Westminster’s decision to slash Wales's agricultural budget has been branded a “bitter blow at a critical and extremely uncertain time” for Welsh farmers.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed in Wednesday’s (25 November) spending review that Wales’s farming budget would be cut by at least £95 million for the coming financial year.
Wales’ agricultural and rural development budget was expected to have been £337m following a 2019 Conservative manifesto promise. But the 2021-2022 budget will now be £242m - a cut of around 28 per cent.
NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “The apparent £95 million shortfall in the Chancellor’s spending review is a bitter blow for Welsh farmers at what is a critical and extremely uncertain time for our industry.
“In the build-up to the EU Referendum and thereafter, we have been consistently told that funding for Welsh farming would be maintained and protected following our departure from the EU - we were told Welsh farming would not receive a penny less in funding as we move out of the CAP.
“Now we appear to be in a position where Welsh agriculture looks like it will lose £95 million of funding that it can ill afford to lose at any time, never mind with widescale and unprecedented changes and uncertainty lying ahead for the sector. We are a matter of weeks away from the ending of the Brexit transition period, with the potential for significant disruption to our markets for agricultural produce, alongside the massive disruption in the UK food supply chain caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Responding to the Chancellor’s announcement, NFU President Minette Batters said: “Today’s announcement presents a mixed picture for our farmer and grower members. For farmers in England, it is good news that the government has confirmed its manifesto pledge to maintain existing levels of farm support.
“However Welsh farmers appear to be facing a significant funding gap of £95 million, compared to existing EU funding. This is unacceptable and clearly not consistent with the government’s levelling up agenda. The UK government must preserve existing levels of funding for Welsh agriculture.”
Any reduction in Welsh funding puts at risk the unparalleled contribution that Welsh farming makes to society in Wales, being the cornerstone of the multi-billion pound Welsh food and drink supply chain that employs 229,000 across the whole supply chain with 78,000 of these employed in the Food and Farming Priority Sector, Davies warned. The prospect of such a funding cut is a severe blow to the industry’s future ambitions.
“We seek urgent clarification from our elected governments as to how they will resolve this funding shortfall," he said. "If our fears around future funding are realised, I am afraid it will be bleak news for everyone associated with Welsh agriculture and is clearly not consistent with the government’s levelling up agenda. It is simply not acceptable that Welsh farmers will be the ones left to suffer.”
The Chancellor's announcement came just days after devolved regions - Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - wrote to Defra Secretary George Eustice urging him to provide assurances that the budget for agriculture would be maintained.