Lesley Griffiths MS, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs
Today, I am pleased to announce the publication of the Agriculture (Wales) White Paper.
The White Paper sets out our plans for what may be the biggest change in agriculture policy for decades. It sets out our intentions for primary legislation, paving the way for the introduction of an Agriculture (Wales) Bill in the next Senedd term.
Our previous consultations, Brexit and Our Land and Sustainable Farming and Our Land, outlined our proposals for future agricultural policy and support. I am grateful for all the responses we received to these consultations. The contribution of a wide range of stakeholders has also been invaluable to the ongoing development of our future policy, and we continue to progress our evidence and analysis to inform and refine policy design. This White Paper is the next stage of this consultation process and I welcome further views on our proposals.
The agriculture sector is on the front line of the climate and ecological emergency. Together with the much more challenging trading environment the UK will find itself in after the EU transition period, a new approach to agricultural policy and future support is needed to enable the delivery of necessary change.
Welsh farmers hold a unique position in society, recognised for their role in producing a supply of safe, high quality food. We should continue to support them recognising that the competitiveness of farming, sustainable food production and improved environmental resilience are complimentary agendas.
This can be done by implementing a future system of support based on the principle of Sustainable Land Management. The White Paper confirms Sustainable Land Management will provide the overarching framework for future policy and support, enabling current and future generations of farmers to be rewarded for the sustainable production of food and for their contribution to the health and wellbeing of our nation. Adopting Sustainable Land Management will allow Government and farmers to work together to build environmental and economic resilience into farms and farm businesses.
The White Paper sets out our proposals to replace the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and other EU agri-environment schemes with a single direct support scheme for farming. Our proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme will reward farmers appropriately for the production of additional non-market goods (improved soils, clean air, clean water, improved habitat condition, actions to reduce global warming) at levels above those set by regulation through the management of land in a sustainable way. It will also provide advice and support for farmers and farm businesses.
To protect the environment and natural capital upon which we all depend and to maintain Welsh standards, it is also important we have appropriate regulation that is proportionate and effective. I want to improve the experience and effectiveness of regulation. The White Paper therefore includes proposals for regulatory reform of agriculture in Wales. To reduce the complexity of regulation, I propose to consolidate the patchwork of existing agricultural regulation into a set of National Minimum Standards, to make it easier for farmers to understand the legal requirements with which they must comply. We propose the National Minimum Standards would be applicable to all farmers in Wales, supported by advice and guidance.
It is important regulation is applied equally across Wales, monitored effectively and enforced proportionately. I want to encourage regulatory compliance as much as possible through clear advice and guidance. I also want to avoid the unnecessary criminalisation of farmers whilst ensuring a proportionate enforcement regime is in place to deter and enforce non-compliance. Therefore, I propose to introduce new enforcement mechanisms, through the use of civil sanctions, to ensure regulators can use an appropriate sanction depending on all relevant circumstances including, for example, the severity of the offence.
I recognise we are proposing a significant change for farms and farming in an already turbulent time. I have previously confirmed BPS will continue in 2021 to provide much needed stability and I can also announce today my intention to continue with BPS in 2022, subject to confirmation of funding from the UK Government. My aim here is to provide further certainty to farm businesses in the period leading up to the introduction of our proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme.
The consultation on the White Paper will close on 25 March 2021. The responses, along with all other relevant matters including ongoing engagement with stakeholders and the continued development of our evidence base, will be used to inform our ongoing approach to the development of future agriculture policy and legislation.
The consultation can be found here.