The National Sheep Association (NSA) has said it is frustrated at the Welsh government’s failure to acknowledge a request to join its Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) roundtable.

The trade association for UK sheep farmers said this was “disappointing” and further risks the future of the sheep sector in Wales.

The NSA said it made several requests to the government to join the industry roundtable set to discuss future SFS offerings in Wales.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker says: “It is extremely disappointing that the Welsh government has chosen to exclude NSA, the only organisation that solely represents the largest agricultural sector (sheep farming) in Wales, from its roundtable discussions.

“Collectively the sheep and beef sector in Wales supports more than 223,000 jobs and Wales’ biggest employer – the food and drink supply chain – that is worth over £6 billion to the Welsh economy.

“Not only this, but the sheep sector is by far the most accessible route into agriculture for new entrants and the next generation and it is an almost entirely land based sector with a direct relationship with the landscape and the environment.”

Stocker said the refusal from the Welsh government to engage with NSA indicates a “severe lack of appetite” to future proof the predominant livestock sector within the Welsh agricultural industry.

The Welsh cabinet secretary for climate change and rural affairs, Huw Irranca-Davies, chaired the first meeting of the SFS roundtable on June 6.

Following last month’s announcement of a new timeframe for the introduction of the SFS, the roundtable aims to provide the next opportunity to work collectively on the design of the SFS after the recent consultation.

The roundtable has representation from the farming industry, farmers, the wider supply chain, and veterinary, nature, forestry and food sectors.

‘Highly concerned’ at level of engagement

The NSA said it is in a unique position having been involved in policy and future farming scheme development across the UK and to date has “done its best” to support the Welsh government in its work.

“I am highly concerned that the level of our engagement since the new Farming Minister came into post has been zero, and I am not at all confident that Welsh government is making use of farmers experiences from scheme development in other nations,” Stocker said.

“There is still no facilitation for tenants, new entrants, share and contract farming agreements, commons, cross border farms or graziers.

“NSA welcomes conversations, pilots, and development of the SFS in Wales given the problems the proposals have created, and although there are fundamental elements that risk the entire thing being unworkable NSA does believe there are some valuable aspects to the current scheme proposals.”

The NSA said, following “several requests” to officials being met with no response, it will continue to raise the concerns of the industry and will also continue to offer ideas and solutions, “even if these have to be via unofficial channels”.

“Given the importance of sheep farming in Wales I will still say its not too late and would welcome engagement from Welsh government, which sadly so far has been lacking,” Stocker said.