Welsh Conservatives challenge Sustainable Farming Scheme in Senedd – The Pembrokeshire Herald

Welsh Conservatives challenge Sustainable Farming Scheme in Senedd – The Pembrokeshire Herald

POWYS was the scene of a significant protest this weekend as nearly 100 tractors rolled into Newtown, echoing the concerns of the farming community against proposals set forth by the Welsh Government. The convoy, led by local farmers, bore banners proclaiming “no farmers, no food, no future,” a stark message against the sustainable farming scheme that threatens to reshape their livelihoods.

The protest coincided with the visit of Welsh Labour’s leadership candidates, Vaughan Gething and Jeremy Miles, who are in the running to succeed First Minister Mark Drakeford. Their attendance at a leadership debate in Newtown was overshadowed by the demonstration, which saw a substantial turnout from the agricultural sector, voicing opposition to plans that would compel farmers to allocate a significant portion of their land to non-farming activities.

Under the contentious scheme, farmers would be required to dedicate 20% of their land to environmental initiatives, splitting evenly between tree planting and re-wilding projects. This mandate has sparked fears within the farming community, already reeling from economic pressures and the aftermath of recent inflation surges, that their industry faces an existential threat.

The candidates did not engage with the protesters, opting to leave the venue via a side entrance, a move that has drawn criticism from both the demonstrators and Montgomeryshire MS, Russell George, who stood in solidarity with the farmers. Mr. George expressed disappointment at the candidates’ reluctance to address the crowd, highlighting the peaceful and cooperative nature of the protest, which garnered praise from law enforcement and support from beyond the farming community.

The Welsh Government has positioned the scheme as a critical component of its environmental strategy, aiming to combat climate change and biodiversity loss while ensuring food security. A spokesperson emphasised the collaborative effort in developing the Sustainable Farming Scheme and encouraged public feedback through the ongoing consultation process, concluding in early March.

As the debate intensifies, the Welsh Government assures that no final decisions will be made until the consultation period ends, urging stakeholders to contribute their perspectives. Meanwhile, the silence from Mr. Gething and Mr. Miles post-protest has only amplified calls for a more engaged dialogue on the future of Welsh agriculture.

Samuel Kurtz MS, Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, said: “The Welsh Government simply isn’t listening to farmers and rural communities and that is driving the frustration being felt.

“The start of the next First Minister’s tenure could be overshadowed by serious discontent in rural Wales, as neither candidate is willing to listen to the genuine concerns of the agricultural sector.

“That’s why I’m urging once again for the consultation to be paused. If it isn’t then it is only a matter of time before farmers are on the steps of the Senedd protesting, and I will be standing shoulder to shoulder with them.”

Also commenting, Russell George MS, who joined the farmers, said: “I was disappointed that the candidates did not come out to speak to the hundreds of farmers waiting.

“It was encouraging that the police praised those that attended for cooperating and making their points peacefully.

“This issue cuts deep across the country and support from those not directly involved in farming was clear to see.”

On Monday (Feb 19), the Minister for Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths said: “I meet with the farming unions regularly and I wanted to have a meeting as soon as possible after our Sustainable Farming Scheme roadshows and theirs had been completed.

“I’d like to thank them for joining me today, it was good to hear the feedback they had from their events. We will consider this in addition to the feedback we’ve noted from our events.

“Many of the issues discussed were common with those we heard from the 3,200 farmers who’ve attended the Welsh Government events.

“I reiterated to them this is a genuine consultation. It is still open, and I would continue to urge people to take part and give us their views. We will consider every individual response.

“Once the consultation is over I will receive a detailed analysis of the responses, and as I’ve said before I would expect to make changes to the scheme as a result.

“It is vitally important people take part in the consultation. Please do find time to respond as your views matter.”