By Debbie James

Welsh farmers must earn support payments post-Brexit, not simply rely on land ownership, warns their farming minister.

Lesley Griffiths pledged ongoing government support for Welsh agriculture but in return farmers would need to work in a “better and smarter’’ way.

“It’s not about owning land but about doing things on the land,’’ said Mrs Griffiths, speaking at the recent NFU Cymru conference at Llandrindod Wells.

Support would be linked to outcomes, “something for something’’, she said.

“There is so much you are doing now that you don’t get paid for,’’ the minister told farmers. These include flood prevention and protecting water quality, both of which would attract payments under proposals set out in the Welsh Government’s reform consultation document, Brexit and Our Land.

The new approach proposed by the Welsh Government is so far removed from the existing one that the two “should not be spoken about in the same breath’’ she said but added: “The debate has always been about how we support farmers, not whether we do.’’

With the Farm Business Survey showing that around 80 per cent of Welsh farm businesses would struggle to survive without the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), Carmarthenshire farmer Gareth Richards said farmers would need to find that money from somewhere.

Dairy farmer Mr Richards, of Merlins Hill, Carmarthen, suggested food prices would have to rise to fill that gap, a suggestion that the cabinet secretary agreed might need to happen.

“I absolutely agree about food prices rising, I can’t see how they won’t. We don’t want to see that but I don’t think it can be avoided.’’

Richard Tudor, chairman of the NFU Cymru Less Favoured Area (LFA) Board, pleaded with the cabinet secretary to reconsider axing the BPS.

He warned that if she didn’t she would be remembered for “decimating’’ Welsh farming and the country’s language, culture and communities.

“I will not let that happen,’’ Mrs Griffiths pledged, stating that this was the reason for the consultation and a multi-year transition from the BPS to new schemes.

Mrs Griffiths gave a guarded assurance on the future of environmental payments when some Glastir contracts end in 2019, before new schemes are up and running.

“Millions and millions of pounds have been spent on Glastir and we would be foolish to throw all of that away.’’

In the consultation document, Mrs Griffiths refers to farmers as ‘land managers’, a term which farmers took exception to, said NFU Cymru president John Davies.

But she is standing firm on this, insisting that there must be “opportunities for all’’ including those not currently in receipt of subsidies.