Welsh farmer protests begin with Wrexham roadblock
12th February 2024
20 tractors pulled up outside Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths’ office, as farming industry leaders urge that protests and blockading public roads should always be “the last resort” following strike concerns in Wales.
Reforms planned by the Welsh government met with the dissatisfaction of thousands of farmers, which resulted in talks about protests held around the country. This would follow actions taken by farmers in some European countries, including Germany, France, Poland and Italy.
They recently blocked city centres, highways and motorway slip roads with tractors, protesting against, among others, rising costs, tightening of regulations, and policy changes.
At the end of last week, about 3,000 farmers and supporters gathered at the Carmarthen showground in Nantyci in Wales, a week after more than 1,000 demonstrated in Welshpool. The protesters paraded with a mock coffin with a plaque ‘In memory of Welsh farming’. Other banners included slogans such as “RIP Welsh farming” and “no farmers, no food”.
Roughly 20 tractors and 15 pick-up trucks parked outside Rural Affairs minister Lesley Griffiths’ office on Rhosddu Road, Wrexham this afternoon (Monday 12th February) in protest to the sustainable farming scheme.
What is the Sustainable Farming Scheme?
Welsh farmers are now threatening to take action, claiming that the government has “turned its back on the countryside”. The publication of the latest consultation on the Sustainable Farming Scheme, which explains the funding for the industry after Brexit, has become one of the causes of the strike talks.
In order to gain access to the scheme, farmers and food producers will have to commit to planting 10% of their land with trees and earmark another 10% as wildlife habitat. Farmers, who altogether own 80% of Wales’ landscape, raised their concerns that the requirements of the scheme would overwhelm them with paperwork.
The scheme, which is set to come into force next year, has been opposed by the NFU Cymru farmers’ union, which fears it could lead to as many as 5,500 job losses.
Farmers are also concerned about the temporary environmental payments in 2024. The Habitat Wales Scheme financial boost is 45% lower than under the old system, the Glastir scheme. The Welsh government’s attempts to tackle TB have also met with farmers dissatisfaction.
They also worry about raising the costs of keeping their business and say they feel like their role in feeding the country is not respected enough.
No farmers, no food
According to the BBC, Meirion Owen, a smallholder and agricultural business holder, said: “Although the unions have tried their best, we all need to come together in a big force and our voices need to be heard in Cardiff, perhaps we need all to go down [to the Senedd].”
Farming industry worker from Carmarthen, Dorian Griffiths, added: “Without the farmers, there would be no food in the supermarkets for people who do not realise they are actually dependent on the farmers for their livelihood. This is a chance [to stop reforms] we can’t miss.”
The NFU president, Minette Batters, said that UK farmers share the concerns and frustration of their colleagues from around Europe. She added: “Years of unsustainably high production costs and crop losses because of extreme weather are putting farming families under mounting pressure.
“But the British public have demonstrated invaluable support. In 2020, more than one million people signed the NFU’s petition to safeguard British food and farming standards which led to greater government scrutiny over trade deals, and in 2023 nearly 50,000 signatures led to the Prime Minister hosting a Food Security Summit.
“We do not take this support or its influence for granted, and it’s why protests or blockading public roads should always be a last resort.”
Seriousness of the situation
Urgent talks took place last Tuesday, 6th February, after Welsh Government Minister for Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths MS, invited the presidents of the two farming unions to hear their views and discuss the serious concerns of Welsh farmers and rural businesses.
NFU Cymru President Aled Jones said he met with Minister Griffiths to express the “deep sense of feeling” and anguish that the industry is feeling at this moment in time. He added: “We left MS Griffiths in no doubt over the strength of feeling and seriousness of the situation following the robust feedback we have received from our series of roadshows.
“I welcome the fact that the Minister recognises the serious concerns of farmers and as such has agreed to meet and look at ways to address these issues. Having travelled the length and breadth of Wales in the past week and met with thousands of members, it is clear that the current Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) consultation and the proposals laid out in it are causing a deep sense of anguish and concern as members contemplate the future scheme and the implications on their own individual business.
“The Minister has assured me this remains a genuine consultation and so I would urge anyone with an interest in Welsh farming to respond and let the government know directly the strength of feeling that exists amongst our farming community. The information, briefings and response template are all available on the NFU Cymru website.”
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