Welsh farming lobbies Brussels over CAP changes

A field with cows
Image caption Welsh farmers receive £260m annually from the Common Agricultural Policy

New lobbying aimed at ensuring Welsh farmers do not lose out in a major shake-up of funding from Europe is getting under way in Brussels.

The Country Land and Business Association is meeting European and Welsh government officials over Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) changes.

CAP subsidises the industry and fixes prices and food production levels.

Welsh farmers receive £260m from the scheme, or 80% of their income, and there is concern they could be hit.

The European Commission has released plans to change CAP after 2013.

CLA Wales policy adviser Sue Evans, who is taking part in the Brussels talks, said: "The purpose of this reform must be to bring the whole of Europe up to the standard of the better-performing countries such as Wales."

'Cautious welcome'

A series of agriculture reforms has been carried out over the years, with one of the most significant the single payment scheme introduced in 2003, which pays farmers for the amount of land they have.

The plan is to stop that and introduce a fresh direct payments scheme with new entitlements from 2014.

The Welsh government has given a " cautious welcome " to the CAP proposals, but says "the work in negotiating the best possible deal for Wales starts now".

Deputy Minister for Agriculture Alun Davies attended the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers meeting in Luxembourg last week to discuss the proposals.

He said: "CAP must change because the world has changed, farming has changed and the challenges that the whole of society faces have changed, but radically changing the CAP or making changes too quickly would pull the rug from under farming, and would place the viability of businesses in jeopardy."

Mr Davies said the Welsh government and the UK government are in agreement on many aspects of the proposals.

But he said the Welsh government does not share the UK government's view on reducing the size of the budget overall.

Included in the CAP proposals are plans to dedicate 30% of farmers' direct payments so they adopt a greener attitude towards agriculture.

There are proposals for additional investment in research and innovation to ensure closer cooperation between the agricultural industry and the scientific community, and more encouragement for agri-environmental initiatives.

The Farmers' Union of Wales (FUW) has already criticised the draft changes, claiming it will "destabilise Wales' rural communities", and has launched a calculator on its website so landowners can see how much the planned changes could affect them financially.

Carmarthenshire farmer Bernard Llewellyn, chairman of NFU Cymru's rural affairs board, said farmers would need to do more to help the environment, which he called the greening process, and payments would be linked to this.

'Greatest concern'

He said: "Certainly there will be people, I'm thinking particularly not so much in this area, but people who are growing continuous cereals for example, who will have to probably start growing some grass and or some other crops to try and do something as far as climate change is concerned.

"That is part of the greening process where 30% of the budget is going to be in some form of greening. For those farmers that the only way forward.

Sue Evans, Wales policy director for the Country Land and Business Association, has concerns about farm payments being attached to the greening process.

"Our greatest concern is the way that this will affect our agri-environment scheme," she said.

"We're further ahead than most European countries on this, so we've already gone a long way down the road of greening.

"This is to try and bring everybody else up to our standard in my belief or to get them heading in the right direction."

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