Soil Quality is Central
Response to Agriculture (Wales) White Paper Consultation.
Calon Cymru Network (CCN) backs the overall direction of the Agriculture (Wales) White Paper. Sustainable Land Management is a logical foundation of future policy.
We would like to see an even greater emphasis on soil depth and quality. The proposed requirement to maintain a minimum soil cover and to minimise soil erosion and compaction is not setting the bar high enough, in our view. The intention to rely heavily on aerial photography and remote sensing to monitor compliance with National Minimum Standards is fine as far as it goes, but that is not far enough. CCN suggests that remote observations are inadequate for assessing the composition and quality of soils.
Therefore, we would be keen to see a National Agriculture and Horticulture Service set up both to coordinate the provision of information and advice, to monitor compliance with National Minimum Standards, and to help farmers and growers combine food production with climate change mitigation and biodiversity enrichment. We think there should be a mutually reinforcing advice partnership between a new public-sector advisory service and Wales’ universities and colleges.
The financial implications of Sustainable Land Management are not explored in the White Paper, but given the current scale of Basic Payments in the Welsh farming economy, the urgent need to invest in land, water and air quality improvements, and the linguistic importance of farming communities to the Welsh language, the sums involved will be very substantial. Wales has been receiving about £300 million a year under the Basic Payments Scheme, comprising about 80% of farm income (according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board).
The Westminster Government offered about 80% of EU funding, which in CCN’s view is woefully inadequate for the challenge ahead.
CCN fully supports the Welsh Government’s aims of increased woodland cover, greater habitat resilience, shorter supply chains, improved air and water quality, increases in arable and horticultural production, and regulatory change.
Proposals for arbitration if landlords and tenants with Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 tenancies cannot agree on changes to qualify for the new support system; for stronger powers to manage common land; and on animal health and welfare, and agricultural wages, are backed by CCN. We also support powers for Welsh ministers to specify new standards in secondary legislation.
However, we think there will be major battles ahead over funding to ensure that the proposals in the White Paper can be implemented.
The first part of the following sentence in the consultation document (at 2.77) gives CCN cause for concern:
“We believe advice should be seen as an investment in the capacity of farmers rather than a cost to the scheme, and we will continue to develop and engage with stakeholders on our proposals for the future.”
Farmers’ typically low cash incomes mean that many would struggle to pay for advice on the scale needed; we would like costings and mechanisms for providing advice to be given more attention. We would also like more detail on how the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 will shape national priorities for agricultural and horticultural inputs and outputs.