The launch of an interim agricultural support scheme has been described as a shambles which could see some farmers’ payments fall by as much as 90 per cent.
Conservative, Plaid Cymru and Lib Dem politicians all added their voices to a chorus of criticism surrounding the Welsh Government’s Habitat Wales scheme.
Habitat Wales is replacing the Glastir sustainable land management scheme, which closes at the end of the year, until a new Sustainable Farming Scheme is launched in 2025.
Questioning the minister responsible, Samuel Kurtz told MSs that the Welsh Government carried out no economic modelling to inform development of Habitat Wales.
“It has been a shambles,” said the Tory MS for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire.
Mr Kurtz added that suggestions stakeholders had been involved in developing the scheme have been fiercely contested.
Lesley Griffiths replied: “I disagree with you completely that it's a shambles.
“This was something that, actually, the farming unions, particularly NFU Cymru, wanted me to bring forward.”
The rural affairs minister told the Senedd that if people wanted a seven-year predictable budget, then they should have voted to stay in the European Union
"That's what we had when we were in the EU and we had that funding year on year,” she said. “And I could roll it over, and I could extend it. That's gone – that flexibility has gone.”
She explained that no economic analysis was carried out because the scheme was brought forward quickly at the behest of the sector, adding that 1,600 farmers have signed up.
Mr Kurtz said Welsh ministers have the power to continue Glastir: “We've seen that in Scotland; we've seen that in England….
“You mentioned that 1,600 farmers have signed up. Three thousand Glastir contracts in Wales; 17,000 registered farms in Wales – 1,600 applicants is a damning indictment.”
Ms Griffiths stressed that the Welsh Government has protected the Basic Payment Scheme, the largest rural support programme, which has been cut by 55% in England.
The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) has estimated that 70% of Habitat Wales scheme forms that it has analysed include serious errors in terms of habitat mapping.
Llyr Gruffydd, for Plaid Cymru, said: “Minister, you've disputed the earlier description of the Habitat Wales scheme as a shambles, so, let's be kind: you have to admit it's been rather discombobulated in terms of the way that some of the mapping issues have played out.”
The shadow minister pointed out that three quarters of those in Glastir are not applying to the interim scheme, asking: “What does that tell you about the Habitat Wales scheme?”
Recognising that the Welsh Government needs to learn lessons from Habitat Wales, Ms Griffiths said: “I absolutely take on board what you say about criticism about mapping.”
Russell George, the Tory MS for Montgomeryshire, said he met the FUW last week and farmers are facing cuts of 65% to 90% if they apply to the new scheme.
He said: “Issues were raised around mapping errors, reduced payment rates, and, as they put it, a cliff edge for organic producers, making it difficult to make use of this scheme.”
Jane Dodds, the leader of the Lib Dems in Wales, told the chamber: “I met one female farmer and her daughter and she was in tears.
“She and her daughter are really not sure how they're going to keep the staff and the community that they live in, given that they are losing such a high degree of funding.”
Conservative MS Peter Fox raised concerns about support for an organic farmer in his constituency who will receive £700 compared with £16,000 from Glastir.
During rural affairs questions on Wednesday, 8 November, Ms Griffiths said she is hoping to bring forward a separate pot of money for organic farming.
She said: “I wish I could have carried on with Glastir with the amount of funding. And if the UK Government had given us the funding they promised they would, I could have.”