Lesley Griffiths AM, Cabinet Secretary Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs
In response to the period of exceptionally hot and dry weather earlier this summer, I brought together a range of stakeholders at the Royal Welsh Agriculture Show to discuss the action Government and the industry might take collectively to mitigate the issues farmers are facing. I have continued my discussions with industry representatives at the agriculture summer shows and conversations are ongoing at officials’ level too.
Whilst the weather and immediate forage situation has improved, I remain concerned about the medium and longer term cost and fodder availability implications for farm businesses.
In recognition of the current exceptional circumstances, I have taken the decision to make available a loan facility to farm businesses later this year.
European regulations set the payment window for BPS from 1 December to 30 June, and based on Wales’ excellent payment performance, I expect approximately 90% of farm businesses in Wales to receive their BPS payments on day one. To ensure parity between claimants, I will also introduce a loan facility for the remaining approximate 10% of farm businesses where the BPS claims are yet to be validated and therefore cannot be paid under European regulations.
Farmers will need to apply for a loan payment and Rural Payment Wales (RPW) will provide full details and make available an online application form in the autumn. Subject to the necessary terms and conditions being met, a loan payment of 70% of the individual farm businesses anticipated BPS 2018 claim value will be paid in early December 2018.
Payments to Glastir contract holders will commence in January 2019 as planned.
Communicating this decision at this time will provide farm businesses with assurance and the knowledge they need to help manage their immediate cash flow and plan their finances in the longer term, especially through the forthcoming winter.
I am conscious the Farming Unions have been calling for Welsh Government to bring forward the BPS 2018 payments. I have decided this would not be particularly helpful as making advance payments in October will not resolve the immediate or longer term implications of the exceptional weather conditions, and it would create an unfortunate disparity between businesses in terms of some receiving BPS payments while others would not.
The Farming Unions themselves recognise this position would be unfair and create further problems. Therefore, the introduction of a loan scheme is a better and fairer solution to the difficult circumstances affecting farm businesses this year.
In the short term, I am acutely aware of the human impact on farming families. I have therefore asked my officials to work closely with the agricultural charities, to decide how best the Government can support their work. In order to help address immediate financial difficulties, Welsh Government will be making a donation of £500,000 to help provide short-term support to those families in Wales who are least able to meet living costs.
Farmers struggling with cash flow issues should also consider contacting their bank or our own Farming Connect service. Farming Connect can signpost farmers to other organisations for further assistance and has in place a number of support measures to help review businesses and develop their resilience and I would urge farmers to contact Farming Connect to see what’s on offer.
I will continue to monitor the position closely and my officials will remain in constant contact with farmers and other stakeholders.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep Assembly Members and the industry informed. Should Assembly Members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.