Farmers in Wales have finally been given a clearer picture of the timing of the introduction of a new system of farm support.
The Welsh Government has confirmed that the current Basic Payment Scheme will continue in its existing form for 2022 and 2023, subject to the UK government making enough funding available through the comprehensive spending review.
The intention is that a new Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) will begin in January 2025, with the scheme primarily designed to address climate change and biodiversity loss by encouraging sustainable food production.
The Welsh government has also committed more than £66m to allow existing Glastir Advanced, Commons and Organic contracts to be extended until December 2023.
Over 1.3m hectares of Welsh agricultural land is currently under a Glastir contract, so the extension of contracts will help to safeguard valuable work which has already been carried out under the agri-environment programme until Wales transitions to the SFS.
An additional £7m will be used to extend the Farming Connect programme – which offers business support to farmers and foresters – through to March 2023.
Frustratingly, no details are yet available about exactly what the SFS will look like and what the payment rates will be, which does make it hard for farmers to plan ahead.
The government has said it will publish an ‘outline’ of the scheme in 2022, which will give some detail on the specific actions farmers will be expected to take.
A final consultation will take place in spring 2023 and the government will then roll out an outreach programme in 2024 to engage farmers with the new scheme.
This means there remains a question mark over support payments in the 2024 claim year, but the assumption is that financial support in one form or another will have to be on offer to bridge the period between the 2023 BPS claim and the start of the SFS in 2025.
How can farmers in Wales prepare?
In terms of what farm businesses can do now to prepare for the future, there have been a number of grants made available which have a valuable role to play in developing farming businesses, so they are resilient and more sustainable.
The Farm Business Grant (FBG) is due to close for expressions of interest shortly, but offers funding for those wanting to invest in new equipment and technology that will improve technical, financial and environmental performance.
The Sustainable Production Grant (SPG), which was open for applications earlier in the year, also offered funding for farmers to address on-farm nutrient management and storage.
This has become a particularly pressing issue for many farmers following the introduction of an all-Wales Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) designation.
No details are yet available as to whether there will be further rounds of the scheme open in 2022 and 2023, but we certainly hope the budget will be made available to enable this.
In the meantime, our advice to farmers is to make time to step back and think about their business in an objective fashion, so they can start to prepare for the changes that lay ahead.
This process should involve reviewing all of their current activities, evaluating the impact of the likely reductions in BPS on the business and identifying strengths and areas for development.
Making firm decisions may be difficult until further details of the new SFS scheme begin to emerge, but now is the time to proactively think about ways to improve business resilience, ensuring they are fit for the future.