It’s hard to believe that we’re in the last month of 2023 already. This year seems to have flown by. I guess that’s partly one of the consequences of getting older, time seems to go faster, but also it’s been a very busy year on many fronts. 

As we started the year, the Wales Agricultural Bill was arguably our biggest focus. The importance of getting this crucial legislation right, the framework within which our future schemes for supporting agriculture here in Wales would have to sit, cannot be underestimated. Not just for all of us farming in Wales today, but also for those future generations of farmers which are so crucial to our industry going forwards. 

The landmark legislation will provide the framework for future agriculture support in Wales and is the first time Wales has legislated in this way. We maintained since the introduction of the bill that the absence of economic viability of agricultural businesses and family farms from the Sustainable Land Management objectives is a significant concern and one that we will continue to address. 

The Senedd however also voted to include a multi-annual support plan which will provide information about how Welsh Ministers intend to provide financial support. This has been a key demand of the FUW and is a provision which exists within the UK Agriculture Act. The inclusion of this amendment places farmers in Wales on an equal footing to those in England and hopefully gives Welsh farmers at least some clarity when planning for their business’ future.

The Agriculture Act paves the way for changes to farm support for us in Wales and this month we expect the latest, and possibly final, consultation on the Sustainable Farming Scheme. Due to start in 2025, this will be the replacement for the Basic Payment Scheme here in Wales. We all know the importance of this funding to our rural economy and communities, so ensuring we get this right, a scheme accessible to all farmers in Wales, with a budget to match, will be crucial in the coming months. 

This month also sees the ending of all Glastir contracts and them being replaced by the new Habitat Wales Scheme for next year. If this is indeed a glimpse of the future that’s a real concern. Mapping inaccuracies and the low payment rates have led many of us to choose not to submit an Expression of Interest in the new scheme. 

Unfortunately, for the majority, and particularly those farmers who have been in agri-environment schemes for decades, the changes to our farming systems are effectively irreversible and they have long factored these payments into their cash flows. This means that the reductions in payments raise major concerns around the financial viability of their businesses - points which we have raised repeatedly with politicians on behalf of our members.

While the payment rates have been set, an overall budget for the scheme is yet to be confirmed. We are told that this is due to the fact that Habitat Wales Scheme payments will be processed during the 2024-25 financial year and therefore the Welsh Government won’t be in a position to confirm a budget until after the draft budget is announced later in December. 

After 30 years of Agri Environment schemes in Wales, the Habitat Wales Scheme and how it has been delivered is a backward step and should serve as a warning to the Welsh Government. We must get the Sustainable Farming Scheme right, and I can assure members that we will continue to talk with anyone and everyone to try to ensure that happens. 

I’m also acutely aware of the increasing burden of red tape on our industry and the demands that it puts on us as farmers, but just a reminder that the Union is here to help our members. The latest example of this form filling comes in the form of the need for all farmers in Wales to fill an Annual Workbook as part of the Agriculture Water Pollution Regulations. If you haven’t yet done this please contact your county office and they can advise on what you need to do and what help we can offer. When it comes to the Agriculture Water Pollution regulations, I would however remind members that we welcomed the efforts made by the Welsh Government as part of the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru to introduce a higher nitrogen limit for next year following consultation which received more than 1,500 responses. In our response we outlined how the proposals for a scheme to allow for a higher limit could serve as a significant safety net for a number of farmers in Wales in the short term who are already exceeding the 170kg limit. 

However, we also expressed major concerns in relation to the proposed criteria and requirements and how this would effectively determine how many farms would be eligible for such a scheme. Whilst we welcomed this simpler approach which avoids a bureaucratic application process and further uncertainty for those wishing to apply, we also called on the Welsh Government to provide clear guidance as soon as possible setting out further actions farmers will have to undertake and what evidence they will be expected to provide.

The need for a third delay of the whole farm nitrogen limit, as welcomed as it was, is symptomatic of the poorly thought out regulations which were introduced in the first place. I sincerely hope the Welsh Government begins the process of reviewing the regulations sooner rather than later, to include the consideration of a permanent higher nitrogen limit and alternatives to the closed periods, so that long term clarity can be provided to the Welsh agricultural sector.

On the farm here at home Sean and I have completed our first year share farming, and that has flown by as well, some things have gone well, our Wagyu calf rearing went as planned. Sean’s budget was spot on so we were left with some profit when the calves left the farm in the autumn. 

The sheep have been a bit more of a challenge this year. The weather hasn’t been helpful as we all know, lambs have sold pretty well over the year but we’ve struggled, as many farms have, to keep our rising production costs under control. This is partly due in our case at Gurnos to trying to be more efficient, reseeding with mixed species and red clover leys, applying lime to try to keep our soil pH at the optimum level, and putting fencing and drinking water infrastructure in place so that we can do more rotational grazing. I’m sure this will pay dividends going forward and it’s great to have a young farmer with such enthusiasm with us here on the farm. 

My first 5 months as President have also gone in a flash. It’s a privilege to be in the role, to represent you the members on many and varied occasions, making sure that you and our great industry has its voice heard. And I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the members, staff, and officials of the FUW as well as my family (not forgetting Sean!) for their help and support. I couldn't do it without you all. 

Also a special mention to all at FUW Insurance Services Ltd. Our insurance business continues to go from strength to strength and long may that continue. Finally I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, Nadolig Llawen i chi gyd.