Pwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig

Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee

20/10/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Luke Fletcher MS
Paul Davies MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Samuel Kurtz MS
Sarah Murphy MS
Vikki Howells MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Alexander Phillips WWF Cymru
WWF Cymru
Andrew Tuddenham Yr Ymddiriedolaeth Genedlaethol
National Trust
Arfon Williams RSPB
RSPB
Dr Jonathan Davies Awdurdod Parc Cenedlaethol Bannau Brycheiniog
Brecon Beacons National Park Authority
Eleanor Jarrold Cymdeithas Cominwyr Mynydd Eglwysilan, Mynydd Meio a Craig Evan Leyshon
Mynydd Eglwysilan, Mynydd Meio and Craig Evan Leyshon Commoners Association
George Dunn Cymdeithas y Ffermwyr Tenant
Tenant Farmers Association
John Lloyd Cymdeithas Genedlaethol Defaid Cymru
National Sheep Association Cymru
Rhys Evans Rhwydwaith Ffermio er Lles Natur
Nature Friendly Farming Network

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Gruffydd Owen Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Katie Wyatt Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Katy Orford Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Lara Date Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Masudah Ali Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Robert Donovan Clerc
Clerk
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:30.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Croeso, bawb, i'r cyfarfod hwn o Bwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig yn y Senedd. Dwi wedi derbyn ymddiheuriad oddi wrth Hefin David y bore yma, ond dwi ddim wedi derbyn unrhyw ymddiheuriadau eraill. A oes unrhyw fuddiannau yr hoffai Aelodau eu datgan o gwbl? Sam Kurtz.

Welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Senedd's Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee. I've received apologies from Hefin David this morning, but I haven't received any other apologies. Do any Members have any interests to declare? Sam Kurtz.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Oes unrhyw fuddiannau eraill yr hoffai Aelodau eu datgan? Nac oes.

Thank you very much. Are there any other interests to declare? No.

2. Papurau i'w nodi
2. Paper(s) to note

Symudwn ni ymlaen, felly, i eitem 2, sef papurau i'w nodi. Mae yna dri papur i'w nodi. Fe welwch chi ein bod ni wedi derbyn llythyr gan Gadeirydd y Pwyllgor Deddfwriaeth, Cyfiawnder a'r Cyfansoddiad, sydd yn cynnwys adroddiad ar gytundebau rhyngwladol. Fe welwch chi yn adran 2 o'r adroddiad, sef yr ail brotocol ychwanegol i Gonfensiwn Cyngor Ewrop ar Seiberdroseddu, fod y Prif Weinidog yn gyfrifol am seiberddiogelwch a bod Llywodraeth Cymru wedi cyhoeddi buddsoddiad mewn hwb arloesi seiber, neu cyber innovation hub, ym mis Mai eleni. Efallai byddai'n briodol, os mae Aelodau yn cytuno, i ysgrifennu at y Prif Weinidog i weld pa gynnydd sydd wedi bod ynglŷn â'r mater yma. A yw Aelodau'n fodlon â hynny? Ydyn. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Hefyd fe welwch chi ein bod ni wedi derbyn llythyr gan Gadeirydd y Pwyllgor Cyllid yn cynnwys ei adroddiad, ac efallai gallwn ni fel pwyllgor drafod y mater yma ymhellach yn y dyfodol i weld a oes unrhyw waith y dylen ni fel pwyllgor ei wneud yn sgil yr adroddiad yma. A yw Aelodau'n fodlon â hynny hefyd? Ydyn. Dyna ni. A oes unrhyw faterion eraill yn codi o'r papurau yma o gwbl? Nac oes.

We will move on, therefore, to item 2, namely the papers to note. There are three papers to note. You will see that we've received a letter from the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, including a report on international agreements. You'll see in part 2 of the report, namely the second additional protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, that the First Minister is responsible for cyber security and that the Welsh Government has announced an investment in a cyber innovation hub in May this year. It might be appropriate, if Members agree, if we wrote to the First Minister to see what progress has been made on this issue. Are Members content with that? Yes, I see that they are. Thank you very much.

You'll also see that we've received a letter from the Chair of the Finance Committee, including its report, and maybe as a committee we can discuss this issue further in the future to see whether there is any work that we can do as a committee in the wake of this report. Are Members content with that? Yes, I see that they are. Are there any other issues arising from these papers at all? No.

3. Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru): Sesiwn dystiolaeth 3
3. Agriculture (Wales) Bill: Evidence Session 3

Symudwn ni ymlaen felly i eitem 3. Dyma drydedd sesiwn dystiolaeth y pwyllgor yn ystyried egwyddorion cyffredinol y Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru). Rŷn ni'n clywed tystiolaeth yn y sesiwn yma gan ganolbwyntio'n benodol ar faterion rheoli tir yn gynaliadwy. Gaf i felly estyn croeso cynnes i'n tystion y bore yma i'r sesiwn yma, a gaf i ofyn iddyn nhw gyflwyno eu hunain ar gyfer y record? Wedyn gallwn ni symud yn syth ymlaen at gwestiynau. Efallai gallaf i ddechrau gyda Jonathan Davies.

We'll move on, therefore, to item 3. This is the third session for the committee discussing the general principles of the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. We're hearing evidence in this session, focusing specifically on sustainable land management issues. Can I extend a warm welcome to the witnesses this morning and could I ask them to introduce themselves for the record? Then we'll move on immediately to questions. Maybe I'll start with Jonathan Davies.

Good morning, everybody. Jonathan Davies, senior ecologist at the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority.

I'm Alex Phillips. I'm a policy and advocacy officer for WWF Cymru, and I'm representing Wales Environment Link.

Arfon Williams, RSPB Cymru.

Rhys Evans, Rhwydwaith Ffermio er Lles Natur Cymru.

Rhys Evans, Nature Friendly Farming Network Wales. 

Thank you very much indeed for those introductions. Thank you for being with us this morning. Perhaps I can kick off this session with a few questions. You'll see from the Bill itself that there is a definition of sustainable land management. I understand that that definition is taken from the United Nations. I just want to hear your views as organisations, what you think of that definition that the Government is using, because we have had some evidence from other organisations, like NFU Cymru, for example, who are suggesting, perhaps, that other definitions should be used. So, perhaps I can just ask for your views on that. Who'd like to go first? Alex Phillips.

I'll kick off. We are supportive of the United Nations definition, and I think it's the one we've been using throughout this process. We were slightly surprised it wasn't actually on the face of the Bill itself, and we understand that that's a legal drafting issue. I think we would very much like it to be there. We consider that definition to be quite current, quite advanced in thinking, and particularly the way it's framed as using the natural world simultaneously to ensuring goods are produced, which is a little bit less exploitative than perhaps the UN [Correction: 'World Bank'] one, but that's a matter of interpretation. I'd also say that the World Bank one is somewhat older. It would be slightly weird to us if the Welsh Government was basically building legislation that used something somewhat older than the UN one that's in use. So, we would support that.

What I think is also very important is that there are greater links to how we've already developed legislation in Wales. I think the ideal solution, from a WEL perspective, would be that we put that UN definition on the face of the Bill, but we also are more explicit about how it links to things in the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, for example. We already have the sustainable management of natural resources in the environment Act, and land is in there in its components already. So, why do we have two Bills here where the linkages between them aren't entirely clear? I'd rather see that happen, if that was my choice.

09:35

Diolch. Thank you. Just before I start, I'd like to say it's great to be back here in person as well. It's been a long couple of years; it's nice to actually be able to look you in the eye when we're having these conversations.

I think the definition is probably shaping up to be one of the more important things for us when it comes to the Bill. It's in the explanatory note, but, like Alex said, it really should be on the face of the Bill to provide clarity from the outset about what this Bill is about. Throughout the entire consultation process that's led up to this, we have questioned why the definition within the environment Act hasn't been used—'sustainable management of natural resources'—given that farming occupies 84 per cent of Wales. If we're not using the environment Act now to shape future regulation, when would we use it?

Having revisited the UN definition, I think it probably stacks up. I think it stands up well against the existing definitions we've got in Welsh legislation. I think the key bit, as Alex alluded to, is linking the definition to the four objectives. I think that then brings in the wider legislative framework in Wales. I think there needs to be something in there that links the United Nations definition to the four objectives in a way that those four objectives are considered and delivered as a collective, to avoid the situation where we might find cherry picking by Governments or farmers or third parties in future. I think that's a key area for us to focus on. We're considering getting some advice on this, but that will be definitely an area that we'll want to come back to the committee on. In short, I think we'll go with, 'We support the UN definition'.

On the alternative definition proposed by the unions, I think our concern there is it tends to focus on food and fibre and using natural resources for that means. I think you could almost apply that definition to the common agricultural policy—and look where that's got us to. I think there is a need to really look at what do we need a sustainable land management or an ag Bill to do, and it's securing that foundation for food production, for public goods, for all these other environmental benefits. Absolutely, we'd go with the UN definition here.

Ie, os gallaf i ddod i mewn. Diolch. I ategu beth mae Arfon wedi'i ddweud, mae'n neis cael bod yma heddiw. Diolch am y gwahoddiad. 

Yes, if I can come in. Thanks. To echo what Arfon said, it's nice to be here today. Thank you for the invitation.

I'll just pick up on something that Alex mentioned, that definitions can be open to interpretation. They're quite subjective, I guess. One issue that we have, potentially, with the sustainable land management definition is just the word 'use'. It's sort of extractive in its nature, if you like. It suggests that land is only there to cater for human needs, and fails to recognise the intrinsic value of nature and ecosystems, if you like. That is one of the principles of sustainable management of natural resources that's in the environment Act.

I would argue that, potentially, the definition could be underpinned by a set of principles perhaps to give it a bit more weight and guidance. We'd suggest the 10 principles of agroecology, as per the UN definition. These include: diversity, knowledge sharing, building synergies, resource efficiency, recycling, resilience, human and social value, culture and food traditions, responsible governance, and circular economy. So, that's a really holistic and integrated approach to land management, to food production, which covers the whole attributes of sustainability, if you like. If we use that, I think it would help guide and steer the Bill.

09:40

Thanks. Just very briefly, to reiterate what Arfon said about the older definition of the World Bank. The only real difference between the two definitions is this focus on rising demand, and that's a steer towards objective 1, which we really want to avoid—that one objective comes above the others. I think one of the other reasons why the older definition went out of vogue is because it shifted the emphasis of rising demand onto sustainable land management and obscured the importance of things like consumer choices, waste and distribution, and the impact that has on food supplies.

You'll obviously note from the Bill that there are four sustainable land management objectives. Do you think that the four objectives are appropriate and, if not, would you want to add objectives to this Bill? Arfon.

I think they are. I think it's good to see food in there; I think it's a key objective of future policy. On the objective 1 though, I think there needs to be greater definition around what producing food in a sustainable manner actually is. So, it's good it's in there, but I think there needs to be clarity around some terminology in there.

I'd like to focus on objective 3 just for a minute or two, because, throughout this entire process, Government has been very clear about the objectives of future policy, and the schemes that are going to flow from this are helping farmers to produce food sustainably, to tackle climate change and restore biodiversity. Given that Wales is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, this policy and associated schemes have a huge role in helping restoring nature in Wales. So, I think, on objective 3, what we would like to see is greater prominence to nature in objective 3 and throughout the Bill. We'd like to see that objective amended to include restoration. I think there's a need to recognise restoration throughout this Bill, because there's a lot in here about maintenance and enhancing. All the evidence shows that we've got a lot of work to do yet to get to the point where we're just maintaining. So, I think restoration needs to be brought into the Bill as a purpose of the Bill, and greater prominence given to biodiversity, because without biodiversity, we don't have the ecosystems that we all depend on. So, for example, for objective 3, we'd like to see it written as 'restore, maintain and enhance biodiversity and the resilience of ecosystems and the benefits they provide', as an example of how we see biodiversity being given greater prominence in here.

I'll chip in, if that's all right. I agree with the objectives; I agree with what Arfon has just said as well. It would be good as well to allude to the wider food system and supply chains within the objectives, including promoting shorter supply chains, local food economies, and promoting food sovereignty as well: our ability as consumers and growers to make our own decisions and that more local governance, with the overall aim to increase farm-gate prices. 

In addition to what's been said, and quite similar to the point Arfon made on objective 3, on objective 2 around climate, most farmers will be experiencing reduced resilience, increased incidence of droughts and floods, as a result of very long-term ecosystem degradation, and so more emphasis can be placed on restoration, not just to enhance and maintain ecosystems. There's a lot of potential for ecosystem restoration and to improve resilience that way. Due to a shifting baseline syndrome, people aren't necessarily fully aware of what can be achieved. So, that can be strengthened.

And while I have the microphone, just on objective 4, for the national parks, there are important considerations around rights of way. It often falls under the responsibility of national parks, and there's opportunity to look at cross-compliance, with an access element, and then ensuring appropriate standards on those rights of way.

Good morning, everybody. Isn't it a bit of a pretty fundamental difference that, at the outset, we can't agree on a sustainable land management definition, given that this is what underpins the agriculture Bill? Jonathan, you noted the differences between the two. I would say that the World Bank definition includes sustaining livelihoods as well, and the broader context that agriculture plays in terms of community employment and economic activity. Isn’t there a place, then, to amalgamate the two, or look for a new, organic definition that both sides—I hasten to say ‘both sides’—that can be agreed by all parties and stakeholders involved in this, to try and at least have one link at the beginning, an anchor, that all sides agree on? Jonathan.

09:45

Thanks. Yes, of course desirable, and I think the two definitions that we’re looking at are actually pretty convergent, but of course, the devil’s in the detail. As I said, it’s about where you put emphasis on the objectives. We would like to see equal emphasis on the four objectives delivered in concert.

I think the—. I’ve lost my train of thought there. I might have to come back to you on that one. Give me a moment.

Yes, I don’t disagree with any of that, and I think by linking an overarching objective based on the UN’s objective, linking that to the four sub-objectives, then, does that. I’ve thought hard about this, because I listened to the union’s evidence at the start of the week, and I could see where they’re coming from, but I think their concerns would be met by having one of those four objectives as written, I think, they include food, they include culture, language, communities, and they include that kind of economic aspect that you’ve pointed out there. All of these things are critical, and all of these things are essential for securing sustainable development going forward. So I think they’re in there, but rather than pushing any one of those up into the main objective, I think having them given as that list of four objectives beneath something we can all agree on is vital. And I think, for the same reason that you’ve given there, Sam, having that something that we can all agree on at the top of this is vitally important, and we need something, I think, on the face of the Bill that we can all agree on, and then what it means in a bit more detail stems from that. But I think the two things need to be linked.

But at present that’s the problem—that’s not agreed on. The sustainable land management definition isn’t agreed on, so that’s work that needs to be required for all NGOs, all stakeholders, all active involvements in the agri Bill, to have that first anchor point, as I mentioned. Rhys.

Yes. I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t come up with a bespoke, organic definition. We don’t have to rely on existing definitions. I think this just reiterates the point I made that definitions are subjective, and we could spend all year just looking at a single definition. I’ll reiterate again, if the principles of agroecology were included within the Bill, they cover, I think, everything that we’ve talked about. They cover the environment, climate and biodiversity, food security, culture, tradition, Welsh language. Agroecology looks beyond just how food is produced and the particular farming system that a farm adopts; it looks at the whole supply chain, society—all aspects, if you like. So I think, yes, if we went down that route it would tick a lot of boxes.

I would agree with the points made, really. It’s about making the whole Bill work at different layers. We can become very obsessed with one part of it, but it needs to be structured all the way through it. I think there’s a particular concern, for example, about how these objectives are being applied, and it’s not entirely clear in the text of the Bill how they are to be interpreted. The scheme is clearer, but obviously the scheme will happen much later, and isn’t subject to the level of constraints that you guys can put on legislation. So I’m always very nervous about leaving stuff to come along later in terms of policy, because you don’t have much of a democratic say on that a lot of the time. So we need to make sure that this highest level works as well as it can. To give you an example, another Minister’s talked about how the objectives are complementary, but then there are other circumstances where you don’t have to apply all of them, perhaps. So it’s like, 'Okay, how does this really work?' I’d like to see this nailed down quite a bit really.

I think if you were to look at the objectives that are there, I’ve heard arguments that they do cover all elements of sustainability. I think that’s open to interpretation, but I can see the logic of that. More could be added—fine, it doesn’t really matter as long as—. If they’re working together well, and they’re interpreted correctly, I think that’s the key goal here, because we have had a bit of a history in Wales of not really applying sustainability particularly clearly in terms of the hierarchy of sustainability. I'm often told that, in order to have environmental sustainability, you need to have that economic stability, and it's like, actually, the literature completely inverts that at a global scale. It's about having that ecology layer functioning, and then you build society and the economy out of that. Sometimes, we invert it, and that's what the common agricultural policy used to do. I think we see that that's not really given us the outcomes that we want. 

So, yes, we need to agree about a definition, and I think sustainable food production, even the layer down, is the bit that we're not entirely all aligned on, but if I was going to pick one definition, I would pick the UN one, and I would seek to ground it in existing Welsh legislation where we already have clarity a bit more, rather than bring in other things. But, I'm not going to die in a ditch over which one we use and say it has to be precisely this one; I think we need to come together and work on it. And a key part of that is going to be what the indicators and targets are for each objective as well. Maybe we'll come on to that later, but the way these all fit together is going to be critical to that interpretation, and I don't think there's any clarity in the Bill as to what they will be. In fact, it pretty much gives the Government a blank cheque to design those later, which is always a little alarm bell in my head when you do that. I do wonder how this Bill could be constrained slightly better to say, 'Actually, this objective needs to be interpreted in terms of these indicators and these targets—climate being the obvious one'. If you've got a climate objective, there's going to be something about emissions at the back end of this, otherwise it doesn't really make sense. So, can the Bill talk about that a bit more clearly? It doesn't have to be exhaustive, but it has to just say, 'Actually, we expect X, Y and Z to be there', otherwise there's too much of an open goal for them to do whatever they want later down the track, which, as I say, always worries me.   

09:50

And in terms of the objectives, how suitable are the Welsh Ministers' duties in relation to these objectives, do you think? 

The main thing I would add there is a duty to deliver them as a job lot, so we avoid the risk of cherry-picking our objectives. So, I think a key bit in here is to consider them as a whole and then to make decisions based on what's going to contribute to all four objectives. 

I do wonder if there's scope here to maybe borrow some old language from the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. So, the Bill here says that Ministers can take action that best contributes towards achieving the objectives—plural. The well-being Act talks about maximising contribution and taking all reasonable steps. We've already had six, seven years of applying that; we can nit-pick over how well or not it's been done in certain circumstances. But there's quite a body of civil service thinking about maximising contributions. I do wonder if that—. I've always described it more as an inflationary model, where you're maximising all parts of it, and rather than trading off it's more about seeing how far you can go. And maybe that language we've already got in Welsh law might be a better way of framing it, and that brings it all together in a way that means that you can't cherry-pick, because there is a risk of that perverse situation where a Minister down the road may reinterpret things. 

To give you an example, my colleagues at the UK level at the moment, given the changing dynamics of British politics right now, they're going back to the agriculture Bill and going, 'Actually, what scope is there to reinterpret what's written here to do something very different?' And that's always slightly concerning, because, obviously, that wasn't the democratic intent that was put forward at the time it was written. So, if there are big holes you can drive a bus through, really, they need to be tightened up. Now, I don't have that work back to me yet, but maybe it's something I can supply to committee in future about how you tighten up definitions to prevent perverse circumstances occurring, because you don't want to be in a situation where some participant, 10 years down the road, is cherry-picking what they do, and only meeting some of them. That basically means that the whole purpose of the Bill falls on its face. 

Okay. And are the Welsh Ministers' monitoring and reporting duties in Part 1 sufficient, in your view, to give an overall picture of progress on the objectives? 

I'll chip in. 

I think we welcome the ambition to develop indicators and targets, but I think one point I'd like to make is that there's just the requirement to consult with the future generations commissioner when I think you need to consult with a breadth of different stakeholders across the entire food system in developing these. The stakeholder process to date has been very inclusive, and it would be good to see that continue when these are being developed.

And likewise, with the sustainable land management report, agree with those, holding Government to account almost, in terms of ensuring value for money and a bit of transparency, in terms of how money is spent and how it then links back to the objectives. But this really needs to be backed up by on-the-ground monitoring of farms—'you can't manage what you don't measure' is the mantra. And to date, with agri-environment schemes, there's been a considerable lack of monitoring. It's a constant frustration amongst farmers that sign-up for a five, six, seven year agri-environment scheme—no-one then comes out to monitor whether those actions or the land management practices have had any effect on the desired outcomes. So, that really needs to be in place in order to inform the monitoring and reporting that the Welsh Government does.

And on top of that, encouraging benchmarking as well, and benchmarking of environmental, including biodiversity and carbon performance as well. Because, to date, the benchmarking has been focused on productivity, production, efficiency, so marrying that with the environmental performance for a more integrated approach would be welcome.

09:55

I'd just reiterate that point, really. I think that bit about co-production is key. We've got to this point for the last four, five years, of everyone working really well together, and I can only commend the way the Welsh Government has run the co-production process. It has got all of us, all the unions, all the interested parties, together, over many years, in consultations and meetings. And what you see here is a result of that. I think that's why no-one was that surprised by it, and everybody is reasonably happy—no-one got everything, but that's the way co-production works.

So, I worry about the bit about the indicators, as I mentioned before, and how that suddenly disappears, and it's up to a Minister to decide who they will consult with, in what terms and what reports they look at. Because a lot of the time, it can be just asking themselves in this situation. And when you specify the future generations commissioner, that's good, and I don't think you could ever make a Bill that was exhaustive, but I don't see why you couldn't also say 'representatives of the farming community, of charities, of environmentalist community groups' as well. That's not exhaustive, but it just gives a little bit more constraint over what Ministers would do. And similarly, on how the indicators are defined.

I think that that benchmarking point is critical. The weak link has often been NRW enforcement budgets, as one example, and Welsh Government going around and scanning these things. Benchmarking needs to be more than just your immediate competitors. I always give this example of the Six Nations: we all play each other every year, and we think we're pretty good, but then we come up against some of the southern hemisphere teams, and realise that we get beaten quite badly. So this idea of just benchmarking against your mates, sometimes, can not lead to the best overall results. So, maybe we need to think a bit more about that, but that's a lot of questions for later in the programme.

I think it's a really important part of the Bill, so it's good to see it there. What types of indicators and what types of targets will be critical here, because the Bill is setting out to do so much through the subsequent schemes. I think it would be good to see some actual indications on the Bill of what some of those targets and indicators will be: biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, species extent, carbon sequestration—these sorts of things. A bit more clarity around what those indicators might be. I support everything Alex said about the decision-making process about the targets and indicators.

I also want to pick up on something that the union said and lend some support to their concerns about the reporting periods; these are one-year and five-year reporting periods. Well, if we're looking to invest in land management, that's around securing environmental benefits. Sometimes, it's going to take—well, it will take longer than five years to see those types of results. So, I think we need to have these reporting periods somehow set within a longer time frame as well, because I know, with previous schemes, there's always been the danger of, 'this hasn't worked because they're five-year schemes, then we'll do something else'. Well, in fact, if you're going to start investing in some of the restoration of habitats and ecosystems, that is a long-term commitment, and you might not actually get the results that you want to see for a considerable period down the road, but things will be happening, so the system needs to work for that as well. And I'm sure there'll be examples from within the industry itself around efficiencies and being more cost effective where the same rationale applies. My concern is the short-term nature of some of this.

10:00

So, in the national parks, criticism's often levelled at the fact that the largest part of the land there is used for farming, and the contribution that farming can play to the conservation goals, the statutory purpose of the parks, is often debated, because it doesn't have that long term. One of the key measures of effective conservation is the longevity of it and so that's an important point—to ensure that we have indicators that can track change in the long term and not just in shorter cycles.

Under that third objective as well, we need to make sure there are sufficient indicators. It's a very complex objective; you have to have indicators of water as well as land health. And within the text itself, it talks about these five elements of ecosystem resilience, and demonstrates just how complex an issue that is and how difficult to measure. So, as a minimum, you need to have an indicator that relates to each of those five elements, if you're going to really track progress effectively.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. If I could move to agricultural support, I'd be interested in learning your views on the list of purposes where support may be provided. I'm not sure who wants to pick up on this first. Rhys, yes.

Yes. I'll cover it. I agree with the list of purposes for agricultural support. A bit of ambiguity, I guess, around, yes, encouraging food production, or sustainable food production—what does that actually mean? That could be tightened up. I would include financial support as well for infrastructure, technology, machinery, equipment that are linked to sustainable land management objectives. I think farming is a really capital-intensive industry, and the investment required to run a farm isn't cheap. And, currently, the market prices don't cover the cost of those investments. So, if we can include that in the support, the NFFN would welcome that, as well as potential payments for education as well around food and farming. So, we, as farmers, we have a role to play in educating the public, schoolchildren, colleges, about where food comes from, how our food affects nature and climate, its role in supporting vibrant rural communities et cetera. So, a provision to encourage that, I think, would be most welcome.

I think it provides a pretty comprehensive framework, and it's a good starting place. How effective it is will depend on how that's then translated into action and measures and payments through the future scheme. And also, the underpinning regulation is going to have a huge role in enabling this as well. And we might come on to regulation later on, but, if we don't, just to say now that we're concerned there's no reference to national minimum standards or the need for regulation to ensure that there are the national minimum standards in place by the launch of the new scheme. So, I think, as a place to build up from, then it looks pretty solid.

What I would say, though, is that there is reference to resilient ecosystems in there, which implies nature, biodiversity. But I think there needs to be direct reference to restoring nature and biodiversity within as a purpose, and I base that on a couple of reasons: (1) this is Welsh Government's main delivery mechanism for restoring biodiversity in the wider countryside, and a lot of the other purposes, you could argue, well, they'd sit within that definition anyway, but things around climate change are singled out and identified as a purpose on the face of the Bill. So, if the Bill is promoting and prioritising climate change, we have an equal emergency through the nature emergency, and I think the Bill should give equal weighting to restoring nature as well. So, I think we would like to see the restoration of nature listed as a priority, and in that I'm talking about priority habitats, species and protected sites, because, I think, at the moment, it's just kind of assumed that it sits within the resilient ecosystems, and there's a danger that that then lends itself to—I think Rhys made the point—a utilitarian approach to ecosystem resilience. But, if we're going to restore biodiversity, and if the Bill is going to be a part of that, we need to think about species and protected sites and priority habitats as well. 

10:05

I'd reiterate. I think the same criticisms that could be made of the purposes also apply back at the objectives. It's about, 'Well, what does all of this actually mean?' We've got the advantage of having seen the draft sustainable farming scheme, so we kind of know what fits beneath this, but the question becomes—. At the political level, it's like, 'Well, okay, that's for policy later'—how much of a free hand do you want to give a future Government or Minister to design this around that? So, it's about making sure that they're constrained to the point where it is delivering the purposes of it. But I think, in general, they are very good. I think, from a nature and climate perspective, it just comes down to those actions below it, and also how other elements of Government policy interact with this. There is a point on transition, which we may get on to, about how long it's going to take and whether or not this will be sufficient when we get there, but that's for later.

I think, if I were to add anything in there—. And I've not lawyered this, but one of the things that we're quite interested in, and other organisations like the Landworkers' Alliance, is about, 'Well, how do you support succession, new entrants, different ownership models and that kind of thing?', and what's meant by that is often community-supported agriculture, and how can the scheme deliver that more. So, to give a very basic example, if a farm wanted to run veg or meat box schemes, then maybe there's something in the collaborative tier that would allow you to get money to run that, or a third party to get money to organise that kind of thing. Now, the way the purposes are written, it's a bit difficult to get that in. If you were to say something like, 'Improve community access to local food', for example—lawyers would think of a better phrase than that, but that kind of thing allows you to do a lot more of that stuff, and I think that's going to be particularly important as we move into the future of agriculture, because I think a lot of where we've come before has been based on old ways of doing things, old definitions. Minimum hectare limits is a good example about that; that's designed in the context of very big, large farms at European scale. If a community wanted to do some horticulture, for example, you don't need very much land, and they might not be able to take advantage of this kind of thing because of that. So, maybe there's movements around that might, as I say, look better, but, in general, the purposes are quite good. I would take the points that Arfon said about how do you make nature a bit more prominent.

Yes, thanks. In the national parks, our primary purpose is the recovery and conservation of nature, and most of that nature is managed by farmers. So, absolutely, stronger language—explicit language—around biodiversity, species habitat and nature recovery will actually create opportunities, I think, to go above and beyond in the national parks and to get closer to fulfilling that purpose. 

Can I just make one additional point, then? In the mention of ecosystem resilience, the Bill could make a specific reference to the DECCA approach, which is the attributes of ecosystem resilience, so, diversity, extent, connectivity, condition and adaptability. So, a more specific reference to that might quell some of the concerns that we might have, and bring more quality control to the aspects of nature recovery.

Thank you. Thank you, Rhys. So, to be clear, then, there's a good base here in terms of the list of proposals, but, coming back to what Arfon said, climate change is fairly prominent in there, and there's the need to address that balance then with the biodiversity crisis as well. Did you want to add anything additional on that particular point? Because I'm trying to ascertain as well how far you think the proposals go in addressing that nature and climate emergency, but I was interested in your comments around the biodiversity element and nature in particular. 

Yes. I think there's a danger throughout this entire process that it tends to be about sustainability, a big focus on climate change, and then biodiversity as almost like the poor cousin in all of this, and I think, if we're going to get serious about restoring biodiversity, we need to give it the prominence that it deserves, and I think we also need to start thinking about what restored biodiversity looks like, and that is the points that Rhys made there, these bigger, better, more joined-up sites, making sure that our best sites are protected sites, are managed effectively, not forgetting the fact that, if we fail to restore the populations of these rare and vulnerable species we've got in Wales, then we'll have failed in our biodiversity commitments. So, there needs to be space in here to ensure that the Bill—or the scheme—is also an effective way of restoring things like curlew or water vole or black grouse or all these kinds of things that are on the verge of extinction within Wales. So, yes, I think we need to bring biodiversity properly into the debate and that it's recognised. If we don't get this one right, working for biodiversity, then we won't be talking about one in six species at the risk of extinction—we'll be talking about all these species that have gone extinct. So, this is our one chance. This is the one opportunity to put in place legislation and schemes that will enable farmers to undertake the right type of management to benefit the species. And it is about opportunities. Like Jon was saying, it is about opportunities, like building the opportunities for that.

10:10

Do you want to add anything additional, Jonathan, as an ecologist? Putting you on the spot now.

Yes, thanks. I was going to; I wanted to add something. I think it's important not to miss the crossover between nature recovery and climate change. All the points are in there, but they're not tightly connected, and I think there are opportunities there. That was prominent language at the COP26 negations in Glasgow, right, around nature-based solutions, and some of the best no-regret options for both mitigation and adaptation to climate change come from restoring nature, and that’s a huge opportunity here. And when we talk about climate change and agriculture, we shouldn't only be thinking about emissions reductions, but thinking about the positives that we can also promote.

One last point on that.

I'd argue that you could tackle the climate crisis, so reduce your emissions and increase sequestration, but that doesn't mean that nature recovers as well. So, both need to go hand in hand. And without nature recovery, our ability to produce food is compromised. So, any activities that we as farmers undertake to tackle climate change should also consider its effect on biodiversity as well.

Great. Thank you. One last one from me, Chair, before I hand back. I'd be interested to know your views on how far you think the proposed approach ensures income stability and food security. Shall we start with Alex, since I didn't give you an opportunity last time?

