NFU Cymru’s LFA Board has expressed profound concerns for the future viability of farming in Wales’ Less Favoured Areas in the light of Welsh Government’s current Sustainable Farming Scheme proposals.

The concerns come against the backdrop of Welsh Farm Business Incomes for 2022-2023 published in recent days that show a drop in income of 37 per cent across Less Favoured Areas (LFA) cattle and sheep farms with Severely Disadvantaged Areas (SDA) sheep farming experiencing a 45 per cent reduction in income.

Of all the sectors in Wales, LFA cattle and sheep farms make up both the largest proportion of farms in Wales (66 per cent) and cover the largest land area (73 per cent).

At their recent board meeting, hill farmers from across Wales considered Welsh Government’s ‘Sustainable Farming Scheme – Keeping Farmers Farming’ consultation.

This sets out how the Basic Payment Scheme is to be fully phased out by 2029 and replaced by the Sustainable Farming Scheme from 2025, with farmers who wish to participate receiving a Universal Baseline Payment in return for delivering 17 Universal Actions and two scheme rules.

The rules include the requirement to have at least 10 per cent tree cover and 10 per cent of the farm managed as habitat. A time limited stability payment which reduces to zero by 2030 is also proposed.

NFU Cymru LFA Board chair Kath Whitrow said: “Board members were highly concerned about the latest Welsh Government proposals. Farmers are worried about the practicalities of delivering the requirements of the scheme.

“We are also very concerned that Welsh Government now proposes to calculate the Universal Baseline Payment on the basis of costs incurred, income foregone calculations.

“This, together with the fact that Welsh Government currently proposes a stability payment that is time limited, means that the scheme will bring no meaningful income onto Welsh farms to replace the BPS from 2030.

“The impacts such a move would have on farm businesses and the supply chain as well as our rural communities cannot be overstated.

“There is a double whammy for over 3,000 farmers with common land which is currently included as eligible area for the purposes of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) - in many cases, making up over 50 per cent of the claimable area. Under current Welsh Government proposals, common land will not attract the Universal Baseline Payment.

“Support for common land is expected to be delivered by collaborative agreements which will be phased in during the transition period between 2025 and 2029, subject to budget availability.

“Welsh Government’s current proposals ignore the fact that despite very significant investment in facilitation through Commons Development Officers, Glastir Common Agreements were only ever secured on 65 per cent of common land.

“It is clear that collaborative agreements will not be possible in all instances and farmers in this position face the prospect of receiving no support on their common land despite the central role these businesses play managing common land to deliver wider environmental and well-being benefits for society.

“In light of these concerns we would urge Welsh Government to rethink its current proposals for the Sustainable Farming Scheme.”