Last week, the Welsh Minister for Environment, Energy, and Rural Affairs launched a Welsh Labour and Liberal Democrat assault on Welsh agriculture writes Janet Finch-Saunders MS.
By laying Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations 2021, Lesley Griffiths broke a major promise to the Senedd and to Wales.
As Andrew RT Davies rightly informed Mark Drakeford during FMQs, the Minister stated seven times that a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) would not be imposed on Wales during the pandemic.
The Minister laid the regulations on 27 January.
Was the pandemic over by then?
Of course not!
680 coronavirus cases were reported in Wales on that date.
Will the pandemic be over by the time the regulations come into force on 1 April 2021?
Taking into account Welsh Government actions to enable a delay to the May election, it seems reasonable to suggest not.
Certainly, both Welsh Labour and the Welsh Lib Dems will need more than a six month delay to the election to try and repair the damage done by the regulations. In fact, I would say that the only way they could even contemplate doing that is making a huge U-turn and scrapping the legislation.
If they don’t, it is clear from:
- Regulation 4 that they don’t believe farmers are capable of knowing themselves how much nitrogen to apply to their holding
- Regulation 15 that they don’t believe farmers capable of using appropriate spreading equipment
- Numerous regulations including 34, 35, 36, 37, 40, 41, 42, and 43 that they want to see farmers bogged down in paperwork
- Regulation 18 that they wish to sees farmers banned from spreading organic manure with high readily available nitrogen on land for between 3 and 5 months
- Regulation 29 that they will be forcing farmers to provide storage for all slurry produced in the five to six months storage period
Is this proportionate to the pollution problem faced in Wales? Absolutely not.
Whilst the First Minister may like to claim that Wales has seen no reduction in the rate of agricultural pollution, he is wrong.
NRW’s Executive Director for Evidence, Policy and Permitting has spoken of a steady decline in pollution incidents in the last two years. And even Lesley Griffiths has acknowledged that there has been progress over the last four years.
She has chosen to respond to progress with pollution by introducing restrictions that not only act like criminal electronic tags for farmers, but are set to cripple many financially.
According to her Welsh Government’s very own Regulatory Impact Assessment the upfront capital costs of the regulations could run to £360 million. When you consider that the latest total income from farming in Wales was £261 million, the scale of the crisis Welsh Labour and Lib Dems have caused is undeniable.
In fact, they have made matters worse by insulting the agricultural sector by only offering £13 million to assist with water quality and farm nutrient management infrastructure this year.
As I said in the Senedd, that is merely a drop of slurry in a very large pit.
The reality is that the NVZ will now push farms to the precipice, and the question as to whether they can actually afford to comply with Lesley’s law.
Many will not be able.
In fact, there is a real chance that farmers are going to quit cattle and that Wales will lose herds at a time when we should be championing Welsh beef around the World.
That would be a blow to the environment and biodiversity because those herds play a central role in managing some of our most important habitats.
Welsh Labour were more than happy to show footage of FUW’s President in their political advert on 1 February 2021. I think it is only honourable then that they listen to his words:
“The blank sheet of devolution and Brexit allows Welsh Government to design a bespoke system which would target problem areas without being disproportionate and costing the farming industry hundreds of millions – including in areas where there are no problems.”
He is quite right that the Welsh Government’s draconian legislation makes a mockery of devolution.
The Welsh Government needs to reverse the NVZ and allow the Welsh public to elect a new Government who will work in partnership with farmers to reduce agricultural pollution further, not clampdown on their freedom to farm.
Janet Finch-Saunders is the Member of the Senedd for Aberconwy and the Shadow Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs.