The Welsh government has come under fire for its plans to withdraw support for organic farming, posing an “existential threat” to hundreds of sustainable food and farming businesses.
In a post-Brexit overhaul of farm support intended to bolster sustainable farming, £3.1 million of support is being withdrawn from Wales’ nature-friendly farming pioneers – according to the Welsh Organic Forum.
Funding that organic farmers currently receive for delivering environmental benefits is due to end at the end of 2023, and the interim Agri-Environment Scheme for 2024 has no provision to replicate this support.
When farmers are already struggling with rising costs and low farm gate prices due to the cost-of-living crisis, the forum has warned the Welsh First Minister that the move could put hundreds of organic businesses at risk of collapse.
They say it will throw Wales behind England, Scotland, and other EU countries where organic farming is being recognised and supported – and with 50% more wildlife and less energy used on organic farms, the decision is also at odds with the Welsh government’s climate and nature goals.
Open letter to the First Minister
An open letter to the First Minister Mark Drakeford, signed by the Welsh Organic Forum and alarmed businesses and organisations, said: “We are shocked that the Welsh Government looks set to reject a globally recognised beacon of sustainable farming. A withdrawal of support for organic farming will have serious economic and environmental consequences in Wales.
“The decision poses an existential risk to the Welsh food and farming sector’s ability to deliver to our climate, nature and food security obligations. It is likely to precipitate a mass exodus of organic farmers, inflicting long lasting damage on the sector.”
For decades Wales has led the UK in the development of the organic farming movement – Wales currently has the highest proportion of land area certified as organic in the UK.
Scotland is aiming to double its organic farmland by 2030, while the EU is aiming for 25% of all land to be organic by the same deadline. Westminster has committed to delivering an organic standard next year in its new Environmental Land Management Scheme, and to maintaining current funding for organic.
And despite the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis and the pandemic, the organic market in the UK has seen growth for 11 consecutive years.
The forum points out that other nations would be “more than happy to supply our markets” – albeit with risk and disruption to UK businesses who currently rely on Welsh organic produce.