That's fine—there was very little I could add to what everybody said about biodiversity. I think what we've always looked at is—. Well, when we talk about food security, we much prefer the idea of food sovereignty. Food security, strictly speaking, doesn't really talk massively to how things are produced and for why. It wouldn't be a surprise to anyone here to know that there is a large misalignment between Welsh production and Welsh consumption at the moment. Most of what we produce is not consumed here and there are opportunities to do that differently, and I like a lot of what’s in the scheme to promote more shorter loops to basically make people—. Because food security, ultimately, is supplied by access to other markets and bringing food in and out kind of things. There's a debate to be had about the role Wales has in wider food supply. But if we're talking strictly about what Wales is, then there is scope to do things very differently to what we can do, and I do like a lot of what the scheme nods to, particularly around changing habits and nods to global responsibility as well.

I think a similar point that Jonathan made is that there's a lot of good stuff in the scheme and the Bill, but you often can't see the obvious join ups between what it's trying to do. I think if your head is in it, you can see, okay, well all these things add up and you’re trying to deliver a particular goal, but it's not particularly clear on the face of it that that's the intent—the same, to some extent in the scheme, but it's better there. So, maybe there's more clarity needed around that.

But I do think that, in terms of, 'Will there be financial security in this?', I think we've seen, over the past couple of decades, financial security in farming is not something that has, traditionally, been closely aligned. It feels, in recent years, we've leapt from one crisis to another, and we've always sort of said, 'Well, actually, that environmental outcomes model does offer a lot more sustainability than what we've had before.' You’re not chasing certain things. The problem—I think Rhys can probably say a lot more about this—is about how the finance of farming is set up around certain productivity goals. So, that might make transition quite difficult, and we need to be careful that we don't face any kind of cliff edges. I think that's to be missed. But, if you have the idea of peatland restoration or woodland, that should provide some guaranteed incomes over a very, very long time, and the scheme needs to have that built into it, and I think from that you might get greater stability over the medium to long term, and I think that's something we should be chasing, really, not, 'There's another crisis that's happened; we need to change what we're doing.'

10:15

I would challenge the notion that nature-friendly farming, agroecological farming, regenerative farming—however you want to label it—is at odds with food security and the socioeconomic side of rural communities et cetera, and farm income. I think that's an outdated notion. There's a wealth of literature and evidence out there that suggests that that type of farming is beneficial to nature and the environment, but also can help increase food security and the overall farm income as well. So, just to name a paper—it came out last year in the Agricultural Systems journal—it's 'Stability of farm income: the role of diversity and agri-environment scheme payments'. It demonstrated that if you've got more mixed farming enterprises your income is more stable, and that's complemented by agri-environment scheme payments. They actually showed as well that direct income support, so area-based payments, actually increases economic instability as well. So, that sort of turns the argument on its head. There's quite a bit of research that the NFFN has done as well. I'll point you to our 'Nature Means Business' report, which talks about this maximum sustainable output concept, which shows that there is a sweet spot, if you like, between farm profitability and managing the land for nature and the environment, where you farm within the natural carrying capacity of the land. So, it's akin to agroecological farming systems as well. And a recent study showed a 16 per cent to 18 per cent increase in yields in an arable farm by adopting nature-friendly farming techniques.

I'll just touch on food security as well. I think there's a danger of conflating food security with food production. Food security is a really complex issue, and the UN definition and the principles encompass the availability of food, access to food, the nutritional value of that food, the food system stability and its ability to adapt to external shocks, the environment, and agency or sovereignty as well—our ability to make our own decisions around food. If the Bill mentions food security in any way, I think it needs to refer to these principles. Because we've intensified farming over the last 50 years, and it hasn't solved the food security issue. We've got public health issues in Wales: 60 per cent of adults are overweight or obese; 9 per cent of Wales experiencing low food security; one out of five worrying about food running out. We waste 400,000 tonnes of food every year. And as Arfon mentioned, one in six wildlife species are threatened with extinction. And for every £1 we spend at the till, there is a hidden cost of £1 as well that we have to then pay through taxpayers' money, mainly due to public health and environmental issues. So, again, this notion that direct income support might lead to cheap food—it's only superficially cheap. We pay for it in hidden ways. So, we shouldn't use the term 'food security' lightly, and we should have a strict definition and principles behind it.

Yes. Just a few thoughts around—. The Bill is only part of the answer when it comes to future food systems in Wales. Referring to Peter Fox's food Bill, I think there's an awful lot of stuff there going on in the food Bill that needs to be brought together and joined up with the ag Bill. We're looking at understanding how much food do we need in Wales, what's the role of the Bill in helping to produce that, greater diversity of food—that then falls into these more local, circular food economies. Public procurement has got a big role to play in this. So, I think there's a danger that we don't take this opportunity to change, because I think business as usual just doesn't work, but we have an opportunity in Wales now to align quite a lot of good policy thinking that's going on at the moment. 

So, I think the—. One of the things that I need to go back to—. This was a recommendation from RSPB to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the development of a similar policy there, and it might well be in Peter's Bill as well, but there's probably scope for a food security assessment to be undertaken, either as part of this Bill or alongside it, so that we've got a good idea of how much does Wales need to produce, how much of this is being produced in Wales, so then, I think, we can start pointing towards opportunities. I think that one of the things that this could actually do is help farmers diversity, but diversify into areas where there are genuine opportunities for markets, be that public procurement or local markets. So, I certainly need to go back to Peter's proposals and see what's in there and how much of that could embed within this or needs to be delivered alongside it. But just this conversation does point to the need for a food plan or food strategy, and then the ag Bill will have a clear role to play in delivering aspects of that.

10:20

We cannot be certain. I think an important element of food security is stability, and I think this is greatly underappreciated, particularly the importance of resilient ecosystems for underpinning resilient farming systems. And that confers both food security but also financial security. And I don't think there's enough conversation around this. There's plenty of evidence supporting that and the benefits of restoring ecosystems in order to reduce risks and to have more resilient systems, improve efficiency through the use of inputs and so on, and there are real win-wins out there. I don't think we should be setting this up as a trade-off: is it production or is it environment? We've heard clearly here that they go together as a package. But we don't really—. It's complex. Again, as I said earlier about ecosystems, they're complex, and we're not very good at understanding that, and I think there needs to be more understanding of the real power of ecosystem restoration at the foundation of stable, resilient farming. 

Grêt. Nôl i chi, Gadeirydd. 

Great. Back to you, Chair. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Luke. I'll now bring in Sarah Murphy. Sarah. 

Thank you, Chair. Thank you for all being here today. Just to carry on that thread, Wales Environment Link has submitted evidence that says that:

'The Bill currently lacks clauses to support succession, new entrants and
alternative community ownership models.' 

It recommends the Bill places a duty on Government to include these in the scheme design. So, what are your views on this, please?

I suppose that builds on stuff that I touched on before in terms of how do we connect up that production and consumption a bit better, because, as we've alluded to, they're not very well connected at the moment. If you look at the global responsibility aspect of it, to give you an idea, I think that it's an area larger than Monmouthshire that's used around the world to supply [Correction: 'to mostly supply'] soy for Welsh animal feeds. So, it's quite a substantial thing that we don't often look at.

So, I know the land workers are much more developed in their thinking here, and WEL is pushing forward, but we would like to see ways that basically say that if people want to take over some piece of land—maybe there's a succession problem, which happens quite often—. To give you an example, we're about to release, as WWF, a series of case studies into agroecology, and one of those is a dairy farmer down in Carmarthenshire, and he's virtually in tears in his video, because he's coming towards the end of his career, he doesn't have family to pass on the farm to and he's worried about what will happen to his land and his cows afterwards. So, there are lots of examples, and Pembrokeshire is a good place where this happens quite a lot, of communities coming together to start managing land or owning land, potentially, at a much smaller scale in order to supply things to local communities and build or support businesses. The Bill doesn't really talk enough to that, in our view. We'd like to see more.

So, that bit about improving access to local food, perhaps, as a purpose, could allow more things to work with that, particularly in that collaborative tier, because often it's farmers doing that work but sometimes it's third parties as well, and this might be a way of bringing it all together in a way that would actually function quite well. So, that's our initial thinking, and we're currently consulting with wider groups to try to look at what works quite well around Wales at the moment and how do we make it stronger, really, and move Welsh agriculture to a point where it's open to that. We're not saying that everywhere around Wales, communities are going to start taking over things, but where those small examples do happen, how do we make life easier for them? This is part of the answer. There's also the planning system, which I won't get into here, but there are certain things that need to work together to make that function. So, we're hopeful that maybe this Bill is part of the answer to that.

10:25

Thank you. Does anybody else want to come in as well?

Yes, I'll come in. In terms of young entrants, it's of paramount importance that a younger generation of farmers can come into the industry. As I mentioned earlier, farming is a really capital-intensive system. You could argue that the current basic payment scheme is propping up the average age of farmers in Wales. I think the average age of Welsh farmers is something around 61, and that income support might be keeping farmers on the ground for longer. And some of those farmers—and I don't want to paint everyone with the same brush—might be less active, some of the boundaries on farms et cetera falling into disrepair, moving away from certain enterprises—moving away from cattle just to focus on one sector, like sheep. And if a young entrant then wants to go in, it's a considerable cost then to get that sort of business back up and running. So, a support package of payments to help young entrants into agriculture would be welcome, provided, of course, that they're linked to the sustainable land management objectives et cetera.

And I guess we need to also ask the question around succession—what are the issues? Why aren't there any succession plans? Is it because of a lack of appetite from young entrants to go into farming? If so, we need to delve deeper and ask ourselves: why is this in farming? Is it not profitable? Is it the mental health and well-being aspect? So, these are all things I think we should be considering when we're talking about these issues.

Just as—. I forgot to mention that I think one of the main purposes of this for us opening the door to alternative models is that you look around Wales at the moment and you do see with succession issues the risk of land basically being sold off to the highest bidder to do whatever they want with it. And hopefully, if you can get this right, it might provide part of the answer to that, or an alternative that allows communities to start working together and maybe compete and provide a more useful, community-based solution to certain patches of land when that time comes. Because, otherwise, if the system can't deal with that, we might see more of the things that we've already seen that are deemed not politically acceptable.

Thank you very much. And then how should the transition be managed from a CAP system of support to the new scheme? So, I'm thinking specifically of the timescales now. Could you let us know any risks of transitioning too abruptly, for example?

Yes, I think this is another one of those really critical aspects of the scheme. If we get this part of it wrong, then the whole thing could collapse. It's early days on this, but I've been speaking to colleagues who are working in England and are working to influence the environmental land management scheme, the scheme over there, and what the RSPB proposed there was to start with a kind of—. There needs to be a phased transition of payments. And I think we'll agree with the unions on this, and I think there's probably something around—. The confusion might be what we're calling it—I think some are calling it 'stability payments'; we're calling it 'phased payments'. Basically, it isn't a cliff edge—we can't turn support off on day 1 and expect farming then to just keep on as it is. And we've never said that, and that's been very clear throughout our responses throughout the entire consultation. There does need to be that managed, phased transition from where we are now to the sustainable farming scheme in 2029. 

