Shropshire Star

Protesting farmers 'fed up with being trodden on'

Farmers are "fed up with being trodden on" according to one of those leading a protest which greeted Wales' leadership hopefuls over the weekend.

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More than 100 tractors led a 'go-slow' protest in Newtown on Sunday, as the two men vying for the leadership of Welsh Labour took part in a hustings at the town's football club.

Ioan Humphreys, a 31-year-old farmer from Carno in Montgomeryshire, was one of five invited inside to meet Vaughan Gething and Jeremy Miles to discuss their concerns.

But despite meeting some of the protesters the pair upset many of those waiting outside by slipping out of the venue's back door and not taking time to speak to the crowds.

The protest – dubbed 'No Farmers, No Food, No Future' by some participants – is based on a number of concerns, including frustration at efforts to tackle TB, the all-Wales NVZ (nitrate vulnerable zone), and the new Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS).

Ioan Humphreys

Mr Humphreys, a fifth generation farmer, who farms sheep, beef and free range hens, said the policies were a "step too far" for many farmers.

He said: "I think we as farmers have for many years just taken stuff on the chin and got on with it.

"It is kind of the way we do things, if you are sick you just get on with it. So all this stuff has been coming in and coming in and we just got on with it, but now this new policy is coming in, with changing the payments with the Sustainable Farming Scheme, and I think it is just one step too far and us farmers are fed up with being trodden on and feel we need to say something about it."

Mr Humphreys said they was huge dissatisfaction over the issues across the farming community in Wales.

More than 100 tractors took part in the 'go-slow' protest.

He added that he expected the protests to continue for as long it takes to force a re-think over the plans.

"I think 95 per cent of Welsh farmers are dissatisfied with the policy the Welsh Government is trying to bring into place," he said.

Addressing the concerns over bovine TB, Mr Humphreys said: "TB in Wales is getting way out of hand and it is destroying farms. The amount of cows they are losing to TB is way out of hand and nothing is really being done about it – there are no control zones."

Mr Humphreys said the all-Wales NVZ limits the times of year all farms can spread manure – forcing them to store it over the winter, with costly implications for farms which need to build storage capacity.

Ioan Humphreys has his say - contains strong language:

The policy, which is intended to stop river pollution, applies to all farms in Wales.

Mr Humphreys said the consequences of the cut-off dates mean most farmers will consider mass spreading before the cut off date, and then again as soon as they are permitted to spread again.

He said: "Everyone will empty their manure store at the cut-off date so there will be manure everywhere and as soon as it is possible to spread again every farm will be full to capacity."

He argued that the policy would make pollution worse, and argued that there should be return to previous low, medium and high risk zones.

Mr Humphreys said the controversy over the Welsh Government's planned SFS scheme has been the "final nail in the coffin" for many.

Under the policy, which is intended to replace EU subsidies lost as a result of Brexit, farms must set aside 10 per cent of their land for tree planting, and 10 per cent for wildlife habitat.

Mr Humphreys said: "I think that is the final nail in the coffin for farmers, that is what has riled farmers the most.

"I am fully aware I am a young farmer, I am half the age of the average farmers in Wales, and I am aware of the need to evolve and work together to improve farming and land, which is what we all try and do anyway, you can't stand still, you have got to make yourself better, but tree planting and habitat schemes need to be done in the right places."

He added: "One of the biggest issues is it will really negatively affect the small family farms.

"If you have got a small family farm losing 20 per cent of your productive land is a big blow to your productive land. It might not be viable then and that farm might go."

Mr Humphreys said he had been pleased to be able to put his view to Mr Gething and Mr Miles, but said it was disappointing they had not spoken to the wider protesters.

He said: "While I was in there raising the concerns and voicing the issues I felt like they were listening, but as soon as they tried to run out of the back door of the football club and run through a little housing estate to escape I almost lost a bit of respect."

He said that while the protesters were frustrated, the protests were well meaning, adding: "Everyone was being tidy, the police said we had been respectful, not doing anything wrong. There were lots of kids there. I think it would have been a lot better if they showed their face and said 'we appreciate you have got concerns, we clearly see you are not happy at how it is working, I think we need to work together to fix the issues' instead of running away from the problem."

Speaking on Monday, Mark Drakeford, Wales' First Minister, angered many farmers with his comments on the protests.

He said: "The bargain cannot be that the public puts its hand into the pocket to put millions of pounds, maybe £300 million every year, on the table, for farmers to just do whatever farmers think they would like to do with it."

But Mr Humphreys said it was ridiculous to suggest farmers wanted to 'do what they like with it', adding that subsidy is vital for the public, to keep good food affordable.

He said: "We don't get subsidised to have lots of money lying around, it is not to have money it is to create cheap food for the public benefit. You take away the subsidy and it simply gets more expensive to produce.

"For him to say the general public put their hand in their pocket for £300m for the farmers to do what they please with it – we don't want to do what we please, we want to produce the best food at the best prices for the consumer."