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Farming

Refusal of corrections to moorland map slammed by farmers

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moorland

Farmers have branded as “illogical, unobjective and unfair” the Welsh Government’s refusal to allow appeals against the incorrect categorisation of their land as moorland. 

In January this year, natural and food minister Alun Davies announced that payments in the moorland area would fall to around 10% of the rates payable in areas outside the moorland area. That moorland area is defined as land over 400m (1,312 feet) mapped as moorland in 1992 for the purpose of The Moorland Scheme. Farmers’ Union of Wales member John Yeomans, who farms with his wife Sarah near Adfa, Montgomeryshire, said: “On areas where my neighbours and I farm, that 1992 map was completely inaccurate, but we had no idea the mapping was taking place and there was certainly no offer of an appeal against the incorrect categorisation of our land. “In any case, The Moorland Scheme was voluntary, and there was no suggestion that more than 20 years later the map would be used to cut our payments by 90%.” Mr Yeomans described the minister’s decision not to allow appeals on objective grounds as “illogical, unobjective and unfair”. “If you took a seven-year-old child from the middle of London into our fields and asked them whether they thought it was moorland, they would give you a categorical ‘No’. “These areas are extremely productive improved areas of land, and no one in their right mind would describe them as moorland. “By introducing the 400m line the Welsh Government has massively reduced the number of incorrectly mapped areas which would have led to appeals and legal challenges, so it makes no sense not to allow the remaining handful of areas like this to be eligible for appeals based upon objective criteria.” Mr Yeomans’ comments come after the minister responded to correspondence from FUW president Emyr Jones highlighting the need for an objective appeals system. Mr Jones’ letter stated: “During successive meetings …stakeholders emphasised the importance of having an objective definition of moorland and an appeals process to allow land to be removed from the map if it did not meet that definition – not least because the original moorland map is now almost a quarter of a century old, and was drawn up for a voluntary agri-environment scheme, not a compulsory area based payment scheme. “We had been under the clear impression that this argument had been accepted, and are therefore concerned at recent suggestions by Welsh Government staff that grounds for appeals may be based upon administrative procedures rather than an objective definition of moorland.” In his response, Mr Davies stated: “There will be two grounds for appeal. First of all, moorland for CAP payment purposes must have been mapped as having moorland vegetation when the 1992 moorland vegetation map was drawn. “Secondly, if land appears on that map then it must now be at 400 metres or higher altitude. Thus the grounds will be clear cut and objective.” Further correspondence from the Welsh Government has confirmed that even if an area was wrongly mapped as moorland in 1992 it is not eligible for appeal. Mr Yeomans said: “Our land was wrongly mapped as having moorland vegetation in 1992 and is over 400 metres high, so it seems from what the minister and officials have said that there are no grounds for appeal. “In fact, it seems that the only way of securing a successful appeal would be to prove that fields have sunk below the 400 metre land due to an earthquake or some other similar natural disaster. “This is ridiculous when you consider that since long before 1992 the vegetation on our land has comprised ryegrass and clover varieties, including many bred by Aberystwyth’s Plant Breeding Station. “The land is not mapped as Open Access land under the CRoW Act, and was part of the Welsh Government’s demonstration farm network specifically because it was well managed grassland and not moorland.” Mr Yeomans said he was discussing possible legal action with others affected by the minister’s decision.

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Farming

FUW welcomes new minister

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Minister for the Environment: Hannah Blythyn

THE FARMERS’ UNION OF WALES has welcomed the announcement in continuity in the Welsh Government, following the Cabinet reshuffle (Nov 3), which saw Lesley Griffiths continuing in her role as Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, with the addition of a deputy, Hannah Blythyn as Minister for Environment.

Responding to the news, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “We welcome the continuity of keeping Lesley Griffiths as our Cabinet Secretary. Our working relationship has been a positive one and we look forward to continue working with her.

“With issues such as climate change and water management dominating agendas such as those listed in the Well-being of Future Generations Act, we are pleased to see Mrs Griffiths will be able to continue to fight for the interests of our rural communities – communities for which agriculture is a cornerstone.

“We are also pleased to see that Hannah Blythyn has joined the Cabinet. The addition of a new Minister recognises the complexity of the portfolio and we look forward to working with Hannah in the context of her remit.

“We met with Lesley Griffiths last week and will now seek a meeting with Hannah Blythyn at the earliest opportunity, to discuss those issues which are of concern to farmers and have an impact on all aspects of her portfolio.”

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Farming

Commitment on funding welcomed

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Addressing NFU Cymru conference: Lesley Griffiths

NFU CYMRU has welcomed the Welsh Government reaffirming its commitment to ring-fence funding for Welsh farming post-Brexit.

