First Minister Mark Drakeford has today written for the County Times in response to public concerns about the Sustainable Farming Scheme. Read his column below. 

Agriculture – and farming – is incredibly important not only to our economy but Wales itself. It’s part of our identity, our landscape, and our character.

It’s the backbone of rural Wales, providing jobs and livelihoods; it feeds the nation; helps to protect our countryside and has a huge influence on our way of life and language. 

Farming is facing big changes – and significant challenges – at the moment.

Our role, as the Welsh Government, is to help ensure people can continue to farm the land and earn a living doing so for generations to come, especially in the face of the biggest threat we all face – a changing climate.

We want a successful future for farmers, but we cannot ignore the environmental issues, which are key to our country’s future welfare and our ability to carry on producing high quality food.

This requires rapid and tangible change, not only in the way we farm – you are already pioneers in this – but also the way we provide farm support.

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What that new support will look like when it takes effect in 2025 is precisely the conversation we started, seven years ago, with farmers from across Wales.

It was from these conversations that the Sustainable Farming Scheme was born. We’ve carried on talking and listening to farmers as we’ve developed the scheme. 

At its heart it has four simple but ambitious goals – to secure sustainable food production systems; to keep farmers farming the land; to safeguard the environment and to address the urgent call of the climate and nature emergency.

County Times: Farmers protest outside the Senedd in Cardiff over planned changes to farming subsidies.Farmers protest outside the Senedd in Cardiff over planned changes to farming subsidies. (Image: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)

The details have been refined over time as we have continued to listen to what farmers have to say. And we are still listening. The Sustainable Farming Scheme consultation is open until 7 March.

This is a genuine consultation, and no decisions will be taken on any element of the proposal, including how we achieve the requirement for habitat and trees, until we have conducted a full analysis of the consultation responses.

Some topics have been at the heart of the debate - I want to address these here.

The 10% tree cover requirement has been adjusted as we have developed the Sustainable Farming Scheme to accommodate constraints and to recognise existing tree cover, which is already provided on farms.

We want farmers to be first in line to benefit from our policy to protect, create and enhance our woodlands – just as many farming families have been doing for centuries.

The economic assessment, which says there will be job losses, is an important piece of work which helped inform our consultation. But I want to be clear: it is not an assessment of the current consultation. A further assessment will be carried out.

We believe there is a successful future for farming in Wales and we will carry on supporting our farmers. That’s why our approach looks at the farm business as a whole and why we have continued to pay Basic Payment Scheme in full, unlike across the border.

It’s also why the Sustainable Farming Scheme, while prioritising food production, integrates the need to protect the environment, so farmers can carry on farming in Wales for generations to come.