What we put forward for similar policies in England was a kind of a tapered approach or a very slow start—over the first couple of years, a gradual reduction. Because time is short. We need schemes in place, we need tested schemes in place, and farmers need confidence that these are going to work. And I think—. I don't think we're going to get to 2025 and have everything we need in place for this to succeed. I think there's going to be an ongoing period where we're still going to be rolling this out. So, I think, in those early years, there needs to be a roll-out of some of the initial stages—some of the things that are going to help farming move in this direction—and then a gradual tapering off of the basic payment scheme from the early years and maybe down to, say, 25 per cent by year 4, year 5. I think, at that point, when we get schemes coming online, I think it's fair to say then we need to see a kind of an acceleration of the kind of transition as more money moves into the sustainable farming scheme and so we move away from BPS, and I think, at the end, there's more of a gradual tapering just to provide that as we ease towards full transition.

So, I'll share this—there's no point me holding a picture up, because nobody'll be able to see it—as I've got some initial thinking from colleagues in England that forms the basis of a kind of transition plan that I'll share after this. What we weren't supporting was this kind of linear approach that DEFRA seem to have adopted—so, by the halfway point, 50 per cent of BPS is gone by year 2.5. From the very beginning, we said, 'That's asking for trouble,' because it's going to be too much of an ask, because I don't think there's going to be enough support in place to allow that to happen. But, I think that's what DEFRA's gone for, and I think there are problems now associated with that.

So, that's our approach: start slow, drop, as we're up to speed, then ramp up the kind of reduction, but make sure that it's there throughout. I'll share the paper afterwards.

10:30

That's very helpful, thank you. Does anyone else want to come in on this?

Just very, very quickly, to say we support that. I think the key thing is avoiding that cliff edge, and I think what's been proposed, which is that five-year transition to the end of this decade, seems very pragmatic and consistent with what's happened previously. So, I think, basically, by the time we get to the end of this, we will have had six years of co-design, two years of demonstrations, five years of transition. I think 'abrupt' probably is not the word I would use for that length of time that we've gone through it, but it's important that we make sure that people are encouraged strongly into the scheme in that first period, and I think there's been much discussion over the years. It's like, 'Well, how far do you push a scheme? What's in each tier, for example, in that early period?' And just recognising that we need to be pragmatic and reflexive, so that we're encouraging people into it and getting the same money but for doing different things effectively as we go through it. And then, maybe in future years, you can revisit it, looking at that report of how much has been achieved, and target it better as you go forward. So, the idea of taking this five-year transition, revisiting every five years going forward after that, much as we did with CAP, in a slightly different way, that seems appropriate to us.

If I may, yes, please. Many of the measures that we're keen to see adopted, particularly in the national parks, some of them are maybe less input intensive, but they're certainly more knowledge intensive, and I think there's an important challenge around advisory services and knowledge transfer. That, actually, responds a bit to the previous question about new entrants and succession, making sure that we step into the gap there and facilitate learning, making sure that there are advisory services, making sure there are education services that support actually quite a radical change in the direction of farming—radical over the long term. This has been taking place for a few years, but even agricultural colleges still can catch up in terms of the kind of training that they're giving to future farmers.

In the national parks, we see this as a great opportunity because we really want to see farmers in the park going way above the national average in terms of participation, adoption and doing the best things, aligned with the goals of the park, and so we're certainly positioning ourselves already and we want to play more of a role in providing those sorts of support services, getting as many farmers lined up and ready to go as possible before the sustainable farming scheme starts.

It's kind of that point, really—I think something the Government could do now is start working with farmers, with advice and guidance around some of the stuff that Rhys was saying about maximum sustainable output, managing more in tune with nature, less reliant on expensive feeds and fertilisers. All the evidence that I'm seeing, and the Nature Friendly Farming Network is providing, is that it's a more economically viable model, so I think that is—. Farmers often ask me, 'Well, what can we do now?' I think there's something there around understanding that perhaps the kind of high-input, high-output model isn't necessarily the most cost-effective model. So, these are things that don't have to wait for a scheme to come online.

I think transitioning too abruptly can have consequences, so, yes, we need that phased approach—avoid the overnight removal of subsidies, as happened in New Zealand, so you're losing your small farms, and farms amalgamate. One of the principles of the Bill, of course, is to keep farmers on the ground, so that's really important.

I think in terms of timeline in transitioning, it's suggested that a transition to regenerative farming would take around three to five years. If you'll just indulge me in a bit of soil science, there exists this symbiotic relationship between plant roots and the microbes in the soil under normal conditions, and that symbiosis is based on the exchange of nutrients between the two of them. When you use external inputs like nitrogen fertiliser, that relationship is disrupted and the plant no longer relies on the soil microbes for its nutrients, so that relationship is compromised. When you wean yourself off, or rather stop using artificial fertiliser overnight, because that relationship is disrupted, there is a significant reduction in yield, because the soil processes aren't as active, and it takes around three to five years, perhaps, for that process to recover.

So, we can use this transition period, whilst the basic payments scheme is still there and phased out, to cover those short-term losses, and it will also help farmers qualify towards future schemes as well. There's anecdotal evidence and a lot of farmers have said that they've seen that reduction in yield—they might receive three or four bales an acre, whereas previously they would receive seven with a high-input system—but over time they catch up as the soil biology recovers. I think, as an industry, we need to embrace that change Arfon mentioned; the high-input model isn't necessarily economically viable, and certainly isn't environmentally sustainable.

10:35

In terms of the context now of the newly established trade deals, can you discuss the proposals for agricultural support and the sustainable land management framework in that context? What are the risks that are there for Welsh farmers? How could they be disadvantaged by these future trade deals?

I think it's fair to say this probably isn't a specialist area, international trade. The general consensus would be that, perhaps, on balance, there are a few net benefits from these ongoing trade deals, and it's very hard to second guess where policy is headed. I've not looked at my phone for three hours, God knows where we are now based on the last 24.

But I think the best defence that Welsh agriculture has against any of these kinds of threats is to work on connecting that production and consumption. There are Welsh needs and markets that are not served domestically that can be, and if we can do that better and connect people to their food and give them more access to it in fairer ways, making sure that we retain that equity in the system, then surely that's perhaps the most important thing we can really do. Yes, there'll always be imports, there'll always be exports, but there are some clear win-wins that we can make quite quickly. I do feel that the scheme nods to a lot of these, and it's just making sure that they do happen in enough time.

It's not an area we have any expertise in, but I think future trade deals clearly are potentially a risk, they could be good or they could be bad for Welsh farming. So, I think, having had a little bit of advice from colleagues on this, what we might propose is that perhaps there should be something in the Bill that places a duty on Welsh Government to undertake an impact assessment of future trade deals, so at least then as a collective we've got an understanding of what the impact of these deals might be. So, we've then got something to work with when it comes to future decision making.

I guess the impact of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 is also a concern, especially with the politicking that's going on at the moment. There are potentially some big divergences between regulation on either side of the border now. That could have, perhaps, more of an immediate impact on farming in Wales. What the answer to that is, I don't know. I think that's probably that Governments continue to speak, hopefully in a constructive fashion, regarding internal markets. On the trade deals, getting as much information as possible will be really important. 

10:40

Thank you very much. The power to provide support extends to ancillary activities, some of which are further up the food supply chain. Do you think that this is appropriate? 

I'll chip in. I'll just mention quickly the trade deal question as well, because both are interlinked. I think it's all well and good to improve sustainable food production here in Wales, but, if we then continue to import food of lower quality, including health, environment and animal welfare, into Wales, then one could argue that it's a futile exercise. When I talk about imports, I also talk about stuff like livestock feed and ingredients as well, not just specifically food. Alex has mentioned the 'Wales and Global Responsibility' report. So, 80 per cent of the soya, for example, that is imported into Wales is used for livestock feed, and 80 per cent of that is from countries that are at high risk of deforestation. So, these are all things that we need to look at. When we are monitoring and benchmarking farm environmental performance, those hidden ghost acres need to be considered as well. So, provision in the Bill to reference that would be good.

If we produce sustainable food in Wales, there's no guarantee that that food is being eaten in Wales. We export a lot of our produce. The export market is going to continue to be important. But I guess linking to the ancillary question around investing in the wider supply chains, I think investing in local food economies, helping us to be more self-sufficient, more local governance and control of our food system, can actually help us to eat more of the food that we produce in Wales. I think that can only be a good thing. But I'm mindful that there is a balance between how much of the dwindling budget is allocated towards farmers and the wider supply chain.

I'd agree with everything that Rhys said then. We're fortunate to have public funding that we can spend in this way at the moment. There's no guarantee that public funding will be there at any point in the future. I think using some of the budget to build that network and that supply chain, which will then continue to maintain sustainable land management, potentially beyond public funding, is essential.

Thank you very much. The last question from me then is: what are your views on the Welsh Ministers’ power to support third-party schemes—that essentially haven't been made by the Welsh Ministers—and how would you expect these to be applied?

I'll chip in. Speaking on behalf of myself, who is currently involved in a scheme with Snowdonia National Park Authority as a third-party organisation administrating Welsh Government money, my experiences have been only positive. I think a lot of that is down to trusted local staff that you can develop relationships with and contact them at any time. I think that is a fundamental ingredient to a successful agri-environment scheme. Obviously, it needs that relationship between the farmers and the third party, but I'm supportive of it. 

I'm recently back from a visit to some third-party schemes in Ireland. There were very high participation rates among farmers in the four schemes we saw, 90 per cent plus. So, they're very, very popular. It was interesting; the very first thing the farmers said was the reason it was popular was that 80 per cent plus of the funds had to come to farmers. They were very keen on the relatively small overheads or implementation costs. They want to see a big share of that coming to the farmers. 

The ones we saw there were great for us as a national park with designated landscapes. They're exactly the kind of thing that can allow those landscapes to go above and beyond whatever will be achieved by agri-environment schemes—set higher levels of nature recovery and biodiversity recovery, and then make sure the farmers are fully incentivised for that. There's a lot of opportunities there. It's certainly something we're keen to see. 

10:45

That's wonderful. Thank you very much. I can't see if there's anybody else, but otherwise, back to you, Chair. Thank you very much.

Thank you very much. Before I bring in Sam Kurtz, I'm very conscious that time is marching on, so if I can just ask you to be as succinct as possible. We've still got quite a few areas we want to cover as a committee, so I'd appreciate that very much. Sam.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I know we've touched on the reporting requirements for Welsh Government relating to the support, but would the panel deem it appropriate, and do they really integrate usefully with the SLM report? If we're looking at KPIs, to use the terminology, are they appropriate at present? Arfon.

