The conflict and controversy surrounding the Welsh Government’s Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) quite rightly shows no signs of abating, writes FUW Brecon and Radnor Executive Officer Kath Shaw.

The strength of feeling currently being demonstrated has arisen in response to a scheme which is laboursome, unworkable and ill-conceived and which appears to allow food production only as a by-product of an overly ambitious environmental scheme.

Whilst SFS controversy continues to dominate the headlines, scrutiny of the Universal Actions demonstrates that such conflicts go far deeper than the overarching food versus environment debate. Indeed, closer examination of the scheme has led to the identification of incompatibilities between - and within - the Universal Actions (UAs) proposed.

In a recent letter to the Veterinary Record (16th February 2024,, Jones and co-workers from Aberystwyth University identified that the creation of scrapes under UA10 could provide the ideal habitat for the intermediate snail host (Galba truncatula) of the liver fluke. Unlike ponds, scrapes are unfenced and allow livestock to have free and unfettered access to an environment that is perfect for the proliferation of liver fluke transmission on-farm.

Liver fluke continues to be a significant issue for livestock producers due to drug resistance and limitations in the diagnostics available. Submitting to UA10 could therefore create a new challenge which could have negative implications for livestock health, farm income and the impact of agriculture on carbon emissions due to the associated reductions in productivity. Given such conflict it could be argued that the SFS gives to biodiversity with one hand and takes from health and welfare with another.

Delving further into the scheme, one can even find conflict and controversy within the UAs themselves. For example, one must question the validity of UA17 which requires wash stations and disinfectant to be available on entry and exit of the farm whilst exempting delivery services and those members of the public wishing to exercise their right to access the countryside.

Such conflicts between the Universal Actions and the ambitions of the scheme do little to foster confidence in those being asked to significantly change their farm practises to participate in a 5 year scheme. Indeed, such conflicts not only breed animosity but also serve to create a reduction in suitable locations for compliance with habitat scheme elements at a time when producers are also being asked to find suitable locations for tree planting.

The FUW maintains that the agricultural sector in Wales deserves better. Farmers in Wales must never be forced to adopt incongruous UAs which create separate and additional problems for those attempting to maintain some form of much needed income. The SFS will only work if the associated UAs really do ‘keep farmers farming’ for the benefit of both animal health and the environment.