With concerns over the future of farming in Wales rising to the top of the political agenda, NFU Cymru members in Pembrokeshire recently met with local politicians to highlight their views on the new Welsh Government farming policies that have caused so much concern to the industry. 

NFU Cymru members in Pembrokeshire met with local politicians Samuel Kurtz (Member of the Senedd for for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire and Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs) and Stephen Crabb (MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire at a dairy farm near Pembroke Dock, with the meeting, kindly hosted by Roger Lewis and family at Poyerston Farm near Cosheston, an ideal opportunity for a discussion on a range of issues of concern to farmers in the county.

As well as Mr Lewis, the politicians met with a variety of NFU Cymru farmers and representatives to hear their first-hand accounts of being part of one of the biggest farming demonstrations ever seen in Britain, which saw more than 3,000 farmers journeying to the Senedd. 

During the farm visit the politicians were provided with a tour of the rotary milking parlour and were able to find out more about the Welsh Government NVZ rules, the Sustainable Farming Scheme and the ongoing struggles with Bovine TB which are colliding to threaten the future of farming in Wales. 

With the discussion taking place during one of the first spells of dry, settled weather for some considerable time, attention soon turned to the challenges posed by the recent weather events and Welsh Government’s NVZ regulations.

Mr Lewis said: “The last few weeks and months have been a perfect illustration of why the closed period and calendar farming approach set out in Welsh Government’s NVZ regulations simply does not work in a real-world situation.

“From 15th October there will be three month closed period running until 15th January 2025.

“We have had spells of weather and ground conditions in what will be a closed period from this October that were well suited to spreading slurry, whilst we have had very few periods since mid-January when the conditions have been suitable for spreading.

“These unworkable regulations will also have the effect of creating intense spreading pressures in the shoulder seasons, i.e. ahead of the coming in of the closed period this autumn and then again when the closed period ends at the beginning of the new year.

“Whilst farmers will be expected to have five months’ slurry storage on farm, if you factor in a planning system which leaves a lot desired you can see the very difficult position in which so many farmers find themselves.”

Turning his attention to Welsh Government’s Sustainable Farming Scheme, Mr Lewis said that as currently proposed, the scheme was not for him, and although he had some areas of woodland on the farm, the prospect of being mandated to increase the level of tree cover on farm to 10% by 2030, and in the process taking high quality land out of production simply did not make sense to him.

He continued: “As a dairy farm we are striving to be as efficient as we can when it comes to producing milk from forage; putting land into trees means that we will have less grass from which to produce milk.

“In addition to this, we need every hectare of land to count towards our eligible hectarage for spreading slurry, planting good land with trees means we would have to de-stock further to comply with Welsh Government’s NVZ regulations.”

Following a devastating TB breakdown in 2018, the Lewis’ farm has been in and out of TB restrictions for the last six years, something which has claimed a significant number of Mr Lewis’ milking herd and had a significant impact on milk production on farm.

Mr Lewis explained: “As a union, NFU Cymru has of course campaigned to eradicate this devastating disease and to tackle it in all its vectors including wildlife.

“It really pains me to see the continuing slaughter of cattle for TB control purposes while the disease is allowed to run rampant in wildlife vectors.”

Speaking at the end of the meeting, NFU Cymru County Chairman, Simon Davies said: “I’m most grateful to Sam and Stephen for joining us on farm. There are a number of issues which are really impacting on farming families and the viability of their businesses at this moment in time.

“We really need the government to listen, and I very much hope that Sam and Stephen can continue to press home our concerns with decision makers.”

Mr Crabb remarked: “It is clear from speaking to farmers today that a major overhaul is needed to the Welsh Government’s Sustainable Farming Scheme.

“The levels of stress and anxiety over all the new policies are justified and a lot of work needs to be done to restore the relationship of trust between Welsh Government and farmers.

He added: “Farmers need an agricultural policy that underpins local food production and support for securing resilient agricultural businesses and rural communities which is vitally important to Pembrokeshire.

“As the current policy stands, we are anticipating 5,500 jobs lost, a £200m hit to farm business incomes and 11% less livestock in Wales.” 

Mr Kurtz who helped lead the largest protest in the history on the steps of the Senedd towards the end of Februray, as thousands of farmers and those from rural Wales descended on Cardiff Bay.

He said that speaking at the protest was one of the ‘proudest moments’ of his life, both as a politician and as a farmer’s son.

A week later, NFU Cymru members created a stark symbolic display of 5,500 pairs of wellies on the steps of the Senedd to represent the jobs forecasted to be lost through Welsh Government’s Sustainable Farming Scheme proposals.

"Agriculture is the backbone of our local economy, yet the fear in the sector at the Welsh Labour Government's plans are real,” remarked Mr Kurtz.

“From TB and NVZs to the Sustainable Farming Scheme, Welsh agriculture has been under sustained attack by the Labour Government.”

"Working closely with Stephen, we've helped give a voice to our farmers either at the Senedd or in Westminster, to ensure that those fears are heard by the Labour Government in Cardiff.

"A prosperous farming sector is good for our local economy and good for our environment. Huge thanks to the local NFU Cymru team for the visit and the honesty in which they outlined the impact of the Welsh Labour Government's policies on farmers."

Mr Lewis concluded: “It’s been good to welcome both Samuel  and Stephen out to farm today, there are a number of factors which are really adding to the pressure on farming businesses at the moment, including of course Welsh Government NVZ regulations, the TB situation in Wales and changes to support arrangements for farmers under the Sustainable Farming Scheme and we are grateful to Samuel for keeping up the pressure in Cardiff on all of these issues which are in the control of Welsh Government. 

“When it comes to Westminster, NFU Cymru is keen to emphasise the importance of UK Governments making the right funding available via UK Treasury to support farmers in Wales, and we look to Stephen to help argue the case there.”