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Written Statement - Support for the uplands of Wales through the Rural Development Programme 2014-20

Rebecca Evans, Deputy Minister for Farming and Food

The Welsh Government recognises the vital importance of Wales’ uplands. Wales’ uplands represents approximately 58% of the landmass of Wales and is a particularly valuable asset benefiting many people living in Wales and beyond.

It is essential, in terms of delivering  successful outcomes, that we take a holistic approach when developing support for the uplands. The Upland Forum took this approach when developing the evidence base for its ‘Unlocking the Potential of the Uplands” report launched in December 2012. The report considered the full range of opportunities available - commercial, social, and environmental - and this approach was endorsed by The Rural Development Programme (RDP) Advisory Group which recommended an integrated approach to the uplands in the design of the new RDP.

Businesses and communities in our uplands need to remain engaged of course, and I have asked my officials to continue working closely with key stakeholders in the design of the delivery elements of the RDP. We will work with farmers and wider rural communities in the uplands to develop and nurture enterprise and innovation.

The new Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020 will be innovative in its approach. The support available will focus on four key blocks of investment: Human and Social Capital, Physical Capital, Area-Based Measures and LEADER /Local Development. Farms and other businesses and communities in the uplands will be able to access support under each of these blocks to help increase their resilience and competitiveness.

The introduction of the new CAP Moorland boundary has been an issue of concern to some, particularly for those farms with a considerable area of land in the moorland region.  

However, listening to moorland farmers’ concerns, I have ensured there is a fair and transparent appeals process in place for those who wish to challenge the classification given to their land and I have asked Farming Connect to arrange bespoke, fully-funded business support arrangements that will help individual businesses assess the impact of the changes and provide the opportunity to consider options for alternative income streams. 
    
Our goal, in designing the new CAP arrangements for Wales, has been to minimise unnecessary turbulence in the move to area-based payments, while bringing the transition about in a reasonable timescale over the next five years. Having a moorland region reduces the severity of payment change to farmers across the whole of Wales. The move to area-based payments will nevertheless benefit many upland farms.

I have considered calls for the introduction of an Area of Natural Constraint (ANC) scheme under the next RDP but, due to the limitations imposed under EC Regulations, such a scheme could not be targeted to help those most affected and an un-targeted ANC scheme would continue or even amplify some of the inequalities our Pillar 1 reforms are attempting to address.  That is why my officials are working to develop a comprehensive RDP that will allow appropriate support for those farmers most affected and in order to meet the broader policy aims of the Welsh Government – delivering value for money and wider benefits for the people of Wales.

Glastir will continue to be a key programme in delivering for the environment and the future prosperity and resilience of agriculture and forestry in Wales.

In light of the significant  environmental benefits that can be achieved from managing moorland, the roll out of the Glastir Advanced scheme within the moorland zone will be prioritised under the next RDP. Our moorland holds the vast majority of our peat lands and a Glastir Advanced contract will be offered to applicants from those farms and commons with a majority of their land in this zone by the end of 2015. I recognise the importance of farming in these areas and further measures proposed for moorland areas in the revised Glastir scheme will include sustainable grazing management, bracken management and shepherding, and I urge farmers to become involved and take up the opportunities available.

The Welsh Government fully accepts the need to be flexible in its approach and in the medium term the new Small Grants and Habitat Network elements of Glastir will offer the opportunity for upland farms to undertake environmental works on only part of the farm, if this is the approach that works best for the individual farming enterprise.

The need to deliver a range of multiple objectives in the uplands has been clearly defined for the well-being of Wales. Climate change and global economies are evolving – we need to adapt. The continuing research and education from our universities and colleges are vital to this. That is why I fully support  the Welsh Government’s lease of Pwllpeiran Farm to Aberystwyth University and welcome the links with the ‘Farming Futures’ initiative. I hope to see over the next few years Pwllpeiran re-establishing itself and forging links once again with the grassroots farming industry to seek and share new research and innovation through knowledge exchange. Demonstration farms such as this will be a central building block of the knowledge transfer activities going forward to support upland farmers to meet the demands of consumers and the future prosperity of the farm business.

Another very important factor in providing resilience within upland farms and the wider farming industry  is new blood bringing with it fresh ideas.  I will be prioritising support for increased mobility within the agriculture sector generally and my officials are working closely with other interested parties to provide extra support to facilitate and encourage new entrants into farming in the uplands.

Investment is another important factor in helping farming businesses survive and thrive and under the next RDP the Welsh Government will be providing support for capital investment for the agriculture and forestry industries. This will give priority in the first instance for projects in the upland areas of Wales. Applications from farming businesses that show a commitment to reviewing their profitability and sustainability such as auditing their natural assets and the opportunities these can provide will be prioritised.

It is important that we consider the human element in any support going forward. The Welsh Government is working with Local Action Groups to ensure the LEADER model and Local Development Strategies sufficiently consider the specific issues of the uplands, such as sparsely populated areas, limited access to public services and the importance of the Welsh language. It is the locally variable challenges and opportunities in the uplands that make the LEADER approach so important.

Of course, for any programme to be successful it has to be outcome-focused and effectively monitored and evaluated. I have put measures in place to ensure that the impact of the Welsh Government’s activity in the uplands is accurately assessed and to enable programmes to be adapted in a timely and effective manner if that proves necessary.

The Upland Forum has recently ended its third term and it is clear that both Government and key stakeholders view the Forum as a successful body that should continue to provide support and guidance to the Welsh Government on all matters relating to the uplands of Wales. I look forward to working with the Forum as we jointly progress this important agenda.

Wales is currently negotiating with the European Commission over what is in financial terms its largest ever RDP. I am confident that this gives us the opportunities to create positive change in the farming and forestry industries, helping us to develop our natural assets, create opportunities for young people and build resilient businesses and communities through enterprise and innovation.