Alun Davies, Minister for Natural Resources and Food
In setting out my vision of Shaping a more Prosperous and Resilient Future for Wales in my 2013 Autumn Statement, I outlined the need for a focus on key priorities, namely green growth, efficient use of resources, enhancing resilience and diversity and tackling poverty. Glastir is a key programme that will help deliver these priorities and ensure the future prosperity and resilience of agriculture, forestry and the wider rural economy. In my Written Statement of 22nd July 2013 I outlined that there would need to be changes made to Glastir to maximise the opportunities offered by the next Rural Development Programme. I have held widespread discussions with the industry, farming communities, charities and other organisations across Wales in the production of the proposals that I am releasing today. It outlines the future for agri-environment in Wales and sets out a vision for a more sustainable use of our natural resources..
Last year’s State of Nature report emphasised the continued decline in diversity within our natural environment. Targets, to meet our obligations under the Water Framework Directive, have also drawn closer and require significant intervention if they are to be met. At the same time, it is critical that we take advantage of every opportunity to use our natural resources to deliver our key priorities of creating jobs and growth and tackling poverty through smarter and more joined-up management. Recent extremes of weather and the impact this has had on communities in parts of Wales also highlight our vulnerability, and show that there is still much to do, if one of the biggest long-term challenges facing Wales –climate change – is to be effectively addressed. The human and monetary costs of not addressing the threat of climate change mean that this should be a driving force for ensuring that we look after our environment.
Individuals and organisations which manage our farmed and forested land areas are amongst the most dependent upon our natural resources. The profitability and long term viability of their businesses depends upon healthy, well functioning ecosystems. I am therefore encouraged by the number of land managers now participating in Glastir and, particularly in the significant increase that has occurred over since my stocktake.
I am, however, determined to accelerate the rate at which we sign up land managers to all components of the Glastir scheme and I believe the changes proposed in the consultation will facilitate this by simplifying the rules of access and by reducing the complexity involved in making and submitting applications. Under the new programme farmers will be able to apply directly to join the Advanced scheme without first joining the Entry element of the scheme. Under the new programme, access to Glastir will also become online only to reduce paperwork and streamline the application process. I also propose to simplify both the Advanced and Entry schemes so that more focus is given to delivering our core objectives through activities which generate greatest cross cutting benefit.
In my statement last week on the Implementation of CAP reform I made it clear that I believed that farmers in the moorland areas of Wales have an important role to play in delivering a sustainable and resilient Wales. I particularly believe that this should be recognised through our Pillar 2 proposals for the next RDP. Glastir is a very important scheme in respect of delivering this and the changes put forward reflect this. They include prioritising the roll out of the Advanced scheme on Moorland so that all farmers with sole grazed land in the moorland zone can be offered a Glastir Advanced contract. This complements the decision I took last year to prioritise all Commons for entry into the Advanced scheme. There are multiple benefits that can be secured from participation within agri-environment schemes in these areas and I am determined that all farmers in the moorland zone should have this opportunity. Additional changes proposed to Glastir within the consultation will also ensure that sustainable and diversified grazing regimes remain an important component in managing our upland areas.
In light of my announcement on direct payments to farmers, I have also asked my officials to look at how we can best deliver capital improvement grant support to farming businesses through pillar 2 by integrating the capital grants of existing schemes such as Glastir Efficiency Grants and the Young Entrant Support Scheme in to a single scheme that will encourage sustainable production across the industry. The consultation consequently includes proposals for a single new Sustainable Production grant. This grant will be available for all farmers to apply for and will provide support for the modernisation agenda which is critical if Welsh agriculture is to adjust to a decline in direct subsidies that is sure to occur over the coming years. The scheme will support the purchase of modern handling facilities, conversion to high sugar grass swards, improved livestock genetic developments and resource efficient infrastructure and machinery. Young farmers will continue to be offered a higher support rate. I see this grant scheme as an important tool in my vision for transforming agriculture in Wales towards a sustainable, more resilient and self sufficient future with less reliance on public subsidy.
This investment can only deliver the significant results I am seeking on behalf of the farming industry in Wales if land managers taking advantage of it have the necessary skills and training. All the evidence suggests that having the right skills is vital for both managing a sustainable business and delivering effectively on behalf of the environment. Access to advice and training will therefore be a fundamental part of the next RDP. I propose to widen the opportunity for co-operative working within Glastir to deliver environmental goods and services through financial support and the wider availability of development officers to facilitate joint working. Working with peers is one of the most effective methods to learn new skills and this will support that agenda as well as ensuring the concerted action required to meet our environmental and business resilience objectives happens on the ground.
Woodland creation remains a key priority if we are to meet our climate change targets and help adapt to environmental impacts, such as increased flooding. There are so many potential additional economic, social and environmental gains from woodland planting that I propose a significant increase in the allocation of the RDP budget for this measure under the next plan while also taking action to reduce the time to process applications and to stimulate wider interest. Through the Glastir Woodland Management scheme, I want to see more existing woodlands become resilient and used sustainably for the benefit of people in Wales. Support will also be made available to respond to the plant disease threats currently faced by woodland managers.
I have also listened carefully to those farmers who have said that they would like to do good work for the environment but do not necessarily want to join a whole farm agri-environment scheme. Therefore in 2015 I propose to launch a new small grants scheme and a part-farm habitat network scheme and the intention to introduce these will be included within the RDP submitted to the European Commission later this year.
These proposals will ensure that future prosperity is at the heart of our rural policies and provide real hope for a greener, more resilient and more sustainable future.
The full consultation is available on the Welsh Government webpage and is open until 28 March 2014.