I think so. There's so much information in these documents. We're still going through them to match up all the dates and periods and what's in there. But I think, on first look, they look appropriate. I think it's down to the detail that they're reporting against. What are those KIPs? What are those targets? What are those indicators? That's really, really important.

The one thing that I have picked up on all of this is that this needs to tie into SoNaRR and things like that. At the moment, it's just 'have regard to' in there. I think it needs to be tightened up into that wider framework as well, so that this doesn't cast itself adrift from everything else that's going on Wales. We are a country that's trying to integrate as much of this as possible, which is really challenging, so we need to put in place that more robust framework now. And SoNaRR is a big part of this. Eighty-four per cent of Wales's land mass is going to be managed through this scheme—that has to speak to SoNaRR and has to speak to that reporting system as well. 

Not just because of the percentage of land mass, that's a lot of data, and that's going to be data that needs to be digested and taken forward. Whether there are the facilities available to Government at present to deal with that, I think, is one of the biggest questions. Because a lot of data is already being collected by farmers, which isn't utilised at the moment. I think that was one of the concerns of farming unions. Both farming unions came together with a suggested plan before this, saying, 'Look, we're already collecting a lot of information around length of hedgerows, depth of hedgerows, as examples, but that's not being utilised fully at the moment.' What guarantees do you think there could be that that's going to be used, or is it a case of just resources within Government?

That has to be used. As you say, there's a huge amount of data in there underpinning the whole rural payments approach we've got at the moment, so utilising that data is vital. It's not complete yet. I think we need to look at that data and fill in some of the gaps there. There are crop codes; there's stuff we can use in a way that would really support the delivery of the future scheme. These are conversations for us all to sit around the table with the unions and say, 'Right, what data is out there? Where are the gaps in this? How can we make better what we've already got?' Because, to go back to the drawing board with this, we haven't got time and it's going to be hugely expensive, so we need to evolve what we've got.

I think you're right, I think there is a lot of stuff out there, and I think there's a really important role for farmers here to continue to provide that data, but also to provide additional data as well. I think there's also a legitimate case for there to be a payment associated with that. It's probably the most cost-effective way of doing some of this stuff as well.

I agree with Arfon's comments around self-monitoring and the role of the farmer in doing so. And definitely there's a potential for a payment to be associated with that. After all, it's the farmer who knows the land best. I think being a part of that monitoring exercise increases self-awareness of how you farm and how it affects all the sustainable land management outcomes that we want to see. So, yes, it's a good thing, but, obviously, there will need to be an investment in skills, training and being able to identify certain habitats et cetera for that to happen effectively. 

And if I may, just on that, I think there's an interface there. There'll be a critical point where farmer-based monitoring and evidence gathering et cetera works, and there'll be a point then where it needs to be handed to, perhaps, boots on the ground, Government or whoever else—project officers on the ground working with farmers. We should be testing these things now. We should be getting this right now, over the next couple of years, in order to make sure that we've got that system in place for when we kick off in just a little over two years' time. 

10:50

Excellent. We've mentioned what's happening over the border with environmental land management schemes and, Jonathan, you mentioned some of the third-party schemes in Ireland. Is what's being proposed here so far very inward looking, or are we learning enough from what's happening in other countries with similar topography, similar ground conditions, similar climate to Wales? And are we developing a policy and agriculture Bill that takes all good practice known and builds upon it? I'm not sure who wants to— 

I will. I went on a similar trip to Ireland. They're basically adopting a results-based approach agri-environment scheme. It totally inverts the traditional Welsh agri-environment scheme, if you like, where payments are based on prescriptions and conforming to rules, which is quite simple to administer—it should be easy to understand, but, at times, it isn't—and it gives more flexibility to the farmers, basically, to deliver results; they don't have to conform to stocking rates or certain prescriptions. What they do, essentially, is score a habitat out of 10, and the payments then are geared or weighted towards higher scores; if you receive lower than a four, you don't get any payment at all. But, as I mentioned earlier, the success of that scheme was down to the local adviser and the relationship. It was in the interest of the farmer and the contract officer to improve that score, so the farmer can get more money, the Government can meet their objectives. But Ireland are about 10-15 years ahead of Wales with regard to developing this. It takes a lot of time to do it. They've recently, I think, received £300 million to scale out this more localised results-based scheme across the whole of Ireland. If that is the way that we want to go in Wales—. And I will say that there were about seven or eight different organisations on this visit and everyone seemed to be in agreement that they were worthwhile; it's not very often that those seven or eight organisations agree on something, but the principles behind the results-based scheme were welcome. So we need to be trialling these schemes now, I think. 

I completely agree with that. There were two or three things that stood out for me from what I saw in Ireland. The first was that these are incentives that reward the best performers and help to lift the level of the best performers, not just raising the lowest performers, and then that allows you to achieve higher levels of ambition for nature occurring from biodiversity. So it goes above and beyond. And the third point, in terms of learning the lesson, is to make sure, within the sustainable farming scheme, that the emphasis is not only on trying to avoid double counting, but actually promoting dual outcomes and finding mechanisms to make sure that that's actively encouraged, so that farmers can go up above and beyond and deliver more. 

That's interesting. Arfon, just quickly, and then I'll come to—

I think there is lots of good stuff in the Bill; there is lots of good stuff on the parallel proposals that are coming out of the sustainable farming scheme. It's all on paper at the moment. We need to get to a point in Wales, now that we've established the foundation that we're all working from, to get us all in the same space again. It's eight sides—there shouldn't be sides around this. We need to get around the table to actually start agreeing what these things look like, how to deliver them on the ground, how to go down that multiple-benefits approach. We talk about nature-based solutions; there are big opportunities here to do an awful lot and in an integrated way on farmland. This is what I would like to see us spending the next two years in Wales doing—is actually getting out and doing this, rolling our sleeves up and working together to actually turn paper into reality. 

A very small point. When I asked my UK colleagues, 'If you could say one thing about what you would add to the Welsh one that's been beneficial based on the English example', they were really talking about the simplicity of targets that were in the 25-year plan. It made it really easy to constrain what the legislation then did in England. Obviously, we've alluded to this already about target development; we might be in a deficient state, because we lack that clear thing. A lot of criticism has been made of the 25-year plan, but one way that it really helped was that legislation design was saying 'Actually, you're chasing this target, so your indicators need to match up to it.' 

Okay. Excellent. We've mentioned the boots on the ground when that's necessary, and agricultural support through Farming Connect, as an example at the moment. Would that need to be developed, or would that need to be Farming Connect on its own, or with the Irish example, you were saying that there were different types of third party models for support, but is that sufficient in itself and is the advice that's coming out of Farming Connect, as an example, sufficient for what is looking to be achieved for agriculture, going forward?  

10:55

I think that Farming Connect as a model was a product of CAP; it was very much production-focused. I think that it is bringing in environmental aspects to Farming Connect. Colleagues in England are really envious of Farming Connect. I think that it's great that we've got it in Wales, but what we now need to do is make sure that, what the advice and guidance and support is delivering matches the ambition and content of the Bill and the scheme. The key bit there—. The real challenge there is going to be bringing environment and business together. So, that's what we have got to avoid: somebody coming out to a farm to talk about production, and then somebody coming out to the farm to talk about the environment. Somehow, these things need to come together and decisions then need to be made based on these—biodiversity, climate change, farming—key objectives. That's going to be the challenge—getting the right people in at the right point to provide that advice and guidance.

As a model, I think that it's great to have it. It's the envy of many of our UK counterparts. I would say that, to date, the focus has mainly been on efficiency, driving and improving production or productivity, which is, of course, important, but it is somewhat lacking in terms of advice for carbon sequestration or managing for biodiversity—and linking that with the economic benefits as well. So, as Arwel said, it should be repurposed to go down the multiple benefits route. I think that they have acknowledged that that is the way forward. Currently, I would argue that, if the scheme was rolled out tomorrow, Farming Connect wouldn't be that well equipped to help deliver it. 

I'm conscious of time, Chair, so I'll hand back to you.

Thank you very much indeed. I'll now bring in Vikki Howells. Vikki.

Thank you, Chair. Good morning, panel. I have got some questions around tenant farmers. We certainly feel as a committee that it's really important that the Bill is fit for purpose with those. So, firstly, if I can ask how far you think that the Bill provides Agricultural Holdings Act tenants with fair access to future support, and whether the Bill is robust enough, really, in that regard. 

Sorry, I missed that. It was a tenancy question, yes? Well, a short answer: it's not an area that we have got much expertise in, to be honest with you, so I think it's something that we are very much recognising that the Tenant Farmers Association very much has the expertise on this. But I guess that the one area where we do share concerns with TFA is—and I think that this is underlying tenancy legislation—if tenants can't actually get involved in the scheme in a way that they then can manage in a more environmentally friendly way because of tenancy law, that becomes a real concern. I think that the same applies to commons as well. If the underpinning legislation prevents farmers from benefiting from the opportunities presented by these schemes, that becomes a real issue.

So, picking up TFA's concerns, what's in the Bill focuses on resolution, but I think that there was meant to be—. They were talking about some sort of commitment, some sort of group that was going to come together to look at some of the wider issues associated with tenants and access to these sorts of schemes. Without going into the detail, I think that if that would lead to tenants being able to participate in, say, the sustainable farming scheme and deliver more for the environment because of that, then that's clearly something that we would welcome and be supportive of. 

Again, not much expertise in this area, but I was at a conference on Sunday and there was a general consensus that, if the scheme doesn't work for tenants, it won't work at all, because of the high percentage of tenant farmers in Wales. So, it's vital that the provisions within the Bill allow tenant farmers to enrol in the scheme, and that they are not handicapped or at odds with what's happening. 

My second question then, Chair, and I appreciate if the panel feel that they are not experts on this either; we have a second panel coming in who will hopefully be able to give us more information on this. But it is about common land, and whether the new agricultural policy framework is accessible and appropriate for those farming on common land. So, any views on that?

11:00

Just to highlight that, certainly in the Brecon Beacons where I work, a huge part of the park is on common land under common grazing, and we've had a lot of challenges—some successes, but a lot of challenges around organising grazing associations to be prepared for Glastir. There were missed opportunities there, and it needs dedicated resources, support services and co-ordination functions there. Certainly in the parks, the parks are in a good position to play that role, but across the rest of Wales, it needs to be taken seriously. It's a significant part of the farmland, and it needs tailored support to make it work.

I forget the actual proportion of common land in Wales, but it's a significant part of certainly the uplands in Wales, and common land tends also to be where a lot of our peat-rich soils are, our carbon-rich soils. That's really important for some of our key biodiversity areas, with lots of designated sites with common land within them as well. The previous schemes have really struggled to deliver anything beyond the very basics. Often, the big success has just been getting a kind of commons group together, and what they've delivered has been very little above what's currently there. So, I think in order for the scheme to work, and in order for Wales to meet its climate change objectives and its biodiversity objectives, the scheme really needs to be able to work for common land and really deliver the full potential of commons. Again, it goes back to my earlier point that, if commons legislation is the barrier there, rather like tenancy legislation, then there's a need to revisit that underpinning legislation.

