What a difference a week makes! We’ve not only had one but two announcements on agricultural policy from the Welsh Government in the past week. They do say that things come in three… will there be any more news and developments from the Senedd this week I wonder?

As a Union, we are delighted that the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) to support Welsh farmers alongside the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) preparatory phase has been secured for next year. It was one of our key asks to ensure stability and a solid foundation for meaningful discussions to progress. 

It shows that the Cabinet Secretary, Huw Irranca-Davies, is listening and that he wants to work in partnership with the farming industry. We know the amount of change that is needed to the Sustainable Farming Scheme to get it off the ground within the proposed time frame. There is a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re ready to burn the midnight oil to get this policy to the right place for Welsh farmers. 

The development of the SFS is the most significant change in agricultural policy in Wales for decades so it is reassuring that the Cabinet Secretary continues to say that the Scheme will not be introduced until it is ready. The continuation of direct financial support for the sector is welcomed while we work to design a scheme that delivers for farming businesses, our rural communities and the environment.

The second piece of welcomed news that was announced last week was a suite of measures that will provide flexibility to farmers having to deal with on-farm slaughter of cattle with bovine TB. This came following recommendations presented to the Cabinet Secretary by the newly established Technical Advisory Group. The FUW was invited to provide written and oral evidence to TAG for consideration, and we’re pleased that our work supported the changes announced last week.

Our recommendations were aimed at reducing the number of cattle slaughtered on-farm following bovine TB-breakdowns and to provide support in circumstances where on-farm slaughter is unavoidable. Farming families, already under emotional and financial pressure from TB breakdowns in cattle have been reduced to tears due to the harsh and harrowing experience of watching cattle being put down on their farmyards.

The majority of on-farm slaughter cases are due to cattle testing positive for bovine TB whilst under medicated withdrawal periods. Slaughtering also occurs on farmyards when cows are heavily pregnant or within the first week post-calving and are not permitted to be transported off farm under animal transport regulations. It is a breath of fresh air to see a gear change in attitude and timings from the Welsh Government. Discussions around the table are certainly bearing fruit in recent weeks and we welcome the pace at which these changes have been made

However, we must not forget that the need to discuss the subject of alleviating the horrors of on-farm slaughter looks to remedy the symptom rather than address the root cause of the issue. This continues to be the abysmal track record of a long standing ineffective TB eradication programme in Wales.

We also need clarity on what exactly the SFS preparatory phase will entail for Welsh farmers. Our members are at the heart of our organisation and we will continue to do our utmost to ensure that we achieve the best possible outcomes for our family farms and the wider industry.