Three Strikes?


By Llyr Huws Gruffydd

Alun Davies, the deputy minister for agriculture is facing his toughest test yet as Agriculture Minister and by my reckoning, he’s failed two already. It seems I’m not alone in this criticism either; recently FUW Chair Emyr Jones complained of the lack of progress on agricultural issues and that “we are fighting our own government for our own survival”. He has been left wishing he was farming in Scotland rather than under the Labour government here. It’s reasonable therefore to begin to question the Deputy Minister for Agriculture on his commitment to stand up for Welsh farmers.

The Scots managed to stand up to the EU on sheep tagging and secured exemptions and special considerations; Alun Davies wasn’t even at the meeting. The English have proved themselves more than willing to get to grips with eradicating TB; Alun Davies and John Griffiths have refused to take responsibility over the worsening situation here in Wales. Add to these failures his refusal to recognize the extra burden LFA farmers face and the pressure is mounting on him to finally stand up for Welsh farmers on the key issue for the forthcoming months; that of CAP reform.

The European Commission has published its proposals indicating that it wants to make the CAP more competitive and greener, with an emphasis on food quality and a fairer distribution of funding – ending the historical entitlement element of the direct payments. However, while welcoming the commitment to continuing direct payments, itself a testament to the previous Minister’s lobbying, I’m very concerned about the details of the proposals for three main reasons.

Firstly, leaked documents that we’ve obtained show that 35% of Welsh farmers will lose part of their entitlements under the proposed ‘flat rate’ payments once transition is complete. Furthermore, despite a transition period of 5 years for the changes the new arrangements also state that 40% of the changes will be made within the first year. This is far too steep, far too quickly I would rather see a longer transition period, around seven years and on a much more gradual basis. We believe that it is dairy farmers who are set to receive significantly less funding under the new flat rate and if this is the case, we need action to secure a soft landing for dairy farmers in particular.

Secondly, 30% of the payments will be dependent on meeting greening targets. This I fear may force farmers to take land out of food production at a time when it is urgently needed; I think we need to look at the implications of these targets very closely. We must also make it clear to the EU that Welsh farmers have a good record on greening, so any extra greening components included in the requirements for direct payments should complement the Glastir scheme, not tread on its toes and duplicate work.

Finally, I am very concerned about the Conservative Party position. The London Tory Ministers after all will be the people sitting around the table in Brussels. They have repeatedly called for, but thankfully failed to get rid of direct payments altogether. This would decimate the farming industry here in Wales at a stroke. Alun Davies needs to appreciate how important the direct payments are to Welsh farmers and make Wales’ voice heard in Europe. Unfortunately, he has stated openly that he is happy to work with the Tories in the forthcoming discussions. It’s difficult to see how the two opposing viewpoints can reconciled within one delegation and I fear Welsh concerns will not be heard in the discussions.

Plaid acknowledges the need for a reform of the CAP, but Welsh farmers must not lose out. Wales is already leading the way in Europe with our agri-environmental schemes and our rural communities must not be punished for this. The challenge is clear for Alun Davies, to stand up for Welsh farmers. To ensure that the voice of Welsh farming is as strong as it was during the last government and that farmers here do not lose out because of any changes to the CAP. With two failures under his belt, Welsh farmers will pay dearly for a third.