Members of the Welsh National Farmers’ Union (NFU Cymru) Crops Board are “extremely concerned” over proposals of the Welsh government’s Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS).

The board met recently to discuss the contents of the third and final consultation on the scheme.

The consultation is open until March 7, with minister for rural affairs Lesley Griffiths urging Welsh farmers to take part in the consultation to make sure their views are heard.

The ‘Keep Farmers Farming’ consultation was launched in December and outlines proposals which, the Welsh government said, aim to secure food production systems, keep farmers farming the land and safeguard the environment.

Griffiths has said no final decision on the SFS will be taken until the consultation is completed and responses are considered.

The NFU Cymru Crops Board questioned the practicality for growers of many of the Universal Actions being proposed in the scheme.

Members also raised concerns around the data provision requirements within the consultation.

Chair of the union’s crops board, Tom Rees, said: “Board members were extremely concerned that several of the Universal Actions require scheme participants to supply and send in detailed information about their business to the scheme database.

“It is far from clear at this juncture what the financial value that government intend placing on data provision and the use they will make of it once in their possession.”

Welsh government

Rees said: “Much of the data Welsh government is requesting is data we already collate on our farm as part of the efficient running of our business and to satisfy supply chain contracts.

“We are not content to provide this data to government without a clear understanding of why they need it, how it will be used and who may have access to it.

“We also want clarity on how government will deal with any Freedom of Information requests in relation to this information.

“This data is valuable to us and potentially even more valuable to government. If they require it, then they must guarantee the privacy of that data and pay a fair value for it.”

Rees said the board also drew attention to the Universal Action relating to scrapes and ponds.

“Any new construction must be undertaken on improved land and their presence will have agronomic impacts in the fields where they lie,” he said.

“Although farm ponds would meet the requirements of this action, to add insult to injury for arable farmers, farm reservoirs e.g. irrigation ponds, which are often a haven for wildlife, will not.”

Welsh arable

Rees said the importance of the arable sector in Wales is “often underplayed” as well as the role crops play in food production, be it directly or indirectly through animal feed.

Arable and horticulture growers in Wales plays an important role in securing species diversity and the thousands of miles of hedges that surround arable fields, often with species rich buffer zones on the perimeters are hugely important for insects, birds and other wildlife,” he said.

“With so much of our cropped land located on coastal locations where wind and salt naturally check the growth of our hedges, I question how many of these field boundaries will be able to fit the requirements that Welsh government currently propose for these to be included in the scheme.”

“For the SFS to be truly universal it must work for all sectors and all locations. As they currently stand, these proposals will add costs, reduce farm output and, for many arable farms will not be viable. There is still time for a government rethink, for the benefit of all.”