By Plaid Cymru's Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Simon Thomas AM
Agriculture would face the biggest impact of leaving the European Union according to research by the NFU, for every £1 invested in farm support in the UK, farming delivers £7.40 back to the economy.
We need the right regulatory framework and policies to minimise as much as possible the harm caused to the sector. At the same time, some changes, such as replacing the Common Agricultural Policy, have the potential to bring about agricultural and environmental improvements.
Plaid Cymru consulted with the rural affairs sector last summer on its future following the vote to leave the EU. The National Assembly’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee is also carrying out an inquiry and will report soon. We have a wealth of information on what future framework and policies stakeholders want in place. However, much depends on the trade negotiations carried out by the Westminster Government and how much of a voice Wales will have in these negotiations.
Over 90% of Wales’ food and drink exports currently go to EU countries tariff-free. It has become clear that Wales can compete on the quality of its food and drink but it cannot compete on price. It is a real concern that the Westminster Government’s trade deals will result in tariffs being imposed on Wales’ food and drink exports and in cheap imports flooding the UK market.
It is crucial that the voices of Wales’ food and drink producers are represented in the UK Government’s trade negotiations. Plaid Cymru’s view is that the interests of Wales’ agricultural sector would be best served through continued participation in the Single Market and it must avoid tariff barriers.
Wales’ high-quality food and drink is underpinned by high animal health and welfare and environmental standards. Currently, the regulatory framework for these standards is set at an EU level. Agriculture has been devolved for 17 years and all four UK nations have developed significantly different policies to meet their different needs. Post leaving the EU, we require a UK framework agreed by all four nations on an equal basis with as much freedom as possible for different approaches.
Agriculture in Wales and England is very different. Grazing livestock, especially sheep, accounts for 75% of land use in Wales, of which 80% is ‘less favourable area’ or LFA land. In England, 55% of agricultural land is used to grow crops. Wales’ landscape, geography, climate, culture and language all from a part of its different approach and needs.
In 2014-15, direct payments from EU funding accounted for an average of 81% of net farm profit for all farm types in Wales. The Westminster Government owes the agricultural sector the same level of funding post-leaving the EU as is currently delivered under the CAP, as was promised by those who campaigned to leave the EU. Wales currently gets almost twice as our "Barnett" share of UK CAP funding, so in future this must agreed separately to the Barnett formula.
The Welsh Government must also commit to using this funding to support agriculture and the rural economy.
Stakeholders from the agriculture, rural affairs and environmental sectors say that the CAP has not been delivering on agricultural, economic or environmental objectives and that it is overly complex and bureaucratic. Leaving the EU provides an opportunity to develop a radically different programme.
There is an opportunity to target support where it is needed, such as small upland farms, rather than larger businesses and to pay farmers based on outcomes rather than how much land they own. Over 80% of land in Wales is farmed and farmers are therefore, very well-placed to improve our environment and economy.
Farmers could be paid to deliver ‘ecosystem services’ – improved water quality and biodiversity; flood prevention and cutting carbon. This could cut bureaucracy as farmers receive payments based on outcomes, with freedom to innovate on how they achieve those outcomes.
The Party of Wales would like to see links between farming, the wider rural economy and communities strengthened. Improved infrastructure, services and opportunities throughout rural areas and supporting the agricultural sector are interlinked. Good broadband and public transport make areas more attractive to live in and to do business. Improved facilities, childcare and opportunities to develop skills can make rural areas more attractive to young people to live in. Apprenticeships and green skills colleges could help provide an agricultural workforce for the future, with up to date knowledge and skills on the latest techniques. Community renewable energy schemes could help cut carbon and lower communities’ energy bills. Access to nature, with beautifully maintained landscapes and walking and cycling tracks could help grow the tourism industry and also provide health benefits for surrounding communities.
This blog originally appeared as an essay in the Western Mail