The upcoming Welsh Senedd Elections in May are of vital importance to the agriculture sector in Wales and the incoming Welsh Government will have to deal with new and on-going challenges, writes Bryn Francis.

We have long warned and lobbied on many of those, yet challenges we have dealt with for the past five years and longer not only persist but have been exacerbated and added to.

The materialisation of a far harder form of Brexit than had been promised by those who lobbied for our departure from the EU has restricted access to our main export markets on the continent in ways which are only beginning to be felt.

The on-going Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives beyond recognition and has highlighted how fragile the global food supply chain is, whilst also shining a spotlight on the importance of a strong farming sector on which our domestic markets should be able to rely on for food.

These issues have been largely beyond the control of our devolved administration, but the reaction of the Welsh Government to the uncertainty and challenges faced by our agriculture sector has at times been bewildering and counterintuitive, not least in terms of its appetite for drastically increasing costs and restrictions for farmers while advocating untried and untested reforms of rural support policies.

Sadly, rather than feeling that our members’ concerns have been taken on board and seeing proportionate measures put in place to safeguard our industry, many farmers consider the current direction of travel as a betrayal of devolution which directly threatens the agriculture industry and the culture, language and way of life which are intrinsically linked to Welsh food production.

As such, I make no apology for highlighting our members’ frustration and anger at the Welsh Government’s appetite for copying and pasting policies from England or the EU, rather than drafting bespoke Welsh policies designed to meet Wales’ needs, and their distinct feeling that those who govern us from Cardiff Bay are more remote from, and indifferent to our rural communities than ever before.

A key challenge that strikes at the heart of the FUW’s purpose is the impact future policies will have on Welsh farming families. Ensuring that we have a thriving, sustainable farming sector with family farms at its heart is therefore the key priority in our 2021 Welsh Senedd election manifesto, which we launched last week.

The priority for the next Welsh Government and Senedd must be to provide stability in a world of uncertainty.

Wales’ future rural policies must be proportionate and keep food producing families on the land. Direct support which underpins safe, top quality, food production must be maintained to avoid causing irreparable damage. Wales must continue to invest in measures that drive productivity, improve efficiencies and support farmers to increase market potential whilst meeting environmental and climate change obligations.