and farming practices
  • Use minimum tillage or no tillage methods to grow crops

Collaborative level

  • Improving water quality in a watershed
  • Establish producer organizations or cooperatives

Comparative analysis

There will be mandatory benchmarking with a set of sector-specific and industry-level key performance indicators (KPIs), which the government says will lead to a “step change” in farm performance.

Bare fields during the winter will be prohibited, as multi-species cover crops will have to be grown on all uncultivated land.

Biosecurity is also present, with mandatory washing stations and secure food stores required.

Each farm should have a regular soil testing program and record and report its pesticide use.

In setting out its proposals, the government says it understands that some farms may not be able to provide the full range of Universal Actions from the outset, due to farm type, topography or land management contracts.

“So exemptions may be in place, but our starting position is that farms in the program must undertake all universal actions,” he says.

Optional extras

For farmers who wish to increase their payments, there are a series of targeted actions defined in the optional level.

These include communal grazing, covering slurry stores, drying poultry manure, and growing crops that reduce a farm’s reliance on purchased feed.

Farmers could also be paid to have a three-metre-wide fence and hedge along the farm boundary to prevent contact with neighboring livestock, and to commit to isolating all incoming animals for at least six days. .

Collaborative actions target groups of farmers working together to deliver “public goods” at the scale of a landscape, watershed or country, such as improved water quality.

Sustainable

The government insists that the actions set out in the universal level will help farms become more sustainable. He also suggests that they should be “within the reach of most farmers” and can be incorporated into current farming practices.

“The program is designed so that all types of farms can access it, including tenants and those with rights to common land,” he says.

The government plans to retain its flagship Farming Connect program to provide training and knowledge sharing.

As for payment rates, farmers will have to wait for the final scheme to be submitted for consultation in 2023, but the government suggests they will provide a “fair and stable income”.

Payments could, however, be capped to “ensure that funding is distributed equitably”.

The government will now embark on the second phase of the co-design of the SFS.

Avoid the edge of the cliff

The Welsh Government says it wants to avoid agricultural businesses suffering from a funding ‘cliff edge’ when the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Glastir payments are phased out.

Farmers will therefore receive a stability payment from April 1, 2025 to March 31, 2029.

The government says:

“While we do not have budget certainty beyond fiscal year 2024-25 and transition planning is subject to future funding agreements, we will continue to support farmers throughout the period of transition and as we phase out BPS.”

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