The Welsh Government has been criticised over plans to withdraw support for organic farming, which industry bodies claim pose 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In a post-Brexit overhaul of farm support intended to bolster sustainable farming, £3.1 million of support is being withdrawn from Wales’ organic sector, according to the Welsh Organic Forum.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, the group claims.
The forum has warned Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford that at a time when farmers are already struggling with rising costs and low farm gate prices due to the cost-of-living crisis, 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”.
An open letter to Drakeford, signed by the Welsh Organic Forum and various 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.”
The forum notes that 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.
‘Decades of investment set to be squandered’
Patrick Holden, Welsh organic farmer and chief executive of the Sustainable Food Trust, said: “As one of Wales’s longest established organic farmers, having just celebrated our 50th anniversary of farming using organic principles and practices, I believe that the decision to withdraw support payments will inflict long-term damage, not just on the organic sector but on Welsh agricultural community as a whole.”
The forum has called for an urgent meeting with Welsh Government, and offered to work with rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths to secure a future for organic to renew their previous longstanding commitment to the sector.