I'll just echo as well, back to the scheme in Ireland, there was a very successful results-based scheme, actually, on upland common land, similar to the habitat you described just now, Arfon—a peat-rich habitat, where they managed to restore the peatland and get the grazing right to manage the habitat. Again, that was down to collaboration, managing individuals, getting that structure in place. So again, if you're going to look at the Irish model for any advice and sharing knowledge there, I think that would be worthwhile. 

Thank you, Vikki. I'll now bring in Sarah Murphy. Sarah.

Thank you very much, Chair. Just a quick few questions on the collection and the sharing of data. To what extent are provisions on the collection and sharing of data appropriate and proportionate, in your opinion?

I think there are a couple of areas—I'll flag a couple of areas of concern and a couple of areas where I think they could be improved. I think there is a reference in there to data that's around increasing productivity. Early on with Government, we've questioned what they meant by productivity, and they basically described productivity as efficiency. If that's what they're saying, why not put it into the Bill? So, as written, it seems to be that this is all about producing more, it's about growth, and it's about limiting impact on the environment. So we've got some concerns about the terminology in there, and I also think that there should be something in the purposes of data to help farmers manage natural resources sustainably, and to restore and maintain biodiversity, including providing habitat to species, and designated sites. I think it's lifting up some of the things, some of the purposes that are missing in the initial list of purposes and bringing them into the data section as well. But it's worrying that productivity is sneaking into that without being qualified. 

Yes. The data gathering—I agree with it; it's vitally important, but it needs to be streamlined. So, avoiding having to submit multiple records to multiple agencies, because it's time consuming. And just building on Arfon's point, that data will be valuable for benchmarking, but that benchmarking just doesn't need to focus on productivity and production. So, with your typical farm business survey that focuses on that side of things, how about including habitat tree cover in those data sets? Because if the scheme is rolled out as it's proposed now, with requirements for 10 per cent tree cover or 10 per cent habitat, that data is going to be really important. 

That's really helpful, thank you very much. Thank you, Chair.

11:05

Thank you, Sarah. I'll bring back Vikki Howells. Vikki. 

Thank you, Chair. Some questions now on forestry. I'd be interested to hear your views on whether the proposals to give NRW the power to add environmental conditions to tree felling licences go far enough to protect and enhance nature?

Absolutely. I really welcome these within the Bill. I think we've been concerned and had cases in recent years, and they're ongoing, where felling licences are insistent on replanting, and replanting in areas where there's peat and replanting in areas where there are species like curlew that are particularly sensitive to woodland within the landscape. So, including this should, hopefully, avoid a situation in future where there's an obligation to plant trees in areas of Wales where it's just not appropriate. So, we very much welcome that. A lot more of the detail around that—. I know the Woodland Trust have got a lot more to say around this aspect of the Bill. They'll be better placed than ourselves to comment on it. But one thing, picking up from Woodland Trust's concerns, is, given where we are with the nature and climate emergency and the importance of trees regarding both nature and climate change, there's a concern that there are no protections for small areas of woodlands or trees within fields. They tend to fall under felling licences and under existing legislation regulation. There's an awful lot of small pockets of semi-ancient woodlands scattered throughout Wales that aren't adequately protected at the moment. I know that's an area that the Woodland Trust will pick up on, but I just wanted to share their concern. 

Just very quickly to add I think this has been an issue for NRW some time, and they've been pushing to have these powers. Normally, as a general rule, if they're pushing for something, it probably means that they need them. So, I think, in general, we would be supportive of them getting these and making maximum use of them. 

From my own personal experience of dealing with felling licences in the past, it took a year and a half to get a felling licence to fell about 5 hectares of sitka spruce on a special area of conservation-designated blanket bog. I think that, in itself, highlights some of the issues. So, I think changing to a bit more flexibility around felling licences, especially for the benefit of the environment, is welcome. I think also, going forward, there'll be some issues around ensuring that we plant the right tree in the right place as well. I'm not sure whether this is relevant to the Bill or to the scheme, but, with the push to plant trees and meet the Government's target, there need to be provisions in place to ensure that the planting of trees doesn't yield perverse outcomes for biodiversity, climate and food production as well, and should consider the multiple benefits.   

So, a related question—you might, really, have covered this already in your answer to my previous question, but if there's anything else to add, then feel free. It's views on the proposals to give NRW powers to amend, suspend or revoke tree felling licences, and whether, in particular, there could be any unintended consequences.

I think I probably covered it early on. I think it's, again, welcome, if it can be used for environmentally beneficial reasons. 

My final question, then, is the panel's view on the failure to include powers to amend the forestry environmental impact assessment legislation in the Bill, because, of course, the White Paper said that those powers would be included—any views on that? 

I'll leave that for Jeremy and the Woodland Trust to pick that one up, I think. 

Yes, nothing additional. 

Okay, thank you. I'll move on to wildlife now then. I'd be interested to hear whether members of the panel support the prohibitions on the use of snares and glue traps. 

I thought I'd pick that one up. Yes, and I think there was a point around whether it covered sales as well. So, I think if there's going to be a ban introduced on use, then I think it makes to broaden that out to include a ban on sales as well. 

Yes. Can I just come back in there? So, Arfon, that was really my next question, and it's certainly something that we've been thinking about as a committee. Have you got any view as to why sale might not have been included within the Bill? 

11:10

No idea. Don't know. It seems like an omission—if you're going to ban the use of something, then you would assume that you should cover the ban of the sales as well. Otherwise, you end up selling something you can't use, which doesn't make any sense.

It's not an area we have strong views on either way; we haven't really engaged with our membership on it. But I would say that species control is important—for ground-nesting birds, for example, to manage predation, and also woodland management as well. Grey squirrels are a big threat to broadleaved woodland. So, just to make sure that any changes in the legislation or regulation don't hamper those efforts and that any farmer or land manager who controls species for the benefit of biodiversity can still be able to do so.

Okay. Thank you, Vikki. I'll bring in Sarah Murphy. Sarah.

Thank you, Chair. Moving on now to costs, do you have any comments on the estimated costs of the Bill's provisions, please?

I need to spend more time looking at this, to be honest with you. There's so much information in there, but noting that the preferred option, Welsh Government's preferred option, aligns roughly with the CAP budget, which also reflects the work that RSPB did about four years ago, looking at how much would it cost to deliver Wales's environmental priorities through a land use policy like this. And I think we came to something like £270 million, with additional costs for advice and guidance. So I think, yes, that sort of figure is—. Well, we go back to 'not a penny less'. So, it aligns with those commitments, I think. It indicates the scale of the budget and a minimum 'this is what's required'. I think what we now need to see is how that's been allocated across various aspects of the ongoing delivery mechanisms—how much of this is going to go towards supporting the delivery of regulation, how much is going to go to universal, the optional, and how much, importantly, is going to go into the collaborative bit, because that's where we see, building on the other options, where real action for biodiversity will happen. So, it's important to see that.

And also, we're very keen to see how the allocation of funding for advice and guidance has been arrived at, because that is going to be a really important part of scheme delivery, going forward. Because I think what we all recognise is this isn't CAP, this isn't the basic payment scheme, this isn't previous schemes; this is a much more integrated and therefore much more challenging set of proposals to get across and get delivered. So, I think the provision of effective advice and guidance is going to be important, and that should be seen as—. I know some people see it as a cost; we very much see it as an investment, to avoid what we see at the moment—schemes being set up and maybe a compliance visit at some point in year 4 or 5, and then just farmers found to be breaching and penalties. So, we want to get away from that into a much more supportive approach to delivering policy, going forward. So, I think it looks right, and we need to see the detail around this now.

I'm just adding a question now before anyone else comes in, because you touched on it there: do you think the budget available for the CAP is enough to cover the ambitions of the sustainable farming scheme?

Well, I think that's—. Based on the work that we undertook—. Well, this was a couple of years ago, mind you; we'll probably have to revisit that, because I think the world's got a lot more expensive since then. So, that's a really good question, actually, because we're in a very different place now, even compared to just 12 months ago. I think what is going to be important, going forward, though, is that we avoid an annual type budget approach to this. And I think, looking forward, we very much want to see some sort of guarantee or commitment to multi-annual funding around this policy. I'm old enough to remember working on environmentally sensitive areas when they were 10-year schemes, with a five-year break clause. But I think, at a minimum, we need to see at least a commitment to five-year funding to this policy, going forward.

That's very helpful, because my last question was going to be that NFU Cymru argues the Bill should require Welsh Ministers to prepare a multi-annual financial assistance plan, so I assume that you would support this, but how would other people here today feel?

11:15

Just quickly, I would support everything that Arfon said, really. I noticed that, when you look into the financial impact assessment in the explanatory memorandum, the additional burden of doing more complicated scheme options seems to be taken on by the Welsh Government; the actual payment to farmers doesn't seem to change, so I think that's very positive. The slight alarm I always have is when you look at how much they think NRW is going to take to deliver this or to enforce it. I strongly suspect that they were told to submit the lightest reasonable number, so I would imagine, in practice, it's going to be more than what's been estimated in there, as it often is. I think, as Arfon said, multi-annual is great; I think sometimes there are limitations on what Welsh Government can do in that regard, but I think, in a perfect world, you have an SFS that's running for five-year cycles and we have a clear idea how much money is in each one of those five years when we get into it—that'd be ideal.

In terms of nature and climate emergency and whether it's sufficient, WWF did some work a few years ago, looking at what we think that would cost, and we came up with about £900 million a year across the entire budget. So, obviously, that wouldn't just be SFS, that would be everything else, then, as well. So, that gives you an idea of the scale we estimate it at. So, obviously, this is the single biggest attribute that the Welsh Government has to deliver that, so we're really keen to see it as big as possible, but within the standard political compromises that exist, and it's alignment with other areas of budget that really matters to us. On that note, I think there's a question mark over private finance, which has always sat in the ether, the background, of this scheme development, where Welsh Government are working on it. And we would like to see more opportunities in the coming years to try and integrate that money a bit better, because we know it's there and we know, if we don't give it positive avenues to apply it, perverse outcomes tend to happen, like we've started to see, as I mentioned earlier about land ownership. So, I feel it's the Government's role to make the most of that, where it can, but it's some careful thinking about how to make sure we do it best.

Thanks very much. Thank you, Chair. Oh, sorry, I can't see.

