Rural communities in Wales are angry after being ignored, dismissed and penalised with policies that could see £199 million wiped from farming incomes

The news that a reported 3000 people attended a protest meeting at Carmarthen Mart should send shock waves through the political establishment. Rural Wales is very angry, and the simple slogan of ‘Enough is Enough’ indicates that the farming community have had a guts full of governments at both ends of the M4. Last week the Senedd in Cardiff witnessed its largest ever protest as rural Wales descended on the capital.

At UK Government level, domestic food markets have been used by Ministers during post Brexit Trade Deal negotiations according to the NFU as ‘pawns’. The amount of agricultural support Wales received from Westminster as opposed to Brussels is around a quarter of a billion less, not accounting for inflation.

Meanwhile macro-economic failure heightened by Brexit resulting in inflationary pressures has hit farming particularly hard due to the fine margins the industry has to operate within. Higher input costs are not being replicated in better prices for food producers, resulting in squeezed incomes.

If the Tory UK Government is guilty of neglecting farming interests, then the Welsh Government under Labour has left itself open to accusations of being hostile. Bovine TB policy, Nitrate Vulnerable Zones and the new Sustainable Farming Scheme all openly undermine farming as an industry. The tipping point was the powerful Ffermio programme on the cull of the Castell Howell Farm herd following a positive bTB test. One of the most emotional difficult meetings I have had as an MP is on location at a farm that has been struck down with the disease. It’s difficult to explain the mental health impact on those affected. The Ffermio programme unmasked those horrors graphically as Mr and Mrs Davies had to witness their cattle shot in front of them one by one. It was harrowing for the viewer, and utterly despairing for the family.

The new SFS policy which replaces previous European funding has been the final insult. The Welsh Government’s own figures indicate the scale of direct job losses in the agricultural sector would be around double the expected Steel job losses at Port Talbot – the losses across the wider supply chain would obviously be higher. The new policy unamended would also lead to a loss of £199m to farm incomes and an 11% reduction in livestock numbers. The knock-on effect on the wider rural economy will be catastrophic. Imagine agriculture as an anchor industry supporting a vast supply chain. When farming declines, it hits all other sectors.

The Welsh Government as I understand it now says they will review proposals, however faced with those figures they should have gone back to square one and started again.

Politically for Labour in Wales they care little for farmers and farming. There are no votes for them, and it suits them to employ culture war tactics against the agriculture industry. Rural policy is often not designed with what’s in the best interests of rural communities, but rather what plays well in Labour voting urban area.

This creates a political problem for Plaid Cymru on two fronts. Firstly, they have propped up a Government that is unsympathetic to rural Wales since the last Senedd elections. People don’t like junior governmental partners at the best of times, no wonder their politicians are desperately trying to decouple from Labour as events spiral. It wont wash, especially as the Agriculture commitments in the Partnership Agreement relate to tree planting, agricultural pollution and the introduction of the SFS. They are up to their necks in Labour’s hostile environment to farming. There is absolutely nothing on bTB in the Cooperation Agreement.

The whole point of Plaid entering such an agreement was to protect their core voters, and family farmers are traditional core Plaid voters. A nod is made in the agreement, but Plaid are unable to live up to this, let alone ensure Labour do. To farmers the aims in the Cooperation Agreement are antithetical. I expect the political backlash to be fierce. Nobody likes being taken for granted and Labour have effectively led Plaid Cymru down a never ending 20mph road to nowhere.

Jonathan Edwards MP

Jonathan Edwards is the Independent MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, and was elected in 2010.