NFU Cymru has expressed profound disappointment that a vote on a motion to annul all-Wales NVZ regulations was narrowly lost in the Senedd today (Wednesday, March 3).

The Welsh Government announced in January that an all-Wales nitrate vulnerable zone (NVZ) could cover the whole of the country from as early as April 1.

The Welsh Government said it had given Welsh farmers four years to clean up their act on agricultural pollution, but with incidents averaging over three a week, it had decided to act.

The Farmers’ Union on Wales (FUW) had labelled a pan-Wales approach as “draconian and unimaginative”, while NFU Cymru said it was “indiscriminate and punitive”.

The Welsh Government’s regulations to control agricultural pollution in Welsh waterways had also been challenged by Plaid Cymru’s Llyr Gruffydd as the “wrong answer to the right question”.

Mr Gruffydd, the shadow minister for rural affairs, had proposed a motion to the Senedd that the regulations should be annulled, with the final vote to be held today.

The motion was defeated by three votes, with 27 Members of the Senedd voting for Mr Gruffudd’s motion, 30 against and no abstentions.

“My thanks go to the Members of the Senedd who stood up for rural Wales today by voting to overturn these regulations and who, like NFU Cymru, believe that there is a better way to safeguard and improve water quality in Wales,” said NFU Cymru president John Davies.

“I am deeply disappointed that the Welsh Government, in the height of a global pandemic, has proceeded with a copy and paste into Welsh law of one of the most ineffective and criticised pieces of EU regulation. I remain astounded why our government has totally ignored the 45 recommendations based on advice and guidance, voluntary approaches, investment support and smart regulation to improve water quality put forward in 2018 by an expert group chaired and resourced by its own regulator, Natural Resources Wales(NRW).

“I am disheartened that despite NFU Cymru taking forward and delivering a water standard that could form the blueprint to a farmer-led approach to nutrient management in Wales – a project designed and delivered in partnership with NRW and the industry, a project that was presented to the minister in March 2020 for approval – 12 months on we have still not even received a substantive response from the minister.

“It is clear the Welsh Government never had any intention to work in partnership, engage with the evidence or deliver bespoke Welsh made policies to tackle water quality.

“I would also like to thank all those farmers who sent over 11,000 e-mails to their Members of the Senedd highlighting their concerns at the impact these regulations will have on their business and rural communities.

“These numbers show the strength of feeling and deep anxiety that there is against this Welsh Government decision. I am also grateful to businesses from across the food and farming supply chain who have supported us, businesses that know the impact that NVZs will have as the productive capacity of Welsh agriculture is threatened.

“Just one of the many issues that the Welsh Government has failed to appreciate or assess in coming to their decision.”

Mr Davies said that the levels of concern expressed mean that despite the outcome of the vote, farmers must continue to challenge the issue in order to mitigate its impact on the Welsh food and farming sector.

NFU Cymru’s lawyers this week wrote to the Welsh Government to question the lawfulness of the decision to introduce new water quality regulations for the whole of Wales.

NFU Cymru’s lawyers had written to the Welsh Government setting out their concerns. The concerns particularly focus on the inadequacy of the Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) published alongside the new regulations and the complete omission of the grassland derogation outlined in earlier draft regulations.

The new regulations pose a significant threat to the economic viability of Welsh farming, the overall impact of which cannot be underestimated, say the NFU.

“It is for this reason that we have instructed our legal team to explore a legal challenge against the Welsh Government’s decision to introduce the regulations,” added Mr Davies.

“I cannot understand why the government has decided to proceed with these regulations without a grassland derogation, and that it has so far announced no new funding to support the £360m upfront investment costs that Welsh Government itself has estimated farmers will need to find to comply.

“The £11.5m announced by the minister last month when she introduced these regulations is woefully inadequate. It’s not even new funding, having been previously announced in September 2020.

“While we will continue to explore every avenue with the current government prior to the pre-election period, this issue will, I am sure, be one of the key matters that farmers will be raising with prospective Members of Senedd ahead of elections on May 6.

“The Welsh Government will need to explain to the industry and its advisers how it proposes to support farmers to comply with these regulations. They have yet to publish any guidance despite the regulations coming into force in just over three weeks – this is unacceptable.

“Despite what some have said, these regulations will impact on every farmer in every sector. Consequences will be felt across farming and the supply chain with ramifications for other sectors.”