I'll just come in as well. Yes, Arfon mentioned 'not a penny less'; that should be the minimum. The costs—. Quantifying the costs of delivering the environmental outcomes in Wales was similar to that of the CAP, but I don't think that covered transactional costs and monitoring et cetera, and, with inflation, we should be shouting from the rooftops that this budget needs to be increased. A truly integrated sustainable farming scheme that helps that transition towards agroecological farming, it helps the environment, the economy, health, rural communities, and it reduces the costs as well—you save from perverse or negative outcomes elsewhere. So, the budget should be maximised as much as possible. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a farmer. The question is how much of that budget is allocated to each of the different tiers; I think that's a question for another day.

Yes. Okay. Thank you, Sarah. I'll now bring in Luke Fletcher. Luke.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. If I could look at regulation-making powers, there are several in the Bill. In your views, is there enough detail on the face of the Bill relating to these, and, if not, where would you want to see that detail? Arfon.

I realise we're short on time, so I think the two areas that I would pick on regulatory making powers—. I think there needs to be something in the Bill about national minimum standards. There's no reference to national minimum standards in the Bill at all, so there needs to be some sort of guarantee or commitment or duty to ensure the national minimum standards will be in place in time for the roll-out of the sustainable farming scheme. And I think the other duty is the integration of those four objectives at the head of the Bill, so that we've got confidence, then, in what's being delivered. It's taking a balanced approach to those objectives; it isn't cherry picking, as we described earlier.

Just very quickly to add to that, I think national minimum standards are key. There's a commitment to get them in place by the time the scheme starts in 2025. Doubtful. I'm doubtful that will actually be delivered with the level—certainly not the level of co-production and engagement we've had up till now. There's the risk of legislative time being slight and it being pushed on to the end, so we would love to see a duty in here that requires them to come forward in primary legislation.

The other thing is a more general plea—a lot of this stuff ends up being negative resolutions. It's really bad; it means that they can't be scrutinised or questioned as easily in the Senedd as affirmative motions or—I forget the technical term. But, you should always make sure that if something is coming behind us that's really important, it actually needs a positive vote at the Senedd, and not just not enough to stop it, and that's normally a key—. It goes back to my point about limiting ministerial power, which I tend to be overtly passionate about.

11:20

Are there any additional comments before I move on to my next question? No. Well, looking at Welsh Ministers' powers under the Bill, they can provide support for agriculture and ancillary activities, and both definitions can be amended by subordinate legislation. Do you foresee any risks with this approach for farmers?

So, that's what I just said, really. Subordinate legislation is always a risk just on the numbers in the Senedd. It's just the way it works. We've seen a lot of things go through that probably wouldn't have done if they were subject to more scrutiny. It's just something that we always need to be wise of in making strong, democratically robust legislation.

I agree with Alex.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. We touched on this at the beginning, and I think it was you, Alex, you mentioned that neither side—and, again, as Arfon mentioned, I don't like saying that there are sides in this debate around the agricultural Bill—but neither side got everything that they wanted. So, in that case, has the stakeholder engagement process been sufficient, you feel, and have your views been taken into account with this draft of the agriculture Wales Bill?

I do think so. I should pay tribute, because I know that he's moving on, but James Owen, who you spoke to a few weeks ago, who has managed this process, he's been really great at bringing in all views. I've worked on Welsh Government stuff for a decade now, and I think this has been unlike what we've had before. They've really embraced co-production and tried to take on all of the concerns. Yes, we don't all agree all of the time, but I think we all have moved to a point where we agree enough of the time to present you all with a Bill that kind of works, minus the caveats that we all have separately and our ideas to improve it. But, I genuinely would commend Welsh Government. I work with colleagues in Scotland and in the UK a lot, and often we're the envy of those in terms of how Welsh Government engages. 

Yes. I think the one thing that I was surprised about was that public money for public goods has been the principle that's been referred to throughout almost every stage of the consultation and the development of this, and there's no real reference, or there's no reference to public money for public goods in the Bill. Again, it's something that we're looking at in more detail to see just how much of a concern that is. Just thinking about the obvious pressure that's going to be placed on public money going forwards, I think it's imperative that we guarantee that any public finance that goes through this Bill and through associated schemes delivers real benefit for the public, and I think having something to strengthen that either on the Bill or elsewhere, I think, is essential, because we need to be thinking about the future, about how we protect and how we defend this budget going forward. So, that's an area that I think we pushed for from the very beginning, so it's an area that we'll go back and have a look at. It may be covered by the clauses and purposes within the Bill, but it's an area that we need to look at in more detail.

I think the argument put forward around the removal of public money for public goods was that anything with a marketable value shouldn't receive public funding per se, but with carbon capture becoming more prominent and a market for carbon capture, therefore public money for public goods wouldn't fit within the scope, or the terminology around those four words wouldn't fit if there's a market for carbon and then receiving public money for that as well. I think that was a justification put forward at one point for that.

That's interesting, but I guess that's not a justification for not including it. If carbon then becomes marketable, it should be moved out of the scope of the Bill and the scheme, I guess. RSPB, at some point, hopefully, we'll get you up to Lake Vyrnwy to show the work that we're doing up there in developing and implementing carbon finance schemes. And I think there are probably other elements of other targets or objectives within the Bill that could actually then become marketable at some point in the future. I guess there's a potential market around water. It's an area that we need to look at, but I can understand the reasoning given there. 

Yes. I'll come in and just echo that I think the stakeholder engagement process has been good. There's been ample opportunity to feed in, and from an NFFN point of view, as a sort of relatively new organisation, established in 2018, we've been invited to take part today and in various stakeholder engagements, so that's been excellent. And I think the Government have listened to a lot of the concerns. If we go back to 'Brexit and our Land', the initial consultation, you had a public good scheme and you had an economic resilience scheme—you were pretty much separating the environment and the economy. Now it's merged into one scheme, and I think that's something that everyone, almost, called for. So, that kind of reflects some of the positive changes that we've seen.

I would suggest, potentially, that individual farmers can be brought into processes like this today. I think it's impossible for any agricultural body to represent the voice of every single farmer. I think, potentially, having a random cross-section mixture of farmers in a room with the likes of yourselves and Welsh Government, which aren't represented by an organisation, could provide some alternative and fresh outlooks as well.

11:25

That's the danger of being brief—you tend to focus on one or two things. So that you're not left with the impression that I'm the Grinch in all of this, it has been one of the best co-productions I've participated in, bringing stakeholders around the table in order to go through what felt like a genuine consultation process, taking on board concerns and messages from all around the table in order to reach a point where we've got a Bill where we're looking at the kind of detail of it, as opposed to the thing more broadly. I think that that in itself is a real success, especially given the wider political, social and environmental aspects and everything that's been happening at the same time. It's a huge success that we've got to this point, I think.

Not at this point.

No. Just to go back then, briefly, while, I've got three minutes, Chair, with regard to the support for agriculture, to you deem the SFS attractive enough to attract farmers into participating in it, given that the sign-up is going to be incredibly important for that? Rhys.

Good question. It's difficult to answer because of the lack of detail around payment rates and the budget. Farms are businesses at the end of the day, and I think that is the key aspect of all this—to see how attractive it is, and in the absence of that, it's difficult to answer that question. I know that many of our members agree with the direction of travel; it's what we want to see. We want to see that reward for nature-friendly farming and facilitating that transition towards more regenerative, ecological practices. But, yes, it needs the budget and payment rates behind it.

I'd agree with all of that. I think it's down to the money, isn't it, to some extent. I think it's a good, solid set of proposals. I think farming is interested in this, but it's down to business. I think what's important is that—. We've seen the fallout from the 10 per cent woodland creation. I think it's important that that issue is addressed quickly and effectively so that the wheels don't come off this before it starts. So, that's a genuine concern there. That needs to be either explained clearly and strongly—why we're having to get agreement on board with that or it needs to be taken back and reconsidered and perhaps a modified version of that brought out. I've seen it with Glastir. Glastir struggled from day one because the confidence was lost in Glastir almost before it left the—

Left Government, yes.

Excellent. Anything further? I'll hand back to you, Chair.

Diolch, Sam. And I'm afraid that time has beaten us, so our session has come to an end. So, thank you very much indeed for being with us this morning and giving us your evidence. It will be very useful for us in scrutinising this Bill. So, thank you very much for being with us. A copy of today's transcript will be sent to you in due course, so if there are any issues with that, then please let us know. Arfon, very quickly.

Un cwestiwn, os gallaf i.

One question, if I can.

This is quite early on in the process, isn't it, and we're still looking at the detail and I'm picking my way through the documents as thoroughly as I can. Evidence must be submitted, I think, on 11 November—will this committee be reconvening and bringing witnesses in again when we've all had a better opportunity to look at this?

Obviously, that deadline is fairly important for us, because we have got to report by a certain date, so, it is important that we get your evidence in as soon as possible. Okay. There we are.

11:30

That was a good politician's answer, wasn't it?

We've got to report by a certain deadline, you see, as far as the Senedd is concerned, so it is important that these deadlines are met, if possible.

Yes, and I agree with that. My question, really, because it's such an important Bill, it's so fundamental to everything that we're doing, you know, an opportunity to maintain and keep that conversation going, I think, is really important. 

Absolutely, yes. But thank you very much for being with us today. Diolch yn fawr iawn, ichi.

We'll now take a short break to prepare for the next session.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:30 a 11:41.

The meeting adjourned between 11:30 and 11:41.

11:40
4. Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru): Sesiwn dystiolaeth 4
4. Agriculture (Wales) Bill: Evidence session 4

Croeso nôl i gyfarfod Pwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig. Symudwn ni i eitem 4 ar ein hagenda, sef sesiwn dystiolaeth arall. Dyma bedwaredd sesiwn dystiolaeth y pwyllgor yn ystyried egwyddorion cyffredinol y Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru). Rŷn ni'n clywed tystiolaeth yn y sesiwn yma gan ganolbwyntio yn benodol ar faterion ar gyfer ffermwyr tenant a ffermio ar dir comin. Gaf i felly estyn croeso cynnes i'n tystion ni'r bore yma? Cyn ein bod ni'n symud yn syth i gwestiynau, efallai gallaf i ofyn i'r tystion i gyflwyno eu hunain i'r record. Efallai gallaf i ddechrau gydag Eleanor Jarrold.

Welcome back to this meeting of the Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee. We'll move on to item 4 on our agenda, namely another evidence session. This is the committee's fourth evidence session considering the general principles of the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. We are taking evidence in this session with a particular focus on issues for tenant farmers and farming on common land. Could I therefore extend a warm welcome to our witnesses this morning? Before we move to questions, could I invite the witnesses to introduce themselves for the record? Maybe I can start with Eleanor Jarrold.

I'm Eleanor Jarrold. I'm the secretary of the Mynydd Eglwysilan, Mynydd Meio and Craig Evan Leyshon Commoners' Association.

I'm John Lloyd. I'm the National Sheep Association representative here. I'm the Welsh representative on the NSA's policy and technical committee.