Last week NFU Cymru met with Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths AM, and in a wide ranging discussion covering a range of topics, Brexit topped the agenda.

Following the meeting, NFU Cymru President Stephen James said: “I am pleased that in our meeting with the Cabinet Secretary, Lesley Griffiths AM, she reaffirmed the commitment from the First Minister that funding for Welsh agriculture from the UK Government to the Welsh Government will be ring-fenced for Welsh farmers post-Brexit.”

The Cabinet Secretary’s commitment follows on from a response that the First Minister gave to Plenary on October 24 and reaffirms the commitment in the Welsh Government / Plaid Cymru Securing Wales’ Future document which stated that it is ‘essential that equivalent or greater resources to those Wales would have received from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are provided from the UK to support Welsh farming’.

Stephen James continued: “NFU Cymru’s message on future funding arrangements has been clear and unequivocal. Governments in Cardiff and Westminster must maintain current levels of investment for farming in Wales, to ensure Welsh farmers remain competitive and can continue to produce food to the highest standards whilst maintaining and enhancing our environment and meeting our climate change obligations.

“At Plenary, the First Minister mentioned that he would consider looking at alternate ways of working and we would absolutely agree with that. This is an opportunity for us in Wales to work collectively to create a new agricultural policy framework that helps to achieve our vision of a productive, progressive and profitable farming industry that delivers jobs, growth and investment for Wales.

“We see the development of a new policy framework as an evolution over a period of time, with the timeframe for change very much determined by our future trading relationship with the EU.

“With the UK Government having committed to the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament, the next step is for the UK Government to clarify how these funds will be allocated amongst the home nations. This allocation should be based on the current formula for distributing CAP funds within the UK.

“Farming is a long term business and we need clarity and certainty on a range of issues including funding, trade and future agricultural policy. Developing agricultural policy and budgetary frameworks should be developed in partnership between the governments of the UK, so that a common policy framework can be agreed. A common policy, but a policy which allows flexibility for each country to take account of the pattern and practice of farming within their country.”

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Farming

Family farms on the brink

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Under threat: Over 80% of small farms are struggling

FEWER than one in five family farms are making a profit from their farming activity, according to research undertaken by the Andersons Centre on behalf of The Prince’s Countryside Fund.

Analysis of data from 172 participants in the first year of The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme has shown that the average farm made more than £20,000 loss from farming activities, and instead is reliant on other income streams to make a profit.

The shortfall was made up by income from non-farming activity, such as tourism enterprises, renewables, direct selling of products to the consumer, or income from working off farm as well as farm payments.

According to the report, broadly speaking, farmers face two business choices in order to cope with declining economic fortunes: either to focus on a farming solution or to redeploy resources away from agricultural production. In reality, it may be a combination of the two or farmers may vacillate between the two courses of action with periods of off-farm work generating income interspersed with a focus on the farm.

There are, of course, two further options open to farmers. First, they may cease farming, either entirely through selling up the farm or by letting their land. Or secondly, they might tighten the belt and continue business as usual.

Worryingly, many operators of small farms, believe the near future will see them retiring or otherwise leaving agriculture altogether.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle, chairman of The Prince’s Countryside Fund said: “Although the initial figure is startling, the research from the Andersons Centre shows that farmers are increasingly looking at their farms as a business, and are proactively looking for how they can generate an income from diversified sources to remain profitable.

“This is more crucial now than ever. Farmers must develop their skills and improve their business confidence to survive. If they do not, the risk of extinction for the family farm is very real; farmers must act now to both strengthen their core farming business and to spread the risk.

“The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme is vital, because it equips farmers with the tools they need to remain financially stable. Maintaining diversity of farm size is essential to protect the British countryside and our rural communities.”

The Andersons Centre developed a bespoke and easy to use Business Health Check Tool for The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme, allowing farmers on the programme to benchmark their performance, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and make informed business decisions as a result. Data from this tool was analysed to identify trends and performance in the farm businesses involved in the initiative.

The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme aims to help 300 family farms, across 15 locations, each year. It brings together like minded family farm enterprises in local networks, to review their current activity and identify improvements and opportunities that can be made on-farm to build resilience, effectively helping farmers to take control of their businesses. Farmers who took part in the first year have confirmed they have higher levels of confidence in their business, better business management, and stronger communication within their family.

The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme directly addresses some of the issues raised in a report commissioned by the Fund from the University of Exeter, ‘Is there a future for the small family farm in the UK?’

The report detailed how the loss of small family farms would have devastating effects for the British countryside, leading to loss of employment, breakdown of rural communities, and potential negative environmental consequences. The report concluded that it was essential to maintain a diverse range of farm sizes, but that this was in significant jeopardy.

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